December
8th 2009
Best books of 2009: No girl writers allowed!

Posted under: American history, art, book reviews, Gender, publication, wankers

he-manUPDATED BELOW

Many of you are probably making your holiday gift lists, and checking them twice, and I’m guessing that some of my smarty-pants readers are interested in gifting (or being gifted) some of this year’s best new titles, in both fiction and non-fiction.  Well, here’s a funny coinky-dink, courtesy of reader Kathie who tipped me off last month:  all of the very best books this year were written by men!  It isn’t just the STEM fields anymore, girls–apparently, we are clearly inferior at every professional and artistic endeavor:

  • In “Why Weren’t Any Women Writers Invited to Publishers Weekly’s Weenie Roast?” The Green Lantern Press writes, “Publishers Weekly recently announced their Best Books Of 2009 list. Of their top ten, chosen by editorial staff, no books written by women were included. Quoted in The Huffington Post, PW confidently admitted that they’re “not the most politically correct” choices. This statement comes in a year in which new books appeared by writers such as Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Rita Dove, Heather McHugh and Alicia Ostriker.”  (Who??)
  • Publishers Weekly explained, “We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the “big” books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”  But–we didn’t give it a second thought, beyond this odd acknowledgement of the bias of our list!  (Which implies somehow that in years before, when “gender and and genre” were not ignored, the ladies were the beneficiaries of some kind of literary affirmative action.)  Boys rule, girls drool!  Let’s take a closer look at that top 10 list, shall we?
  • boyslifeHere’s just a sampling of the wide, wide world of subjects covered by teh menz:  a look at the development of the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missle in the Cold War; a “a thrilling narrative of scientific discovery and the spirit of an age;” a “graphic novel to bring us all back to comics;” a novel about “an ex-junkie African-American bus station porter” who gets involved with a rural cult; a “Philosopher and motorcycle mechanic . . . makes a brilliant case for the intellectual satisfactions of working with one’s hands;” a novel about “an aging hipster grinding it out as a freelance journalist who pursues the girl instead of the story;” and a “classic adventure tale. . . [which] follows in the footsteps of early–20th-century Amazon jungle explorer Percy Fawcett.”  Motorcycles, comic books, “classic adventure” tales, and bombs!  Nothing gendered here, friends–just good, old-fashioned story-telling  that everyone can enjoy.  Good thing they didn’t bother with genre or gender, so we can know what the truly superior and totally not gendered people are reading and writing.
  • Funnily enough, the National Book Awards announced last month had the exact same tilt.  Male writers won all of the major prizes (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s literature.)  The only woman awarded a prize was a dead woman, Flannery O’Connor, who’s been safely in the grave since 1964!  A lifetime achievement award was given to Gore Vidal, and Dave Eggers was the “honorary medalist,” completing the near-sweep by teh menz. 

Well, I for one am totally relieved that there wasn’t any dreary political correctness or Soviet-era feminism involved in this year’s prizes.  Isn’t “postfeminism” awesome?  It’s just as comfy and unthreatening as prefeminism.

UPDATE, later this morning:  Why not start our own “best books” list here in the comments below?  I’ve made my suggestion–come on kids, let’s rent a barn and put on a show!  See here too for Knitting Clio’s suggestions for excellent books and commentary on the bias of the PW list.

55 Comments »

55 Responses to “Best books of 2009: No girl writers allowed!”

  1. Notorious Ph.D. on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:07 am #

    I followed your link to the PW page. When they described one of their top-ten books as “unputdownable,” I decided that I didn’t need to care what they thought.

    Unfortunately, many people will. So thanks for the post.

  2. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:37 am #

    Yes, well: it’s helpful to know about all of the books we don’t want to read, at least. Perhaps other commenters will nominate excellent recent books written by women in the comments here.

    I recently finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Elegance du Herisson), by Muriel Barbery. It seems like it was a pretty good translation from the French, but I wish my French were better so that I could have read it in the original. (I am curious to see the French versions of the American-sounding slang expressions in the book.) This book has gotten a lot of “buzz.” At times I wondered about it, and it seemed pretty pretentious (it’s about a building concierge who conceals her intellectual brilliance by speaking and behaving like a working-class schlub, and a suicidal middle-school girl who conceals her intellectual brilliance with adolescent angst and disdain for her limousine-liberal parents and her older sister), but in the end it won me over because it’s funny and turns out to be very moving as these two characters become friends through the intervention of a new neighbor in the building. It’s very sentimental at the end, and I found myself sobbing. (The ending is kind of a And-then-the-cops-came quick wrap-up that’s not satisfying, but then again, what would be?)

  3. Tom on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:46 am #

    After your write-up, Historiann, I was hoping to see my own (male-authored) 2009 book on the PW top 10. No such luck. Maybe Historiann readers can share the best 2009 books they’ve read? I’d throw a title or two out there, but off the top of my head I can’t remember reading any books this year. It’s been that kind of year.

  4. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:46 am #

    Tom–congratulations on your new book! Too bad about being passed over, again. I hope you can sit down and enjoy a good novel (graphic or no) over winter break.

  5. Knitting Clio on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:47 am #

    For once, I’ve beaten you to blogging about a topic:

    http://hmprescott.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/knitting-clio-is-mad-as-hell-at-publishers-weekly/

  6. Paul on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:49 am #

    Who makes these lists, anyway? These kind of lists seem to be so subjective that nobody should take them too seriously.

    I’m not one to recommend literature of any kind – I read almost entirely history in my spare time, and I probably couldn’t tell good from bad literature even if I read it!

  7. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:50 am #

    KC–thanks for the link. I’m sorry I missed it last month! (Everyone else–click on her link above. She’s got some great suggestions for quality books. I too liked the Joyce Carol Oates collection of mostly gothic-y short fiction based on the lives of American writers, and I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy of Jennifer Scanlon’s Bad Girls Go Everywhere, which I’ve mentioned here on the blog before.)

  8. truffula on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:22 am #

    I’ll recommend a 2009 book, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience by Kirstin Downey.

    My family gave it to me for Mother’s Day. Downey is in my opinion a talented writer. The book not only fills in details about FP’s life and many roles in FDR’s administration but is also quite relevant to the political debates of our own time (what is the state’s social obligation to its people?). Everything old is new again.

    When I was in 6th grade, my mother suggested I might like to read a book about the struggle for women’s suffrage. I wish I could remember which book it was. In any event, I checked it out of the library, took it with me to camp that year, and was applauded by my camp councilors (high school girls) for my choice in reading material. It is not possible to overstate the importance of their approval at that age. Ah, the 70′s, when public approval of feminism was a good thing. It’s true that I was not yet analyzing the intersectionality of oppressions, but you know, I was on my way and girls I looked up to said “good for you.”

  9. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:26 am #

    Thanks, truffula–I love bios of 20th C people, for some reason, so I’ll take a look at the bio of Perkins. (Maybe it’s because I’m NOT a 20th C historian, so I can just read them for fun, whereas if I read an early American bio I’m taking notes and getting all anxious about “the argument.”)

    For those of you interested in New Deal-era people, there’s also a new bio of Dorothea Lange by Linda Gordon. (I heard an interview of Gordon on the Diane Rehm show a few weeks ago to promote the book–it sounds very interesting.)

  10. Indyanna on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:38 am #

    Jeezus. This sounds like my dept. cmee. rationalizing why all eight of the recommended candidates for next year’s temporary faculty list are men(z). viz, Not p.c., you understand, we just worked with what we had to work with. Women just don’t work in these fields. You can’t hire who’s not out there, etc. etc. You’ve heard the litany. Year after year.

    Why, by the way, does there NEED to be a “Next Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig,” [1974, sold 5 million copies] at this point in time, anyway? More like RE-cycle maintenance for wrench freaks. Did Matthew Sanford figure out how to squeeze even MORE existential juice out of tweaking the rpms and building a serviceable inerositor out of empty sprite cans? I think I’ll get to work on the next “Greening of America.”

  11. dandelion on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:40 am #

    I write fiction and I hear all the time from editors, critics and other “insiders”: men write about “the universal” — i.e. they write about issues of war, authenticity, mortality, meaning, life and death stuff that concerns everyone. Whereas women write stuff that is “too domestic.” Meaning that it deals with family, relationships, love, aging, appearance, security — issues that don’t concern “everyone” but only women. Of course this is complete bullshit. But even if every reviewer at PW says they’re not aware of the gender of the author, if their predisposition is to find battle stories full of universal meaning and then to find relationship stories full of only special interest meaning, then they’re going to decide the battle novels are epic and sweeping and “great” while the relationship novels are small and “jewel-like” and lovely, but not ultimately great. Then of course when men like Updike write about relationships, that turns everything on its head, because the men in the relationships also deal with existential crises and mortality. And when women like Atwood write about post-apocalyptic scenarios it’s somehow too small or too sentimental and not as coarsely-edged as, say, Cormac McCarthy and “The Road” with its two male characters.

    It’s bias through and through, but they believe since they don’t attach names to the work, it’s not there.

    But there’s a real reason why the New Yorker, the number one gatekeeper to the literary world, never has more than 20% women contributors, and often those women contribute the poetry, so the percentage of page space actually given to women writers is very slight.

    A few years ago, the NY Times published a list of the best books of the last 25 years of the 20th century, and I believe there was only one woman author on the list: Toni Morrison. Well, it would have been hard to ignore an American woman who won the Nobel. But apparently between 1975 and 2000, no other significant books were written by women.

    The funny thing is, women make up by far the majority of the book buying public. And, as with movies, it’s also true that while women will read books by male authors, many if not most men will not read books (or at least fiction) by women authors.

  12. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:40 am #

    Good idea. I’ve got another Death and Life of Great American Cities in the works, Indyanna.

    Doesn’t PW give points for originality?

  13. Indyanna on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:48 am #

    p.s. On the recommendations part, although it’s technically an ineligible “imprint” (as we like to say here in the book business) by reason of pub. date, I’m going to go with Julie A. Carlson’s, _England’s First Family of Writers: Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Mary Shelley_ (Johns Hopkins UP, 2007). It’s woefully short on motorcycle crashes, but other than that small flaw, it’s an interesting and a fairly quick read.

  14. Robert Stanley Martin on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:55 am #

    Here’s a few recommendations:

    Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, this year’s winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

    The Land of Green Plums and The Appointment, by Herta Müller, the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

    Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

    The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, edited by Laura Furman and featuring work by Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, L.E. Miller, Caitlin Horrocks, Judy Troy, Nadine Gordimer, Karen Brown, and Marisa Silver.

    The Best American Short Stories 2009, edited by Alice Sebold & Heidi Pitlor and featuring work by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Alice Fulton, Eleanor Henderson, Victoria Lancelotta, Yiyun Li, Rebecca Makkai, Jill McCorkle, Annie Proulx, and Namwalli Serpell.

    You’ll Never Know, by Carol Tyler–one of the year’s best graphic novels, and a damn sight better than David Small’s PW-lauded hate letter to his mother.

  15. Widgeon on 08 Dec 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    I just finished A.S. Byatt, _The Children’s Book_, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has a wonderful mix of fictional characters and real historical figures. Her protagonist, Olive Wellwood, is a complicated maternal figure–no simpering motherhood here, but also not a stereotypical “evil” mother. I’ve lived in an arts and crafts town (East Aurora, NY) so the William Morris/Fabian socialist/back to nature world Byatt draws was of particular interest. It is long and sprawling—a perfect winter break read.

  16. Nikki on 08 Dec 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    I have just started _Wolf Hall_ and it is really well-done. I find I often prefer the winners of the Man Booker prizes to the U.S. award winners. Wasn’t A.S. Byatt’s book short-listed for the Booker this year?

  17. HistoryMaven on 08 Dec 2009 at 12:48 pm #

    Oh golly. Where’s Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Jane Tompkins, Janice Radway, and Bonnie Smith when you need them?

    I rarely look at “best of” lists but this post sent me (amidst grading) to PW’s Website. The language used to describe PW’s Best Books of 2009 is, to use a tired term, tired.

    Blake Bailey “sheds new light” on John Cheever’s “achievement.”

    Chaon delivers a “gripping account of colliding fates.”

    Grann’s book is a “classic adventure tale.”

    Oy. I cannot bear to go on, except to say that PW’s claim that a cookbook almost made it to the list appears, eerily, at the same time Adam Gopnik writes about cookbooks as literature in The New Yorker. Coincidence? Co-optation? Are women food writers being forced out of the business?

    I’d love to know PW’s inner workings beyond claiming that good writing is self evident. So is bulls–t.

  18. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    Thanks, everyone! Widgeon, I’ve just put a copy of Byatt’s new novel on hold for me, so it should be ready for me to pick up tomorrow.

    Just in time to distract me from marking final papers and exams!

  19. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    dandelion wrote, I write fiction and I hear all the time from editors, critics and other “insiders”: men write about “the universal” — i.e. they write about issues of war, authenticity, mortality, meaning, life and death stuff that concerns everyone. Whereas women write stuff that is “too domestic.” Meaning that it deals with family, relationships, love, aging, appearance, security — issues that don’t concern “everyone” but only women.

    Speaking of cliches–this language of “the universal” versus domesticity/private life–major FAIL. How can people say that with a straight face? When women writers *do* write about traditionally male subjects (Laurie Garrett, Elizabeth Kolbert) they get patronized for not being experts and not being trained scientists. (Good thing not everyone agrees.)

    Oh, but John McPhee and Malcolm Gladwell are Gods!

  20. FrauTech on 08 Dec 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    I think the only books I read by a female author this year were the Twilight Series (yes, I’m embarrassed). Maybe this should be a blogging challenge for blog writers to not only choose a few of their favorite books by female authors but then pick a new one to read. It’s one thing to see all these recommendations on here, but I’m not a typical modern-era fiction reader, so would love some suggestions for sci-fi or entertaining non-fiction. I understand none of this changes the system, but more publicity for great female authors can’t really be a bad thing, right?

  21. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    FrauTech–you raise a great point. Many of the most successful women writers are “genre fiction” writers (romance, gothic, horror, sci-fi) rather than “literary fiction” writers. And, people who write “genre fiction” are typically excluded from consideration as “literary fiction.”

    John Grisham and Stephen King are genre fiction writers–and King’s been published in The New Yorker several times over the past decade. (Will this happen to the Twilight Series author? I’ll not hold my breath. . .)

  22. truffula on 08 Dec 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    Ursula LeGuin is a successful fiction writer (and poet) who pushes the genre, sci-fi/fantasy, pretty far. She is without a doubt my favorite modern fiction writer.

  23. thefrogprincess on 08 Dec 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    The impressive thing is that Publishers’ Weekly can justify their stance in the year of Wolf Hall. I’ve yet to hear a bad word about it.

    And where’s Gail Collins’s When Everything Changed?

  24. Paul on 08 Dec 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    Speaking of cliches–this language of “the universal” versus domesticity/private life–major FAIL. How can people say that with a straight face?

    For one thing, aren’t family, relationships, aging, and other “private life” issues pretty universal as well? Granted, men and women might tend to prefer stories that deal with these themes in different ways.

  25. Kathleen Lowrey on 08 Dec 2009 at 3:21 pm #

    dandelion — combining what you said with Historiann’s endorsement of _The Elegance of the Hedgehog_, I just Wikipediaed (verb?) the latter and the Gallimard’s initial print run for it was 4000 copies. It is now in its 50th printing. It always makes me laugh when cultural gatekeepers say they produce what they produce because of capitalism & markets & demand & supply & we gives the people what the people likes, taste-making be damned. Ha.

  26. Kathleen Lowrey on 08 Dec 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    oh, and PW’s assertion that they were ‘disturbed’ by their own list: this “more in sorrow than in smirking, we report with reluctance that the only cool smart people are white and male and, also, male and white” line, argh.

  27. Janice on 08 Dec 2009 at 4:24 pm #

    The older I get, the more I’m convinced that Simone de Beauvoir had the essence of it all figured out. To be male is to be human; to be female is to be the Inessential Other. Ergo: no best books from or chiefly concerning women because they’re not truly human.

  28. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    Janice: ain’t it a bitch? You probably remember that old bumper sticker (as do I) that said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

    Kathleen: the alternative narrative, when a woman writer sells a million books, is that she’s “just” a genre fiction writer, just a romance writer, just a sentimentalist who serves lowbrow, mawkish tastes. (See for example: those “damned scribbling women” that Nathaniel Hawthorne complained about, like Harriet Beecher Stowe or Susan Warner).

    See, when a male writer fails to sell a lot of books (see Herman Melville) it’s evidence of his highbrow seriousness that the public just doesn’t “get.” When a male writer sells a million books, it’s proof of his mastery of his craft. When a female writer can’t get a book contract or one for only a print run of 4,000 (like Barbery), it’s because the market isn’t buying what she’s selling, because she’s just a “niche” or genre fiction writer.

    See how easy it is to excuse the low bar for men, and to keep setting the bar higher for women?

  29. Janice on 08 Dec 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Just popping back in to highlight an interesting list from Salon of their best nonfiction books of 2009. Notice that two of the five are by women and the collection, “A New Literary History of America” has a whole slew of essays contributed by women.

  30. Katherine on 08 Dec 2009 at 5:17 pm #

    Let me plug the Women’s Review of Books lots of great books reviewed. Their review of The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins made me get it for my mom for Christmas. I’m going to try and read it first.

  31. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 5:20 pm #

    Janice and Katherine–great recommendations, both. I’ve been meaning to subscribe to the Women’s Review–maybe I’ll put that on my wish list for Santa. . .

  32. shaz on 08 Dec 2009 at 5:23 pm #

    Ex-historian, Jennifer Baszile’s The Black Girl Next Door.

  33. Vance Maverick on 08 Dec 2009 at 5:26 pm #

    The Children’s Book is great — a historical novel in a way I hadn’t encountered before. (The Little Professor’s comment suggests that’s because my reading isn’t as wide as hers — whose could be, after all — but I’ll check out the prototype she proposes.)

    I like the use of the phrase “the girl” in that plot summary from Publishers Weekly. Because it just goes without saying that the story will have a love interest who is female and slightly subhuman.

  34. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    Jennifer Baszile is an ex-historian???

    Vance: good point about “the girl.” (And another tragic cliche!) I’m getting really excited about The Children’s Book. I loved Possession, natch, and had no interest in seeing the movie, which I knew would inevitably disappoint. But I will confess to having had some trouble getting through Byatt’s other works. (I like English fiction, but some of them are really, really, stultifyingly English, or so it seemed to me at the time. And I even like Barbara Pym!)

  35. Vance Maverick on 08 Dec 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    I didn’t have that problem with this book, but then I’m fairly Anglophile in literary taste too (Pym FTW). I hope to write something longer about The Children’s Book — one thing to say is that it handles “genre” better than Possession. No corny modern romance.

  36. Dr. Crazy on 08 Dec 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    I really need to read the Byatt, but I’ve got to say, I *enjoy* Margaret Drabble (her sister) a lot more. I also really need to read Atwood’s latest, but I can’t get to that until I finally force myself to read _Oryx and Crake_.

    I wish I had more to contribute to the discussion of this year’s books…. Problematically, when one is an English prof, one does not read “real” books during the academic year. Or at least if one is an English professor like me :)

  37. Comrade PhysioProf on 08 Dec 2009 at 7:16 pm #

    Are you aware of the kerfuffle over Richard Dawkins’s edited anthology of the best science writing in history? It’s got eighty something authors, only three of whom are women. Here is one example of blog post analyzing it, and containing a pathetic excuse from Dawkins in a comment:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/12/08/on-imbalance-and-underrepresentation/

    Not surprisingly, Dawkins failed to sack up and admit he fucked up.

  38. Emma on 08 Dec 2009 at 7:57 pm #

    Oryx and Crake, I think you won’t be forcing yourself to read it once you get into it. I always find the idea of Atwood very intimidating, but when I do crack them open I really do like them.

  39. Historiann on 08 Dec 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    Thanks for the link, CPP: there are always so many extremely defensive D00dz over on the science blogs, aren’t there? That thread, and many over at Isis’s and Zuska’s places, are practically game-ready for Denial of the Existence of Male Privelege Bingo. Examples: Write your own damn book, don’t you have anything better to do with your time than bitch about representation, you’re just interested in bean counting, there are no other women scientists we could have included, *of course* I’m against sexism, but I don’t see the point of complaining about this, *I’ve* never felt privileged so male privilege doesn’t exist, etc.

    As for Atwood: I kind of fell off the wagon after The Blind Assassin, which just got very sprawly and weird, and I’m not a sci-fi or fantasy fan so I’m not all that interested in Oryx and Crake. But, I could be persuaded…

  40. Comrade PhysioProf on 08 Dec 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    Thanks for the link, CPP: there are always so many extremely defensive D00dz over on the science blogs, aren’t there?

    Yup. It’s amazing what a bunch of unreflective whiny-ass titty-babies so many of these supposed “rational thinkers” and “skeptics” become when they are asked to be a little bit skeptical about their own motherfucking privilege.

  41. Ignatz on 08 Dec 2009 at 9:51 pm #

    The New York Times Book Review put out its top 100 this past Sunday. More than half of the authors were menz, but women included Penelope Lively, Mary Gaitskill, Jeanette Walls, Valerie Martin, Amy Gerstler, Hilary Mantel (I started Wolf Hall on the stairmaster today and kept going for 50 minutes, totally absorbed), Louise Gluck, Kate Walbert, Mary Robison, Antonya Nelson, Sarah Waters, Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood and Jayne Anne Phillips (I’m not fans of those 3)–that’s just on the fiction side. Linda Gordon’s Lange bio made the list, as did Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, Anne Heller on Ayn Rand, Louisa Gilder on quantum physics, Mary Beard on Pompeii, Gail Collins on women post-1960, Carol Sklenicka on Raymond Carver, Rebecca Solnit on disasters, Hannah Pakula on Madame Chiang Kai-shek, memoirs by Mary Karr and some others…
    Btw, I second the adulation of Downey’s Frances Perkins bio. Stellar writing about an amazing woman.
    Also btw, Shop Class As Soulcraft isn’t bad. It’s kinda simultaneously verbose and “yeah, duh”–but Crawford’s getting enuf press that maybe his idea that vocational work is valuable might make its way into some people’s brains. We can only hope.

  42. Dr. Crazy on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:09 pm #

    Emma, I’ve read all of Atwood’s novels other than Oryx and Crake, and I’m even doing some scholarship on Atwood these days. The issue with O and C for me was that it hit me at absolutely the wrong time (just as I was finishing and defending my diss) and that I couldn’t get into the first 10 pages. I LOVE Atwood. But I’ve had trouble with that particular novel. And yet I know that I can’t read her latest without reading it.

    That said, I loved The Blind Assassin, and Alias, Grace. And my absolute favorite of her novels is The Robber Bride (yes, more favorite than Lady Oracle and
    The Handmaid’s Tale). So it’s not even that I don’t get into “later” Atwood. It’s totally an O&C problem. Here’s the thing, though, from what I gather from my Atwood Scholar friends: we’ve all got to get into O&C if we care about the environment and about climate change and about the natural world. I’m willing to bet this is true, even though I’ve been unable (or unwilling) for years to read O&C.

  43. Paul S. on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:15 pm #

    Yup. It’s amazing what a bunch of unreflective whiny-ass titty-babies so many of these supposed “rational thinkers” and “skeptics” become when they are asked to be a little bit skeptical about their own motherfucking privilege.

    I don’t think that it’s surprising at all. Few people today want to think of themselves as sexist or racist, and being sexist or racist is seen as a terrible personal failing. To put it another way, I think that many people who are privileged because of gender or race (among other things) see sexism and racism as personal character issues rather than social issues. From this perspective, to be accused of being sexist or racist is equivalent to being called an evil or worthless human being. This creates an automatic and very strong defensive reaction, which is easily enough to overpower rationalism or self-reflection.

    Irrational? Absolutely. Unproductive? Of course. Still, it’s my guess that this is the line of thinking which leads many people, white men especially, to angrily deny that they are sexist or racist or even that sexism and racism are still major social issues.

  44. KrisT on 08 Dec 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    Seconding Margaret Atwood. I recently finished The Year of the Flood, but it makes better sense to read it as a double feature after Oryx and Crake. Also, if you are looking for excellent female authors, the Willa List wiki is a response to PW’s ridiculous phallocentricity, and includes the best of 2009 fiction, nonfiction, and poetry written by women. http://willalist.wikia.com/wiki/The_WILLA_List_Wiki

  45. thefrogprincess on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    Oh I really like Paul S.’s racism/sexism as character flaws vs. racism/sexism as structural problems. That’s brilliant.

  46. Geoff on 08 Dec 2009 at 11:50 pm #

    @Indyanna – Shop Class as Soulcraft isn’t much of a re-do of ZatAoMM, so much of a manifesto that trade work – everything from drywalling to auto repair – can be intellectually gratifying and spiritually satisfying in ways that many current chic ‘knowledge worker’ careers are not.

  47. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Dec 2009 at 3:04 am #

    I don’t think that it’s surprising at all.

    Oh, I absolutely agree that it is not surprising. But it is certainly amazing, which is what I said.

  48. Women writers – then and NOW « Politics & Imagination on 09 Dec 2009 at 6:02 am #

    [...] Historiann [...]

  49. Historiann on 09 Dec 2009 at 7:13 am #

    Paul’s analysis is good, but the amazing thing (in CPP’s words) about the exchange over the Dawson book is that the D00dz weren’t being accused of anything–Dawson alone was taken to task for his rather narrow view of authors in his anthology. The responding d00dz in the conversation inserted themselves into it by taking *one specific critique* of *one specific book* by *one specific man* and getting all offended by it on his behalf. Touching, sorta, but totally beside the point. They singled out the woman writer on this science blog, which is co-written by a man and a woman, and told her to STFU, lectured her about better uses of her time, etc. IOW, all of the classic techniques of shutting down conversations on femininst blogs.

    That’s what’s amazing to me. The idea that a little conversation in cyberspace with which one doesn’t agree is going to shake the foundations of one’s entire professional life. Dissent will not be tolerated! They must be silenced!!!11!!!! Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain1111!!!!!1!!!!

  50. perpetua on 09 Dec 2009 at 9:15 am #

    Just thought ya’ll might like a refreshingly different list:

    http://www.salon.com/entertainment/best_of_2009/index.html?story=/books/laura_miller/2009/12/08/best_fiction

    (five fiction and five non fiction, women liberally represented.)

  51. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Dec 2009 at 11:54 am #

    Dawson alone was taken to task for his rather narrow view of authors in his anthology.

    Dawkins.

    That’s what’s amazing to me. The idea that a little conversation in cyberspace with which one doesn’t agree is going to shake the foundations of one’s entire professional life.

    My theory is that a major contributor to this scenario is that the only “professional life” the vast majority of these rational skeptic d00ds have is rushing around in packs on the Internet vesting their egos in the defense of their celebrity heroes.

  52. Historiann on 09 Dec 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    Ooops! Sorry. Dawkins, Dawson, Darwin. . . they all blur together. (I don’t know who the hell Dawson is!)

  53. Kathleen Lowrey on 09 Dec 2009 at 1:53 pm #

    CPP — hee hee. that’s a funny image.

  54. Indyanna on 09 Dec 2009 at 9:14 pm #

    Dawson is William Dawson (Sr. and Jr.); some dood I’m tracking in 18th C. Windsor Forest.

  55. fannie on 14 Dec 2009 at 1:19 pm #

    In general, I find it to be inappropriate and meaningless for the creators of “best of” lists to presume to tell the rest of us what does and does not count as the “best” fiction, as though something as subjective as literature can or should be made “objective.” Who died and made them the arbiter of all that does and does not count as qualitatively good?

    In a similar vein, don’t forget Mike Ashley’s “The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction” anthology, which includes not a single work by a woman or person of color.

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