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Jodi Picoult, an author and outspoken critic of gender disparities for years, is one of the writers columnist Leonard Pitts will read this year as he only reads books by female authors.
Jodi Picoult, an author and outspoken critic of gender disparities for years, is one of the writers columnist Leonard Pitts will read this year as he only reads books by female authors. (KATE POWERS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

I’m here to say goodbye to Stephen King.

Not that he’s going anywhere. Indeed, I imagine he’s at his desk even now, devising a fiendish fate for some schmuck unlucky enough to be a character in a Stephen King novel.

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But whatever that fate may be, I will know nothing about — not this year, at least. I will be similarly ignorant of whatever legal potboiler John Grisham has in the pipeline or whatever magisterial new history David McCullough publishes next. The acclaimed new novels by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Colson Whitehead? They will also have to wait until 2021.

This, you see, is The Year of Reading Women.

No, that’s not an official calendar designation. Rather, it’s an unofficial columnist designation, springing from a piece I did last summer. I spoke of perusing my book diary and discovering to my chagrin that it contained almost no women authors. In 2016, for instance, I read or listened to 46 books. Exactly one — Tananarive Due’s “Ghost Summer Stories” — was by a woman.

Without realizing it, I had been filtering female authors out of my reading list. It was a jolting discovery for an avowed feminist, but it reminded me how insidious biases can be. And that, for as much as people love to proclaim their absolute lack of prejudice, what they usually mean is that they do not go around thinking mean thoughts about racial, religious or gender others. Which is well and fine, except that our most powerful and consequential prejudices tend to be the ones we carry without even knowing we do. They lead us to assumptions we make without realizing we’ve made them, actions we take without quite knowing why.

So it’s not enough to harbor no conscious bias. Rather, it’s incumbent upon good people also to be vigilant and intentional in dealing with biases they carry below the level of conscious awareness.

The Year of Reading Women is me, being intentional. From now until Dec. 31, with the exception of those I might need in researching a column or novel, every book I read or listen to will be by a female author.

You, dear reader of whichever gender, are welcome to read and listen along. I’ll be posting capsule reviews through the year and hope you’ll share your thoughts as well. The web page that will host all this is still under construction, but you’ll find the link in a future column as well as on my page at MiamiHerald.com. I’ll also post links on Facebook and Twitter (#TheYearOfReadingWomen).

When I wrote that first column I didn’t expect much response, books being the unsexy subject they are. So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be my biggest column of the year. I’m still snowed under by reader recommendations and have resigned myself that I’ll never reach the bottom of the pile. But I thank all of you who suggested a name or title to me. Most of this year’s reading will be drawn from your lists. We begin with Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Linda Castillo’s “Sworn to Silence.”

I confess to some mild trepidation. Metaphorically speaking, at least, Stephen King is a friend of long standing. It’s going to feel strange going a year without him, Walter Mosley or Greg Iles.

However, I need to heed my own advice. How many times have I argued that rooting out ingrained biases requires a willingness to venture beyond your comfort zones? In getting out of your comfort zones, you expand them, a process that is ultimately less about abandoning old friends than discovering new ones. So yes, today’s the day I say goodbye to Stephen King.

It’s also the day I say hello to Jodi Picoult.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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