Reading Mostly Women – September 2018

I’m spending 2018 reading mostly women. Only mostly, because I don’t want to be too restrictive about these things. If I read a book by someone who is not a woman I won’t have “failed”. I’m also trying to read books that are recommended to me, books by people I follow on Twitter, that kind of thing.

August’s post

In September I read:

(part of) Fire Watch by Connie Willis – The characters in Blackout mention the events of the titular short story so I thought I’d check it out. Seems like a good thing they didn’t manage to bump into this dude because he was time travelling with NO CLUE what he should be doing. Really I am disappointed in Mr Dunworthy’s lack of preparation.

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter – I like that the author added the O to her name to (slightly) merge her name with her husband’s. I like less that he didn’t change his name at all, but as someone on Late Night Woman’s Hour mentioned, he does have his Equity card. There are some great lines in this that really resonated. And some wild behaviour that made me think “WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?”.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – I found this via The Pool, who invited their readers to try out a new book club type app. I can’t say that the app fit in that well with my life – three days out of eleven I reached the end of the book segment when I wanted to read some more, and I mostly read on my commute so I didn’t get to join in on much of the interactivity. I did get to go to a fancy launch party though, and I’m very pleased that I got to experience it. The story is a time-split story about an old house, with pre-Raphaelite artists and a modern-day archivist. I wished for more on the current-day protagonist’s life (especially after The Cows, which is great on relationships), but enjoyed it overall.

Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown – Stretching the “mostly” to include a biography (sort of) of a woman. I picked this up because I wanted something with small snippets where I wouldn’t be tempted to keep reading when I had to get back to the book above. Some of these were interesting but I’d hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is not as keen on slice-of-life history as I am. (and there wasn’t enough of that amongst the name dropping)

A Crimson Warning by Tasha Alexander – The Amazon page says that this is Lady Emily’s sixth book. I picked it up in a charity shop so knew none of this, I mainly liked the cover. It’s 1893, as someone helpfully writes in their diary, rather earlier than I am used to seeing in cosy murder mysteries. Lady Emily is rather sickeningly in love with her husband, I expect they got together during the investigation of another mystery, during which he came to appreciate her skills of deduction and the ease with which a woman can entice secrets that a man could not.

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Baby names 2017 and gender-neutral names

The baby names list is one of my favourite datasets. Everyone has a name, so everyone can find something interesting in a list of names. Is your name at the top? Great, you’re popular. Is your name not even on the list? Wow, you’re unique. Or unique-ish, anyway, as names that were given to only 1 or 2 babies are excluded from the list for privacy reasons.

My particular areas of interest are, of course, my name, and also gender-neutral names*.

My name is Charlie, as you can see, but I’d show up in these stats as a Charlotte. Charlotte was not in the top 100 for most of the last century, shows up in the mid 70s, peaking at the millennium, and showing a downward trend until the birth of a certain royal Charlotte in the mid-2010s**.

Charlie as a girls’ name made a brief showing in the late 90s/early 00s, and Lottie (another common shortening of Charlotte) from 2014 – a year before the aforementioned Princess was born. Alternative spellings Charley and Lotty have never been in the top 100.

(note I’m fairly certain we only have data every ten years up until a certain point – I don’t think Charlotte jumped into the top 100 in 1974, 1984, 1994 only to disappear completely in between)
chart of charlotte charlie lottie popularity

When meeting or speaking to people for the first time after previously communicating only by email, I’ve more than once had people exclaim “I thought you were Charlie short for Charles!”, and the stats support that this is not an unreasonable assumption to make. Charles has been in the top 100 boys’ names for the whole of the period we have data for. It shows the same millennium-peak as Charlotte, but when it starts to decline form its peak the name Charlie (as a full name) takes over.

There are now more boys being called Charlie as their whole name than there are boys being called Charles, and Charlie has been in the top 10 for the last decade.

Gender-neutral names are often, in my experience, shortenings of longer names. I am Charlie, my brother is Sam, I have friends called Jess and Alex. When my parents told people “this is Charlie and Sam” and gestured towards a girl child and a boy child, there was no real reason why they’d be able to guess which was which***.

I would have expected there to be not much to see in the baby name stats on gender-neutral names – after all, I’m in there as Charlotte and my brother (if there were stats for his year) would be Samuel. But there seems to be much more now a trend to name children names that previously would only have been a nickname or shortening. One of my friends named her child Teddy and she’s not even embarrassed about it.

So what names can we see if we combine both sets of stats? A quick glance shows us that:

  • More boys were born than girls: 348k vs 331k
  • The top 10 boys’ names accounted for 13% of the total, whereas the top 10 girls’ names made up only 10% of the total for girls (or put another way: 1 in 7 boys has a top-10 name, but only 1 in 10 girls does)
  • There were 1,751 uncommon girls’ names (names given to only 3 baby girls, the minimum required to be included in the stats) but only 1,353 uncommon boys’ names
  • 10% of girls had a name that was given to only one or two girls, compared to 7% of boys – these names are not included in the stats

All that can be summed up as “girls are more likely to be given unusual names than boys”.

When we combine the lists and take the overall top 10, we can truthfully repeat the headline that the “top two names are Oliver and Olivia” (this is not necessarily the case – in 2016 the top two names were Oliver and Harry, with Olivia in fourth place, after George). The top 10 is made up of two girls’ names, six boys’ names, and two names that the data say can be used for boys or girls. Charlie is there of course, but so is Noah. That’s not one I would have expected, and there are 700x as many boy Noahs as girl Noahs, so we may still be safe in thinking of Noah as a (mainly) “boys’ name”.

Are there names that are more equal? The most popular name with exactly equal numbers of boys and girls is Avery, with 65 of each. Lamar and Darby both have 11 girls and 11 boys. The most evenly-split name given to over a thousand babies is Frankie, which is 2.6 times more popular for boys than girls. There’s no comparable girl-skewed quite-popular quite-evenly-split name: Harper comes closest, with over a thousand babies, but only 1 in 32 of them is a boy.

If we think of names as approaching neutrality from one side or the other, is it more acceptable to give a girl a “boys’ name”, and so is it more usual to have a large minority of girls with traditionally-male names? Only very brave parents will give their boys traditionally-female names.That’s my guess, but that’s definitely me applying my existing thoughts to the data. The data tells us what people are calling their babies, but not why.

—–

*I’m going to talk about “boys’ names” and “girls’ names” all the way through here because that’s what they are called by the ONS, but we know that you CAN of course give any name to any baby

**What are we calling this decade by the way? I think the previous one is the “Noughties”, but what are we in right now?

***Other than that you always say the name of the older child first, right?

 

Reading Mostly Women – August 2018

I’m spending 2018 reading mostly women. Only mostly, because I don’t want to be too restrictive about these things. If I read a book by someone who is not a woman I won’t have “failed”. I’m also trying to read books that are recommended to me, books by people I follow on Twitter, that kind of thing.

July’s post

In August I read:

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey – I love Kushiel’s Dart for the richness of the world and the amount of story that gets packed into each book (anyone else would have ended the first book on the return from the Skaldi, but no we have to go to Alba and negotiate a succession). Instead of Fantasy France, this is set in post-apocalyptic Texas (although we never quite get to see how bad the apocalypse has been, perhaps it’s only really one for them) and our characters are penned in hoping to escape rather than exploring the known world. This is full of little joys.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil – You already know if this is the sort of thing you’d like to read or not. All I can tell you is that it’s very readable, and the author is good to follow on Twitter.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin – I think this is her most famous standalone novel. This is the one about an ambassador from the federation of planets to a new world, one where people have no gender most of the time, and can become male or female (everyone has the capacity for both) at a certain time of the month. The story is not mainly about that, it’s about politics and the coldness of the planet and trust and friendship.

In The Ruins by Kate Elliott – This is book 6 of the Crown of Stars series, which I was reading at the beginning of the year. After the break it took a while to remember who everyone is and where they are and whether they’ve accidentally time-travelled or not, but once I got settled in I enjoyed reading.

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis – I’ve read these before, but I think it was before I moved to London. This month walking through London at night, trying to find my way by landmarks without looking at my phone, gave me a strong urge to re-read. Time travel has been discovered, but is only used by historians. Some of those historians get “stuck” in WWII London, with bombs falling, and they’ve only memorised which tube stations are safe for the three months of their intended trip. Love these so much.

 

Reading Mostly Women – July 2018

I’m spending 2018 reading mostly women. Only mostly, because I don’t want to be too restrictive about these things. If I read a book by someone who is not a woman I won’t have “failed”. I’m also trying to read books that are recommended to me, books by people I follow on Twitter, that kind of thing.

June’s post

In July I read:

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – A mother and daughter, fallen on hard times between the wars, take in a married couple of a slightly lower class as lodgers. There’s a lot of very intricate class indicators here – life sounded rather suffocating – and I wanted to know more about the daughter’s friend who lives in a FLAT and makes ART and toasts currant cake on a three-bar electric fire and generally lives an exciting bohemian life. The daughter and the wife become friends and things escalate as of course they must.

Simon vs the Homo sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli – This is the book that the recent film Love, Simon was based on. It’s fun, I like a teen romcom. It’s odd to read a book after seeing the film, I’m much more accustomed to the other way around.

Carol by Patricia Highsmith – I wanted to watch this film and, as above, prefer to read a book first. This book is very atmospheric and not much happens. Same is true of the film. It is probably very good but not really my thing, and in the book you don’t get the distraction of looking at Cate Blanchett being an elf queen. The choices made in adaptation are interesting, in the book we only see things through Therese’s eyes and so Carol is much more unknowable.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life? Well I personally would want to figure out whether this was immutable or would happen no matter what I did. Sibling 1’s cause of death is certainly influenced by him knowing he would die young and so feeling he had to seize the day. If he hadn’t done that, would he have died at the same time of another cause? Another sibling is frankly reckless. This is interesting and frequently had me saying “don’t do THAT” to the characters. People should read more science fiction. It reminded me a bit of the TV show Flash Forward, in which it is conclusively proven that the future can be changed, but people act as if it is inevitable anyway (I don’t want to cheat on my husband but my vision of the future says I am going to so I guess I won’t resist it).

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – I’ve know about the existence of this book for ages and I can’t quite figure out why I’ve never read it. The setup in a world where racism is reversed feels like the beginning of a teen dystopia like the Hunger Games or Divergent – but the challenges our characters face are much more grounded and nuanced.

Slay In Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené – The subtitle to this is “the Black Girl Bible”, but the authors said “I think non-black people should read it to understand the experience of what it means to be a black woman. I have been reading books that have not been written for me all my life,”. This is informative and interesting and written in a way that’s easy to read (that is, the style is easy, the content is at times upsetting or infuriating). It includes quotes from Malorie Blackman, and I enjoyed feeling the link between fiction and fact.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson – I don’t really know what I was expecting here, it just existed in my head as a book I “should” read. In some ways this felt like the film Lady Bird – there was a story but the story was secondary to the relationship between the main character and her mother, and her church. I feel as if the plot has evaporated out of my brain, and only little bits remain.

Clean by Juno Dawson – I heard Juno on the School For Dumb Women podcast talking about the Spice Girls, and I knew that this was someone who I wanted to hear more from. This is a rehab story about a rich teenager, who could easily have slipped into “too irritating to read about” but whose unlikeability is somehow relatable and well balanced with her vulnerability and humour.

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes – I love Marian Keyes, and my only complaint here is that that initial usage of the title phrase (from the protagonist’s ex-husband) doesn’t make sense. In what way did she steal his life? She has may messed up his life, firstly by becoming very ill and unable to communicate other than by blinking, leaving him to deal with house and children, secondly by becoming semi-famous for writing a book while in that state and leaving him, but she didn’t “steal” his life because she didn’t take anything.

Reading Mostly Women – June 2018

I’m spending 2018 reading mostly women. Only mostly, because I don’t want to be too restrictive about these things. If I read a book by someone who is not a woman I won’t have “failed”. I’m also trying to read books that are recommended to me, books by people I follow on Twitter, that kind of thing.

May’s post

In June I read:

The second and third books that follow on from A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – I read the first book because it’s going to be on TV (with Alex Kingston, who I hope gets a bigger role in the show than her character does in the book) and then it ended on a time-travel cliffhanger. I love time travel so had to continue, then once I’d read two of (what I thought was) a trilogy, there was nothing for it but to read the third.

Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue – I love Caroline’s work in The Pool and on the School For Dumb Women. This story about a young woman working, living, and dating in London got darker than I was expecting, and that’s a good thing.

No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll – This is a collection of reworkings of fairy tales. Remember in Return of the King when the Witch-King says “no man can kill me” and Eowyn takes off her helmet and says “I am no man” (also a hobbit helps, and Hobbits are not Men)? It’s a lot like that. Ana’s pronouns are xie/xer (prounounced “zee”), and a number of the characters also use pronouns you may be unfamiliar with, but if you have ever read any fantasy this won’t be too difficult for you, it just takes a little practise. This also means that this book falls under the “mostly” part of #readingmostlywomen.

Go Ask Malice by Robert Jospeh Levy – I was sent this by a fellow fan of the podcast Buffering The Vampire Slayer and didn’t check who the author was before asking for it, so this is another “mostly”. This book basically isn’t available anywhere, so I had to read it and send it on to another fan. If you’ve ever wanted to read about Faith’s backstory, this is the book for you. One thing that was interesting is that it seemed to have been published in 2006, after all of Buffy had aired. Was there still a market for tie-in books at that point? Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to get hold of.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers – The sequel to The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, which is one of my favourites so far. It’s a loosely-linked sequel with few common characters, this time we’re exploring what it is to be a person rather than a thing (and having a fun time learning about other species’ foods and music). It is, unsurprisingly, lovely.

London Belongs To Us by Sarra Manning – A fun night rushing through London with a 17 yr old who really needs to get home to clean up the remains of a meaty BBQ before her vegetarian mum gets home, but is a bit distracted by French patisserie chefs on mopeds and posh girls who say they are her boyfriend’s girlfriend and dancing the cha-cha in a disco in a corner shop. South London is described as “bloody hard to get to” (unfair). The trains and buses and tubes all do go where they should go.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – A birthday present from a friend, who didn’t know that I already follow the author on Twitter. This starts out feeling like it could go a number of ways. Is it about a teenager feeling that maybe she doesn’t like her mum’s choices about how they live their life, and would prefer the comfy suburban existence of her classmates? Is it about how creepy the very-organised overly-regulated suburban communities are? (there was definitely an X-files episode set in this kind of community) Well, yes, but it’s also about the ethics of reuniting a baby with the mother who abandoned it, taking it away from its adopted parents.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara – I had preordered this and forgotten about it, so it was a nice treat to have it arrive on my kindle. Mary has been dressing as a boy and calling herself “Mark” since she was 4, at first to trick a rich relative, later for safety. She has found herself onboard a pirate ship and is trying to track down her childhood friend (who she may be in love with) – he has only ever known her as Mark, never as Mary. We switch back and forth between her time on the pirate ship and the story that got us to this point. Mary also meets a girl who is living the pirate life while openly “being a girl”, something that both attracts her and scares her.

 

 

 

 

Reading Mostly Women – May 2018

I’m spending 2018 reading mostly women. Only mostly, because I don’t want to be too restrictive about these things. If I read a book by someone who is not a woman I won’t have “failed”. I’m also trying to read books that are recommended to me, books by people I follow on Twitter, that kind of thing.

April’s post

In May I read:

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge – I’d seen bits of this on Twitter and thought it would be worth looking at. Don’t expect a fun time, but do expect to learn things. Did you know that the UK census didn’t ask about race til 1991?

Here’s Looking At You by Mhairi McFarlane – the second book by this author I’ve read this year – a fun mistaken-identity romcom. My favourite description is of a man who “looked like he might win boat races or get a small role as a philanderer with velcro mutton-chops on Downton Abbey”. (one character is the victim of some fatphobic bullying though so avoid it if that’s going to upset you)

The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – Imagine a book about starting a new job and getting to know your co-workers, and visiting places with your new co-workers and meeting their friends – but IN SPACE. This is cosy and lovely and includes the useful point that when you’re encountering other sentient people whose gender you don’t know (and who may or may not have a gender as you recognise it) you need to have a think about pronouns.

Royals by Rachel Hawkins – Rachel does #SexyHistory threads on Twitter. This is not quite SO sexy because it’s focused on a teenager, but it is a fun story about what happens when your (much more put-together) big sister is marrying a prince.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – I started this because I saw that it was to become a TV show with Alex Kingston and Matthew Goode. Some of the blurb described it as “Twilight for grownups” (isn’t that 50 Shades) but in this case our main character does have a personality, she’s not a blank cipher for the reader to inhabit. I got to the end of book 1 just as they were about to do some TIME TRAVEL so of course I then continued to book 2 straight away, something I haven’t been doing so far this year.

Reading Mostly Women – April 2018

I’m spending 2018 reading mostly women. Only mostly, because I don’t want to be too restrictive about these things. If I read a book by someone who is not a woman I won’t have “failed”. I’m also trying to read books that are recommended to me, books by people I follow on Twitter, that kind of thing.

March’s post

In April I read:

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley – I started this in Feb and didn’t mention it in March so you can see it didn’t grip me, but it was nice enough. Afraid that might be damning with faint praise. If you’d like to hear about Jane Austen’s life through the lens of the houses she lived in, you might like this. If you are not sure, you probably aren’t interested.

The 9:45 to Bletchley by Madalyn Morgan – I love Bletchley Park stories. I went to visit it and did the tour and could really imagine how it would have been such an adventure. If you were a middle class girl (which I wouldn’t have been, but never mind), getting just enough education to nab yourself a good husband, it must have been such a change. Sure, then men are all off fighting and dying and there won’t be enough husbands to go round, but let’s look on the bright side. I wondered if this book was aimed at young people – if I were guessing I’d put it in YA.

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire – Urban fantasy – but not the kind where teenagers fall in love with broody vampires. (not that there’s anything wrong with that) The masquerade is in place, and there’s a full history of our heroine’s family and their interactions with the underworld. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter are great and I’d like some of them on a shopping bag.

Accused by Lisa Scottoline – A book recommended by my mum! Her description made it sound a bit like The Good Wife, in that there are lawyers but we also hear about their lives and families etc. I can see this getting more and more enjoyable throughout the series as I get more familiar with those friends and family, but one thing I don’t like it when people’s dialogue is written in dialect and this featured a bunch of Italian-American written-out speech that felt like it was taking the piss.

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng – A Gothic fairy story along the lines of “what if colonising explorers discovered Fairyland, and we sent missionaries to try to convert them?”. I enjoyed much of this, particularly the questions of whether the fairies had souls, whether they also were cursed by the original sin, etc, but some was dark enough to make me a little bit uncomfortable. (that’s not a non-recommendation, you might like darker things than me or be less easily squicked)

The State of Grace by Rachel Lucas – The only other book I’d read by Rachel Lucas was a romcom where a woman moves to a Scottish island for slightly spurious reaons and falls in love with the laird. This is a much more grounded (relatable, even?) story of a teenage romance (and teenage falling-out-with-your-friends, which can be much more emotional than romance), told through the eyes of an autistic girl. Even better, the afterword explains how the author’s daughter was diagnosed with autism and shortly afterwards the author herself, as an adult, realised that she too was autistic.

Death in Dulwich by Alice Castle Dulwich is near where I live, but much posher. This book made me realise quite HOW POSH. This is a nice cosy present-day murder mystery, the kind where you know that no characters you like are really in danger.