More Than 80 Percent of the Most Popular Novels Are Written by Men

iStock.com/rihard_wolfram
iStock.com/rihard_wolfram

What do The Great Gatsby, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Of Mice and Men, and The Lord of the Rings all have in common? Sure, they’re among America’s most popular fiction books, but they also happen to be written by men. Over 80 percent of the 100 most popular novels were written by male authors, according to an interactive infographic created by Wordery.

Using data from Ranker on the best books (as voted on by users), Wordery broke the picks down by male and female authors, as well as the books preferred by male and female readers. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien was the second most-popular book overall, followed by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, then Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

If there’s any silver lining, it’s the fact that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is the most popular book overall. Among women voters, it was the top choice. Among men, it came in second after Nineteen Eighty-Four. Lee’s classic tale was also named America’s Favorite Novel following a nationwide survey last October.

Other female-authored books to make Wordery’s list include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and several of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. However, this contingent is still in the minority. A study from 2018 found that three of the leading literary publications devoted less than 40 percent of their coverage to women authors the previous year. Another analysis from last year found that female authors and female characters in literature both steadily declined from the Victorian era to the mid-20th century.

On the bright side, progress has been made in recent years, and female authors dominated the bestseller lists in 2017—at least in the UK. If you’re looking to make your reading list a little more gender-balanced, check out our list of 25 amazing books by women authors.

13 Facts About the Oxford English Dictionary

iStock.com/GCShutter
iStock.com/GCShutter

This year marks the 135th birthday of the Oxford English Dictionary (though the eminent reference book is hardly looking its age). As the English language continues to evolve, the dictionary has flourished and regularly added new words such as nothingburger, prepper, idiocracy, and fam. Get to know it better.

1. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was built on volunteer labor.

When the London Philological Society came up with the idea for a new dictionary of the English language in 1857, the editors decided it was necessary to enlist the help of the public and asked avid readers to send examples of sentences that could illuminate the meanings of different words. Every day, volunteers mailed thousands of “quotation slips” from books, newspapers, and magazines. By the time the first edition was published, more than 2000 volunteers had assisted the editors in its completion.

2. It took more than 70 years to complete the first edition of the OED.

Originally, the Philological Society predicted that the dictionary would take about 10 years to complete. Twenty-seven years later, the editors had successfully reached the word ant. Knowing it would be a while until a completed book was ready, they began publishing unbound editions of the work-in-progress in 1884. The first full volume was eventually published in 1928, more than 70 years after the society first came up with the idea.

3. The OED started out messy. Very messy.

Frederick Furnivall, one of the dictionary’s founders, was a visionary—but that vision did not extend to his organizational skills. Under his stewardship as editor, the dictionary was a mess. Quotation slips were stuffed haphazardly into bags and went missing. All of the words starting with “Pa” went AWOL for 12 years and were eventually discovered in Ireland. Slips for the letter “G” were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. All of the entries for the letter “H” somehow turned up in Italy.

4. OED co-founder Frederick Furnivall was a controversial figure.

After founding a controversy-riddled Shakespeare Society, Furnivall fell into a six-year feud with the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. Swinburne (whose mastery of the English language earned him six nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature) mocked Furnivall’s club by calling it “Fartiwell and Co.” and “The Sh*tspeare Society.” Furnivall reached into his bag o' insults and said that Swinburne had, “the ear of a poetaster, hairy, thick and dull.”

5. Dr. James Murray helped the OED clean up its act.

Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

Dr. James Murray, a philologist, took the helm as the dictionary’s principal editor in 1879 and remained in that position for the rest of his life (he died in 1915). Murray was a linguistic superstar; he was proficient in Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin, Dutch, German, Flemish, and Danish and also had a solid grasp of Portuguese, Vaudois, Provençal, Celtic, Slavonic, Russian, Persian, Achaemenid Cuneiform, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic Arabic, Coptic, and Phoenician.

6. Murray built a shed for the OED's editors to work in.

In 1885, to better organize the dictionary, Murray constructed a sunken shed made of corrugated iron to house the editors and their precious quotation slips. Called the “Scriptorium,” this linguistic workshop contained 1029 pigeonholes that allowed Murray and his subeditors to arrange, sort, and file more than 1000 quotation slips each day. 

6. Only one word is known to have gone missing.

Only one quotation slip—containing the word bondmaid—is known to have been lost. (It fell down behind some books and the editors never noticed.) Murray was deeply embarrassed by his failure to include the word in the dictionary. “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission,” he said. “The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable.” The word was officially introduced in a 1933 supplement.

7. One of the OED’s most prolific contributors was a murderer confined to an insane asylum.

One volunteer who provided the OED with countless quotation slips was William C. Minor, a schizophrenic who was incarcerated at the Broadmoor Insane Asylum in Berkshire, England, after he fatally shot a man he (erroneously) believed had broken into his room. According to Murray, Minor was the dictionary’s second most prolific contributor, even outdoing members of the full-time staff.

8. J.R.R. Tolkien contributed to the OED, too.

In 1919 and 1920, J.R.R. Tolkien worked for the dictionary, where he studied the etymology of Germanic words beginning with the letter W, composing drafts for words like waggle and wampum. "I learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life,” Tolkien later said. (Years later, Tolkien spoofed his editors in a comic fable called Farmer Giles of Ham.)

9. The longest entry in the OED is for a three-letter word.

The most complicated word in the Oxford English Dictionary? Set. In the dictionary’s 1989 edition, the three-letter word contains 430 senses (that is, shades of meaning) and requires a 60,000-word definition. Other short words with endless definitions? Run (396 senses), go (368 senses), and take (343 senses).

10. The most popular edition of the OED was impossible to read with the naked eye.

Originally, the OED had a limited audience. Not only was a set of books expensive, it was also bulky and took up an entire bookshelf. In 1971, the Oxford University Press decided to publish a smaller, complete version that compressed nine pages into one. The text was so tiny that the two-volume book came with a magnifying glass. It quickly became one of the bestselling dictionaries on the market.

11. Digitizing the OED took a lot of work.

In the late 1980s, it took more than 120 typists, 55 proofreaders, and a total of 67 million keystrokes to digitize the entire contents of the Oxford English Dictionary. The process took 18 months.

12. Shakespeare isn’t the OED's most quoted source.

The OED's most quoted source is, in fact, the British daily newspaper The Times, which has 42,840 quotations (nearly 10,000 more than William Shakespeare). Coming in third and fourth are the Scottish novelist Walter Scott and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, respectively. When it comes to coining and introducing new words, Shakespeare isn’t first in that arena either; that honor belongs to Geoffrey Chaucer.

13. The last word in the OED is totally buggy.

Each year, about 2000 to 5000 new words, senses, and subentries are added to the Oxford English Dictionary. For years, the last word in the book was zynthum, a type of malty beer made in ancient Egypt. But in 2017, zynthum was usurped by zyzzyva, a type of South African weevil.

Move Over, Eleven: Stranger Things Prequel Comic Will Introduce Readers to Test Subject Six

Netflix
Netflix

The first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things pulled viewers in with the help of Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown's pint-sized test subject with a shaved head and an appetite for murder. In season 2, audiences learned much more about where Eleven came from, and were even introduced to Kali, a.k.a. Eight, a fellow test subject from Eleven’s past. Though we know season 3 will show us more of Kali, we don't yet know if any other numbered tweens will show up. Thankfully, however, we do have a few intriguing tie-in comics and novels to hold us over while we wait.

Earlier this month, we learned even more about Eleven—including why her mom named her Jane—via author Gwenda Bond's prequel novel, Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds. Now, Dark Horse Comics has announced that it's also getting into the Stranger Things prequel game with a new comic book series:

As Entertainment Weekly reports, the new series will introduce readers to a new test subject—Six, a.k.a. Francine. Like the other test subjects, Francine has her own unique set of powers, including precognition.

Written by Jody Houser and illustrated by Edgar Salazar, the first of four issues of Stranger Things: Six will go on sale on May 29, 2019. This may seem like a long while to wait, but considering that the new season of Stranger Things won't drop until July 4, we'll take what we can get.

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