One might, in fact, blame the patriarchy

Slate's DoubleX column: "Is the New York Times' book section really a boys club?"

[Note that the Slate column chooses to show Franzen instead of any of the widely quoted female authors, such as Jennifer Weiner (pictured), which leads this blogger to ask: Is Slate's DoubleX column really a boys club?]

"I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan 'Genius' Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely." 
Weiner seems most concerned about how we, as a literary culture, draw the boundaries around a certain group of books. Let's call this category zeitgeist fiction—commercial fiction that is for some reason deemed worthy of serious analysis, either because of sales (Twilight), cultural impact (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), or surprisingly spry writing (High Fidelity).*Weiner and Picoult raise the following question: Is pop fiction written by men more likely to be lifted out of the "disposable" pile, becoming the kind of cultural objects august institutions like the New York Times feel compelled to pay attention to? And are the commercial genres most commonly associated with male writers and readers—science fiction, legal thriller—more likely to be taken seriously than their female equivalents (chick lit, romance novel)? Or as Weiner puts it, would certain male writers—Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Carl Hiaasen, or David Nicholls—"be considered chick lit writers if they were girls?"
It's a totally valid question.

Another question for you readers: Is Franzen really that good? I've avoiding reading his stuff so far. I'd rather pick up almost any of the other mentioned authors. 

1 comment:

  1. It is a valid question. Few reading this blog will doubt the existence of institutional sexism, so there you go. On the other hand, Franzen (and people like him, that is, people on the top of their game) are always targets for criticism, of all stripes. While the questions raised are all valid, I believe what started the whole to-do was the fact that the Times reviewed the new Franzen book twice. I'm not sure that's very equitable no matter who the author is. Last year I read two reviews out of the Times of a new biography of Flannery O'Connor. One would have sufficed, and could have left room for a review of another, lesser-known work.

    A few of the articles I've read about this Franzen debate make the point of saying that Franzen is sort of a nortorious ass. While I'm not inclined to disagree, knowing what I know about him, I wonder how many of the critiques leveled at him are that objective.


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