A study in Scarlet

This past weekend I conducted an experiment; I started at the top and worked my way through my books, turning books by male authors, so that spines only on books written by women( or in two cases by a man and a woman) were visible.

I got the idea for this from @curledpages on Instagram, who in turn got it from @athousandbooks, and he in turn got it from a bookstore. Meanwhile @2manybeaytifulbooks did it too a while back, inspired by an article in The Guardian(about a bookstore. Possibly the same one as mentioned above). It’s in the air.


I forgot two books that should have been tuned but the general impression was still one of shelves that were fairly balanced. And this wasn’t exactly a surprise; currently my shelves are very curated. In two waves, for different reasons, I’ve had to go through all my books and decide what I want to keep, and also what to buy as I have limited space.

Buy a new edition of a book that I have read and is written by a dead man? Probably not. I’ll get that from the library instead and give space and money to a living female author. And I feel the need to point this out again; I’m not saying that the gender says anything about the quality of the writing, I am saying that women still have a harder time in publishing and that they were almost entirely excluded for millennia. There are exceptions of course but few seen to the fact that women make up almost half the worlds population.

However, when I posted on IG a few people commented on the fact that so many of the pink books still had there spines out, the hashtag #spinesoutexperiment tag was born and someone was offended naturally( that person later removed their comment). The case of the pink spines made me take a closer look. It should be explained that my shelves are organized according to colour, more or less. As there is a predominance of books with black or white spines I’ve had to wrap a few books in paper of another colour to find place for them, and a few books are in bad condition and need that additional protective sleeve.

In the end it turns out it’s mostly an optical illusion; the bright light and a little bit of filter makes books that are red appear more on the pink side.

IMG_2702 (1)When looking at it as it normally is, and closer up, it doesn’t feel as pink and a few heavy hitters like Bulgakov and Wondrich have lovely pink covers. In the end I don’t have that many pink books, and a fair few are by men. It’s more that it sticks out the bookcase is a rainbow of sorts. My sleuthing revealed nothing interesting; the Sherlock Holmes fan girl in me is a tad bit disappointed of not finding the indication of a huge conspiracy on my shelves, the economist in me knows well that not finding something is a valid result and very often the only result.

It’s worth mentioning however that books about feminism often have pink covers in Sweden, just because. Fanny Ambjörnsson wrote the brilliant book Pink-the dangerous colour where she points out the very short history of pink as a “girly” colour and also point out that it isn’t always the case, The Financial Times are printed on pink paper and that’s not a exactly a weak and emotional paper( except possibly Sir David Tang in the Agony uncle-column, but polemic is the whole point of it, and  mostly for comic effect). Even before that book there had been several feminist classics in pink covers, a case of reclaiming the colour I guess. I love pink and there is no contradiction between that and being a feminist( to claim so is utterly 2007. Just stop).

So the next step would naturally be to turn my books so that only spines on books written by people of colour would show. There eI’m afraid the result would not be as balanced. We’ll see if I get around to that.


Things related to this post;

That article in The Guardian

Another article, also from the Guardian, about gender imbalance in reviews and publicity




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