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Pickle Me This

April 13, 2021

Why I don’t call authors by their first names

The book in my hands in this photo is LUCKY, the latest novel by Marissa Stapley, who I’m fortunate to call my friend—but when I write about her book, I’m going to refer to her as “Stapley.” And NOT because we’re the kind of friends who refer to each by our last names. No, I’m going to write about her as Stapley when I’m talking about her book, because it’s the feminist thing to do, and because women authors are the only ones any of us ever seem to be on a first name basis with. Think of the male authors you love to read, whose work seems to know your soul—it’s not simply a question of intimacy. Because sure, you might love Stephen King or John Irving, but have you ever come across a review in which either was referred to as “John” or “Steve”?

But with the women, we’re all “Marian,” “Farah,” “Jennifer” “Marissa,” and “Brit.” We’re excited to read these authors because it feels like we know them, and we’ve read their work so closely that it’s almost as though we do. Further, social media makes it possible for some of them to know us back, so the ties are real…but actually knowing an author only drives home to me the importance of using their surnames in book reviews. It’s a question of respect, for the author’s work, and for women’s work in general, which is so often devalued in comparison to the works by Johns and Steves. Nobody calls Shakespeare “William.” It’s a political act to declare a woman worthy of her surname, women’s surnames having been considered disposable through much of history anyway, which means that in historical record women tend to disappear.

As @kelly.diels writes, “We are the culture makers.” The authors, the bloggers, and the bookstragrammers—all of us. And with the power to make culture comes the power to change it, and I choose to acknowledge that power, to use it to help build the kind of world where women’s work is considered as serious and consequential as that of their male peers. Where a woman doesn’t have to be your BFF to get on your radar, and even if she is your friend, you are going to give her authorship the reverence such a thing deserves.

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