‘Goodreads’ readers #ReadWomen, and so should university English departments


The social network website Goodreads provides insight into what some women are reading.
(Flip Mishevski/Unsplash)

Karen Bourrier, University of CalgaryEven in the 21st century, women writers are often consigned to what American novelist Meg Wolitzer has called “the second shelf.” Women’s novels are designed and marketed with a female audience in mind and publishers still presume that novels about women won’t appeal to male readers. Unfortunately, even in 2021 there may be some truth to this presumption.

This sexism can be seen in the continued speculation that female-identifying novelist Elena Ferrante is actually a man.
Vanity Fair contributing editor and book columnist Elissa Schappell summarized the assumptions behind the speculation: the novelist’s prolific output of “serious” books that interweave history, politics, violence, sex and domestic life, while “unflinchingly showing women in an unflattering light.”

Books by female-identifying authors are also less likely to be reviewed in prestigious literary magazines. In 2019, more than 60 per cent of reviews in magazines including London Review of Books, The Atlantic, and Harper’s, were of books written by men. This is actually an improvement since 2010, when between 69 per cent and 80 per cent of reviews in these magazines were of male-authored books.

The popular #readwomen hashtag on Twitter has been one response to the marginalization of women authors or sexism about their work. The social network website Goodreads can also provide insight into what women are reading.

Reading women

My collaborative research with data science professor Mike Thelwall has explored the reading habits of a cohort of mostly female readers (76 per cent) on the popular social network site Goodreads. As a group, Goodreads users also skew younger, whiter and more educated than the general population.

We examined what books readers read on Goodreads compared to what university professors assign in the classroom, using data from the Open Syllabus Project.

In past decades, researchers relied on handwritten diaries, letters and surveys of readers to find out how everyday readers responded to the books they read. Goodreads, which collects book reviews and ratings from 90 million members, offers one portal into reading habits.

On average, women Goodreads users read twice as much as male Goodreads users, and are more willing to read books by both male and female authors.

We scraped data from Goodreads and found that most Goodreads book club members were likely to have read books in common by women authors.

These women authors fell into two categories: young adult authors (J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer and Veronica Roth) and 19th- or early 20th-century authors (Jane Austen and Harper Lee). The popularity of young adult series by women, including the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, means that 13 of the 19 most popular titles are by women.

Cover of three books from the Hunger Games series
A study found that that most Goodreads book club members were likely to have read books in common by women authors.
(Shutterstock)

Compared to what professors teach

In a second study, we compared what books Goodreads users read to what university professors assign in the classroom, using data from the Open Syllabus Project. The Open Syllabus Project originated at Columbia University. It amasses syllabi, or college reading lists, from openly accessible university websites. Open Syllabus currently has a corpus of over nine million syllabi from 140 countries.

Our study focused on Victorian literature, literature published during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), which is both commonly taught at the university level and still read by general readers.

For the most part, we found that Goodreads users read books — including classic works by Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde — about as often as university professors taught them.

However, we also found that the books that Goodreads users read more often than they were assigned in university tended to be by women writers, to feature strong female protagonists and to be aimed at a young adult audience — or all three.

Taking women writers seriously

This research is important because it suggests that professors who want to connect to students should take women writers more seriously.

Women writers show up less often than male writers on university syllabi. A survey conducted at McGill University in 2018 showed that 73 per cent of writers assigned on the university’s English literature syllabi are men.

Unfortunately, this is no surprise: English Prof. John Guillory’s work on canon formation captures the state of college English classes 30 years ago (and sometimes even more recently) when it was not uncommon for English professors to teach only white men.

Works by women writers are formative for many readers. For example, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are often among the first “adult” novels that young English-language readers read. Their combination of romance and strong female protagonists continues to appeal to 21st-century readers outside the classroom.

Our study also showed that Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — three works of young adult fiction featuring girls — were also read more on Goodreads than we would predict given how often they were assigned on syllabi.




Read more:
Jane Eyre translated: 57 languages show how different cultures interpret Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel


It is more than time that publishers, book reviewers and university professors give women writers the respect they deserve. In an era of declining English majors when most English majors are women, English departments can at least start by assigning more women writers.The Conversation

Karen Bourrier, Associate Professor of English, University of Calgary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Google Play Books – Tools for Kids


The link below is to an article that looks at the tools available inside Google Play Books for making reading better for kids.

For more visit:
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/google-play-books-now-has-new-tools-to-make-reading-easier-for-kids

Epic


The link below is to an article that takes a look at ‘Epic,’ an online reading platform designed for kids and the data it collects.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/this-online-reading-platform-that-mines-kids-preferences-to-create-new-books-is-deeply-creepy/

Yes, adult literacy should be improved. But governments can make their messages easier to read right now


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Cath Ferguson, Edith Cowan University

A parliamentary inquiry is looking into how to improve adult literacy in Australia.

Having a low level of literacy is not the same thing as being illiterate. The definition of “illiterate” is the inability to read or write. A low level of literacy is more complex and relates to people’s abilities to read, write and understand a range of information that allows them to fully participation in society.

According to the OECD, 40–50% of adults in Australia have literacy levels below the international standard required for participation in work, education and society.

Together with literacy, the inquiry will also look at numeracy and problem-solving.

While it’s important the inquiry look at ways to improve literacy for those struggling with it, the government could start acting now to make its information and services more accessible. One way is to present information in plain English, and make services like Centrelink easier to navigate.

Why are we having this inquiry?

The inquiry will consider both economic and social aspects of literacy. But its focus is on increased labour market participation, and increased productivity.

It was initiated after a 2020 Productivity Commission report showed Australia’s falling rates of educational achievement, compared to other countries in the OECD, were related to our levels of productivity — particularly as compared to the United States.




Read more:
Josh Frydenberg has the opportunity to transform Australia, permanently lowering unemployment


The OECD numbers show our literacy rates are similar to New Zealand and actually better than in the United Kingdom and US.

In a survey of adult skills conducted by the OECD in Australia from October 2011 to March 2012, Australian adults scored fifth out of participating countries for literacy — after Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden. The United Kingdom and the US scored at 15th and 17th respectively.

Person reading book with a cup of tea.
A low level of literacy isn’t the same as not being able to read. It is about accessing information in a way that allows a person to participate in society and the economy.
Shutterstock

But for numeracy Australia ranked 14th, the UK 17th and the USA 21st.

Adults with low literacy come from different cultural or language backgrounds. Those born in Australia could have low literacy due to various circumstances including:

  • learning difficulties
  • alternative preferences for learning
  • social circumstances that prevent school attendance or lead to many school changes
  • health issues during childhood
  • childhood trauma (including family/domestic violence)
  • a lack of interest or motivation to learn.

What are we doing to improve the issue?

A number of programs are available to train adults in certain skills to increase labour market participation. One example is the government’s Job Trainer Fund that provides free or low-cost courses as part of its economic response to COVID.

There are government programs too that focus on literacy and numeracy skills. They include

While these program are good to have, there is stigma attached to low literacy and this can inhibit help-seeking at all ages.




Read more:
To lift literacy levels among Indigenous children, their parents’ literacy skills must be improved first


Schools are increasingly recognised as the best place to improve the educational outcomes for adults. Early childhood education is especially important as the earlier in life issues are identified, the better the outcomes.

Kindergarten kids listening intently to the teacher as she reads from book.
A good early learning system can help ensure most people learn the literacy skills they need at a young age.
Shutterstock

Still, people with learning difficulties are often experts at hiding their challenges and some people will slip through the school system without their issues being addressed.

Services can be more accessible

The inquiry has received around 100 submissions from a range of organisations and individuals.

A submission from Read Write Now (where I am a tutor) — a West Australian organisation that provides free one on one support for adults in areas such as filling out forms, or reading aloud to their children — notes new arrivals are more likely to seek literacy help than those born in Australia. This is not always a case of demand, but one of stigma around illiteracy.

Their submission also notes there is little consistency of such services across Australia.

Many of our clients, especially people from Indigenous backgrounds, live a transient lifestyle. We find that often when they move there is no literacy program to link them into at their new location, so they fall out of the system.

A few submissions highlighted the difficulty many adults have filling out forms and navigating government services such as Centrelink. A submission from the NSW Council of Social Service noted the “increased digitisation of government services is a compounding factor”. It points to the need for government agencies to adhere to requirements for plain English and easy access material.

In this, the government can start making changes now.

Our recent analysis of government information on COVID-19 found many documents were written in a way that is inaccessible to struggling readers.




Read more:
Most government information on COVID-19 is too hard for the average Australian to understand


The problem lies in not only helping to improve adults’ literacy but in making services more accessible, as well as reducing unnecessary hurdles. For instance, in one submission, a woman talks of her husband who is a recent migrant with dyslexia. Although he can speak English well, he struggles with complex writing tasks that prevent him from being able to get the kind of jobs he has the skills to do.

She writes:

he could fulfil a handyman role offered recently by our local council — but only if the job were offered to him. He would not be able to provide a written CV and selection criteria responses during an online application process without significant assistance from me.

Organisations need to be aware of such issues, to not prevent skilled people from doing a job due to the application process alone. We also need to encourage those who need support to access the available services.

The House Employment, Education and Training Committee is continuing to hold public hearings for the inquiry into adult literacy.The Conversation

Cath Ferguson, Senior research fellow, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Easier Reading of Children’s Books on Google Play


The links below are to articles that take a look at how Google has made reading children’s books on Google Play easier.

For more visit:-
https://blog.google/products/google-play/learning-to-read-tools/
https://www.makeuseof.com/read-google-play-books-easily/
https://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/2021/03/03/google-adds-new-reading-tools-for-kids-to-play-books-app/