August
31st 2010
American literary fiction: No Girls Allowed, “feminist Franzenfreude” edition

Posted under: American history, art, book reviews, Gender, wankers, women's history

Srsly?

Check out this protest by some writers of the coronation of Jonathan Franzen by the American literary establishment as the next Leo Tolstoy:

This time around a couple of best-selling female writers, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, have tweeted their disdain for what they see as critical fawning over Franzen’s new novel, Freedom.

Weiner has even come up with a phrase to describe her feelings: Franzenfreude.

“Schadenfreude is taking pleasure in the pain of others,” Weiner says. “Franzenfreude is taking pain in the multiple and copious reviews being showered on Jonathan Franzen.”

But her angst is not just about the book — or even about Franzen himself.

“It’s about the establishment choosing one writer and writing about him again and again and again,” Weiner says, “while they are ignoring a lot of other worthy writers and, in the case of The New York Times, entire genres of books.”

So why Franzen, and not (for example) Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, or Barbara Kingsolver?  Gee:  I wonder!

“It’s just interesting to sort of stack them up against a Lorrie Moore or against a Mona Simpson — who write books about families that are seen as excellent books about families,” Weiner says. “And then to look at a Jonathan Franzen who writes a book about a family but we are told this is a book about America.”

Now, I really liked Franzen’s The Corrections, and I asked for Freedom for my birthday this year.  But Picoult and Weiner are absolutely correct.  As I have argued here before American literary fiction has no room for womenI have assumed that I like Franzen’s work because I too am a white, Protestant midwesterner who grew up in a particular kind of family and neighborhood at a particular moment in the twentieth century, and I thought The Corrections captured that very well, in addition to offering a lengthy sub-plot that was a hilarious academic comedy of errors.  I don’t have any illusions that his subjectivity is the only “Great American” subjectivity, like a lot of the reviewers of certain clever men novelists seem to think.  (Take David Foster Wallace, for example–please.  Now he wrote some clever and entertaining things, but was anyone else annoyed by his writerly tics of returning to tennis and Illinois all of the time?  Who the frack cares about tennis or Illinois?  How are they such universal concerns?)

It’s like John Updike’s blurb on the book jacket of the Joyce Carol Oates novel I took with me on vacation a few weeks ago said:  “If there were such a term as a woman of letters, Oates would deserve it.”  That’s the view of the inbred, talking-only-to-themselves New York-based American literary establishment of The New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker.  “If there were such a term as woman of letters”–but of course, there isn’t, and our literary tastemakers who are nearly all the same age, sex, regional background, and race will make sure it never happens!

Good for Picoult and Weiner.  Their courageous stand will win them nothing, and will probably cost them a lot.  I guess they can kiss their hopes for future reviews in the New York Times goodbye!

52 Comments »

52 Responses to “American literary fiction: No Girls Allowed, “feminist Franzenfreude” edition”

  1. Dickens Reader on 31 Aug 2010 at 9:47 am #

    Staying on topic, I agree, women are not allowed to be of letters. Veering off a bit, are you familiar with Gore Vidal’s hatred for Joyce Carol Oates. It is completely unjustifiable, but most telling. I have yet to read an Oates novel, but I do love her short stories. FTR, Updike bores me to tears.

  2. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 9:52 am #

    No, I didn’t know Vidal hates Oates, but I’m not surprised. She puts women, and women’s understandings of their own lives, at the center of her stories. This is something that never occured to Vidal, not even in Myra Breckenridge!

    (I love his essays, but I’ve never liked or really understood his fiction. It always seems so stagey, so preachy, and so obviously trying to be about Something Important.)

  3. Dr. Crazy on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:02 am #

    I think I’d be more impressed if it were Toni Morrison, or Lorrie Moore (who isn’t exactly dismissed by reviewers) – or Jane Smiley, who NPR did consult, who comments that she understands how some writers might be upset but doesn’t go further than that, perhaps because she, too, is a critical darling? – protesting the frenzy over Franzen. Have you ever read a book by Jennifer Weiner? Or by Jodi Picoult? Because I have. And lemme tell ya: there’s a reason why people don’t pay attention to them in the same way that people pay attention to a Franzen (or a Morrison, or a Moore, or a Smiley). (And, I’d liken people’s lack of attention to them to the level of attention that, say, a Dean Koontz gets. You’ll notice that Dean Koontz isn’t capitalizing on Franzen by going after him via Twitter, though.)

    I do think that there is a fair criticism to be made about the way that women writers (and writers of color, and GLBTQ writers, and working-class writers) are left out of a mainstream canon of literature – whether we’re talking about in the reviews that appear in the mainstream press or whether we’re talking about in literary criticism. But I’m curmudgeonly enough to believe that there is a distinction between literary fiction and popular fiction and that this distinction is worth preserving. And I say that as a reader of crap. (And yes, I’d characterize Jennifer Weiner’s novels as crap. Better crap than, say, Judith Krantz, but not by much.)

    Here’s the thing: Franzen achieved his status as a famous “literary” writer in large part because he backed out of Oprah’s Book Club with The Corrections, because he decided that he was too literary for the whole “I really identify with these characters, this is just like my family” style of shlock discussion that Oprah’s Book Club engendered. THAT made him a household name, and that’s why people care about what he does. By extension, his literary acclaim largely depends on the distinction that I support above, and that he supported by backing out of the Oprah machine. (After Franzen, Oprah moved on to publicizing mostly Dead White Male writers, like Steinbeck and Tolstoy, who couldn’t back out of participating.)

    For Weiner and Picoult to complain about the attention he’s receiving is a) to get attention for themselves and b) to speak to the audience that typically reads their books – an audience that can be, at its heart, fairly anti-intellectual and that reacts very negatively against anything that they perceive of as elitist, exclusive, or snobbish (and they perceive Franzen as all three).

  4. Lance on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:02 am #

    We had Oates here on campus last year, and it was a real treat to hear her speak about loss and endurance. When we got home, my partner had me load up the Amazon cart with her books. I’ve seen Morrison in person, too, and found her to be a powerfully thoughtful person.

    I’m really not interested in Franzen, who seems determined to overwork Wes Anderson’s ouvre.

    Of course, the single worst thing that can happen to any novelist is to be labelled “Great American Writer.” And so I look forward to decades of subpar work from Franzen. Oops, back to Shadenfreude!

  5. Tony Grafton on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:08 am #

    Just reread The Corrections and The Age of Innocence pretty much simultaneously. Wharton kicked Frantzen’s butt. Somehow I don’t think Picoult or Weiner would do that. Lorrie Moore or Jane Smiley on a good day, for sure.

  6. Tony Grafton on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Sorry, to clarify that ambiguous phrase: Lorrie Moore any time, Smiley on a good day.

  7. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Heh–good line: “Franzen, who seems determined to overwork Wes Anderson’s ouvre.” But Franzen really was there in the 1970s (b. 1959). Wes Anderson was born only in 1969.

    Dr. Crazy: I hear you on the differences between Picoult and Weiner. I don’t read them, mostly for the reasons you state. But I still think they’re right in their observations. Why is it that books by women are considered “domestic novels” or “family novels” or are dismissively referred to as “chick lit?” No one ever grouped together Raymond Carver’s and John Updike’s work (for example) and called it “dick lit,” but that’s pretty much what it is. The messengers aren’t perfect, but I still think they have a good point. Women are presumed to be writing on personal or domestic rather than universal or national themes.

    It really piqued Nathaniel Hawthorne that Harriet Beecher Stowe and Susan Warner far outsold him, and that they could live off of their work but he was dependent on his wife’s Peabody money for their family’s survival. But the American literary establishment has looked out for Hawthorne’s legacy, haven’t they?

  8. Notorious Ph.D. on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:17 am #

    I would like to stir the pot a bit more: If we all seem to know what is meant by “chick lit” — putting the flightiest of female concerns (“Am I pretty? Do I look old? Does he like me? Look at these shoes!”) at the center of a story, can we perhaps also coin “d**k lit” — that is, writers who put the most self-absorbed male concerns (“Am I too old to sleep with the student/babysitter? Am I irrelevant? I need to abandon this family and job and really find myself…”) at their center?

    Both of these types of fiction irritate me. But one goes by a derisive, dismissive nickname, while the other goes by the name of “literature.”

  9. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Notorious–yes, exactly my point. (See above.)

    “Dick lit” swordsmen: Updike, Carver, Philip Roth. Vladmir Nabokov, I suppose. Henry Miller of course. Norman Mailer! (Why didn’t I put him first?) I’d add Gore Vidal as a novelist to that list, too.

    Feel free to add your own nominees!

  10. Susan on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:30 am #

    As I was reading the fawning review in Sunday NYT of Frantzen, all I could think was “Who knows that this is the great American novel of the decade?” I mean, really?
    And it was so fawning… Haven’t read the book, so I can only comment on the review. But I love Notorious’ idea for a genre. Can you see the heading in Barnes & Noble?

  11. Dr. Crazy on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:32 am #

    Actually, people do talk about “dick lit” – though I’ve heard that mostly in a British context, about writers like Nick Hornby, for example, who I would say are on par with their “chick lit” counterparts. While I get that you don’t like Carver or Updike, I do think that they’re better than most of the chick lit/dick lit out there. Just because a writer is masculinist in his approach doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s not writing literature. If it did mean that, well, then I guess we’d have to say that a writer like Virginia Woolf isn’t writing literature because she’s feminist in her approach. (Which, of course, was said by some in earlier decades, but if somebody were to say that today, she’d be considered a crackpot.)

    Again, I don’t disagree with you that there is a legitimate criticism to be made here, though I do wish that it were being made more thoughtfully and with some reference to the debates that have been made about this very issue for, oh, the past 40 years at least. There are, in fact, quite a lot of women writers who are considered “great novelists” who write about “universal themes” – as literary writers, as it were. Lorrie Moore and Toni Morrison are two, but the list goes on: Zadie Smith, A.S. Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Nadine Gordimer, Isabelle Allende…. The point is, if we’re going to criticize the continuing inequality in treatment between male and female writers (and I agree that this inequality continues) then we need to make arguments that weren’t already well and completely made in approximately 1975. We need to attend to issues like race, class, and sexuality, as well as attending to whether a writer is male/female. We need to attend to the ways in which the publishing industry shapes the reception of writers, and we need to attend to how media intervenes in that reception. If we make the argument that women in the 21st century as a class are locked out of elite literary circles, I feel like we’re making a pretty stupid argument – not because there isn’t inequality but rather because that blanket statement *is not true*.

  12. Perpetua on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:44 am #

    I’d like to nominate every male author who writes a book that includes a male character (usually the protagonist) who is an academic and sleeps with – or fantasizes about sleeping with – a student. A sub-plot almost always involves the said man’s victimization by said female undergraduate. Franzen of course included. Even though I also really liked the Corrections and thought it was funny.

    Women are craftspeople and men are artists. It’s an old story, and one with seemingly no end in sight.

  13. Meander on 31 Aug 2010 at 11:00 am #

    I just discovered Elizabeth Strout’s novels this summer–she won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for Olive Kitteridge. The situation isn’t entirely bleak for women in American literary fiction, but pretty dismal, to be sure.

  14. Notorious Ph.D. on 31 Aug 2010 at 11:14 am #

    Dr. Crazy, I think you have a point there. We can’t dismiss a book or author for its masculinist point of view, any more than we’d want, say, Atwood or Morrison dismissed for their feminist points of view. And certainly, there is a spectrum of fluffy to weighty on both sides.

    (Anecdotal opinion-mongering follows:) I do think, however, that if we’re comparing masculinist and feminist books on the “weighty” end of the spectrum, the masculinist ones may be more likely to be hailed as a more universal story.

    (On the other hand, my bedside reading at the moment is woman-authored and booker prize-winning, so maybe that’s something.)

  15. Susan on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    @Dr. Crazy, I take your point, but I think this is not about the canon, or any of those serious discussions, but the presentation of literature in popular culture. I get annoyed whenever a novel is anointed as “the” novel of X (i.e. when the NYT claimed Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children was the great 9/11 novel).

  16. Multanemo on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Who is this guy? I like to think of myself as well read, but seriously! Toni Morrison has decades of great books behind her, including “The Bluest Eye,” which is my favorite. To me, she is as good if not better than Faulkner. What has this “scrub” done? Oh, and is “Time” still relevant?

  17. Dickens Reader on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Morrison can hardly be called a feminist novelist unless simply being female makes one a feminist. Morrison’s novels are from the black culture POV, more specifically “old school” black culture. Often, her themes, characters, and plots are just as anti-feminist as potentially feminist. No doubt she is an anti-racist writer, however her works are often somewhat paternalistic.

    I think female writers and feminism are being blurred as one in the same.

    Atwood refuses to call herself a feminist.

  18. Dr. Crazy on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    @Susan: You know, except for it IS about the canon. It IS about those serious conversations in literary studies and it IS about literary criticism as a field, just as when people talk about Mad Men as a historical representation that IS about history and historians have particular expertise for weighing in about those conversations. Further, in this particular case, Franzen made it about the canon when he refused to do Oprah, just as Weiner and Picoult have made it about the canon when they bemoan the fact that Toni Morrison isn’t on the cover of Time magazine, and just as Historiann made it about the canon in this very post.

    (I’m sorry for getting in a huff about this, but since we’re talking about something that is right in the wheelhouse of my academic specialty, and right in the neighborhood of the topic of my book project, I get very irritated when people tell me that somehow conversations about it are not something that literary critics have special expertise in discussing or that there isn’t a critical context for having these sorts of conversations – or that such context can be ignored and that doing so doesn’t harm the conversation in any way.)

  19. Shane in Utah on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    The most back-handed endorsement of a book I’ve ever read is Dylan Thomas’s claim that Nightwood is “one of the three greatest books ever written by a woman.” To which I always wanted to retort that the Poems of Dylan Thomas is one of the three greatest books ever written by a besotted Welshman.

  20. comparatrice on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    There’s a strong agonistic element to the “great American novelist” discourse: as soon as you can find a guy to wear the crown, like Updike or Roth, younger male writers know which father they need to kill. It’s in this respect, I think, that women can’t play — they’re not supposed to compete with other women, and men aren’t supposed to compete with them, except by complaining about this unfair system that favors women (see Hawthorne). Actually Hong Kingston seems like a particularly interesting case, as the Canonical Asian-American Writer whom both men and women writers — especially men — DO feel the need to take down in order to move the form forward. Sometimes it’s the Hawthorne treatment (the damned mob of syllabus-scribbling academic women), sometimes more nuanced. But the bigger problem — that there are always going to be far too few writers allowed to play the prestige game at all, and so fewer and fewer people will care — makes it difficult to make any local progress on improving the quality of play.

  21. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Dr. Crazy–it’s funny, but of course, most of the women you list above as celebrated women writers aren’t Americans: “Zadie Smith, A.S. Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Nadine Gordimer, Isabelle Allende.” The first two are British, Atwood is Canadian, and Gordimer is South African. Only Allende is American–born in Chile, but Wikipedia says she took on U.S. Citizenship in 2003.

    I’m commenting only on American literary fiction, and as Susan says, “this is not about the canon, or any of those serious discussions, but the presentation of literature in popular culture.” I never said women writers never make it big in the U.S. I’m merely making a point here I’ve made before, which is that only American men apparently are destined for Literary Greatness as bestowed by the American literary establishment.

    Dickens Reader: I don’t think anyone here is blurring female and feminist. My point isn’t that feminist writers are overlooked. Just that female writers are. But to your point: feminist writers like Oates, Morrison, Kingsolver, and Erdrich regularly portray vicious inequality and the violence men do to women. Feminist writers don’t just write about feminist women, feminist families, and feminist men. In fact, their work is especially valuable in highlighting the inequality between men and women. (I would include Atwood as a feminist–I don’t get why she wants to distance herself from that title, but she’s kind of wacky these days. I saw her on PBS ranting about how awful atheists are. Not what I would have expected from the author of The Handmaid’s Tale.)

    And Meander: I read Olive Kitteridge–and I didn’t see what all of the fuss was about. I found it only slightly more interesting that your average “chick lit” title–but YMMV.

  22. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    Susan: The Tannenhaus review is so over-the-top as to be almost parody-worthy. From the lede of the review:

    Once again Franzen has fashioned a capacious but intricately ordered narrative that in its majestic sweep seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life. Franzen knows that college freshmen are today called “first years,” like tender shoots in an overplanted garden; that a high-minded mom, however ruthless in her judgments of her neighbors’ ethical lapses, will condemn them with no epithet harsher than “weird”; that reckless drivers who barrel across lanes are “almost always youngish men for whom the use of blinkers was apparently an affront to their masculinity.”

    Really? He’s amazed by Franzen’s grip on the zeitgeist because he uses the terms “first years,” recognizes the gendered and age aspects of driving behavior, and understands “Minnesota nice?” WTF???

    (And I agree with your assessment of Messud’s The Emperor’s Children. A beach read, not very profound.)

  23. Notorious Ph.D. on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    I think Dickens Reader’s comments about Atwood & Morrison were addressed to my characterizations of them as feminist. I think we’re seeing different things in these particular works and authors, which is what reading audiences do.

  24. Fratguy on 31 Aug 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Pop quiz, no googling alowed. Title of Franzen’s follow up to “The Corrections” ? Anyone ? Anyone ?

  25. Fratguy on 31 Aug 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    Double or nothing, title of work(s) that preceeded “The Corrections”

  26. Lance on 31 Aug 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    Didn’t he write Talladega Nights? Does he masquerade as Lee Child? Writing the uber-dick-lit “Jack Reacher” series?

    This is how rumors get started: first day of classes, and the punchy Prof gabs.

    I am sure, though, that Toni Morrison has been named a great American novelist before. On Time or Newsweek or something. But she’d earned it, no?

  27. thefrogprincess on 31 Aug 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    I think I’m more on the side of Dr. Crazy here, although I don’t care quite as much. But one thing strikes me, that Historiann alludes to: Zadie Smith, A.S. Byatt, etc. are British writers. (Frankly, it may be impossible to reach the kind of acclaim Zadie Smith received for a book she wrote during university.) But what’s interesting here for me is that Jodi Picoult is also much more popular in Britain than she is here. Once again, I’m finding this to be an American phenomenon that is probably linked to our unique brand of conservatism that’s particularly hostile to women.

  28. Dickens Reader on 31 Aug 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Female or feminist, neither one is getting the universal love male writers such as Franzen gets. After reading Notorious’ comment, I imagined how a non-feminist female could be dismissed as not receiving that universal love because her works are considered feminist and not universal. Feminists or not however, female authors works should be considered just as universal as any males if they are in fact universal.

    Am I making myself clear? If she is not specifically feminist she is not granted universal status, and if she is specifically feminist, she is potentially denied universal status on those grounds. Whereas a male author’s personal story is by default, the story of everyman [human].

    Which is probably what is being said already.

  29. Fratguy on 31 Aug 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    Lance,
    You do not dissapoint, thanks for the cheap yuk and good luck this semester.

  30. LadyProf on 31 Aug 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    If we define dick lit as a novel by a male author that relates a d00d’s obsession with something trivial, insisting that this preoccupation is of universal import and interest–and, of course, claiming to be Literature–then a nice literal specimen of the genre is Moby-Dick.

  31. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Getting a bit slap-happy, here?

    thefrogprincess makes an interesting point: “Once again, I’m finding this to be an American phenomenon that is probably linked to our unique brand of conservatism that’s particularly hostile to women.” I’m sure the so-called “liberal” d00ds at the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the NYRB would be surprised to hear this! But if I’ve learned anything in the past three years, it’s that devaluing women’s work is party and politics invariant. (And a lot of women are engaged in sexist practices, too.)

    Britain has its high-style dick-lit practictioners, too, we shouldn’t forget: The Amises (Kingsley and Martin) are foremost among the dicks.

  32. Dr. Crazy on 31 Aug 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    I listed off the writers that i listed intentionally – because I’d already noted two Americans, Morrison and Moore. My point is that across the globe there are elite women writers. And they are acclaimed even in the American press.

    I quite enjoyed Franzen’s novel The Twenty-Seventh City, though I was less impressed by Strong Motion. I feel like he has one more novel that I didn’t bother with? Not sure. And after the Corrections he came out with an essay collection called How to Be Alone in which he includes one essay in which he talks in quite an interesting way about the whole Oprah debacle, though my favorite of the essays in the collection is one about how he claims not to smoke except he ends each day with a little plate on the window sill filled with like 4 cigarette butts.

    In my estimation, Franzen is actually worth paying attention to as a writer who’s doing interesting things with the form of the novel. Yes, he really is *that good,* regardless of what you think about his subject-matter. And his being that good doesn’t take away from how good women writers are. Hell, people, Toni Morrison doesn’t need anybody to champion her – she won the Nobel Prize in literature. And none of the other women listed here is exactly hurting for reputation or praise – with the exception of Weiner and Picoult, and, as I think one of the few people who’ve actually read their novels who’s commenting in this thread, I’m going to come out and say that they don’t deserve it.

    So what exactly are we talking about here? That the American press is sexist? Sure it is. That America is sexist? Yep, I’m with you. But what’s going on with Franzen is much more complicated than that, and probably has more to do with celebrity culture, timing, what he does stylistically in his writing, and the themes that run through his much-anticipated next book than it does to do with the fact that he’s male.

  33. thefrogprincess on 31 Aug 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    I should have made myself a bit clearer, although I think you got the gist of my comment, Historiann. I’m referring to a shared conservatism, the one that makes us a center-right country, rather than Conservative/Republican per se.

    (And Dr. Crazy, I’ve read Picoult, but not Franzen, which may explain my general agreement with you.)

  34. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    I don’t know, Dr. Crazy. Don’t you think the middle-class white American family has received enough attention already? What is Franzen doing that John Cheever didn’t do 50 years ago? (Or, as Tony Grafton suggested way upthread, that Edith Wharton didn’t do for the ruling class 50 years earlier than Cheever?) I haven’t read the new novel, but from what I hear of it, it’s an exploration of a family at the turn of the 21st century.

    I like him. I’m just amazed at the New York literary establishment’s interest in what seem like the same themes and d00dly perspectives on them.

  35. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    p.s. I should say, I’m not against people writing about the middle-class white American family. I’m just pointing out that it’s nothing all that new in American lit. Franzen’s maleness is a key component of his literary celebrity.

  36. c... on 31 Aug 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    being ridiculously poorly read in the context of this conversation, I can’t weigh in on the merits of Picoult and Weiner as writers. However, I did read the interview with them that’s up on Huffington Post and they seem pretty aware of their place vis a vis the literary (though it’s certainly possible, even likely, as Crazy points out, that said awareness is about self-marketing). One of the major points that one of them made was that places like the NYT will review and generally give space to genre fiction with primarily male audiences (science fiction was the main example) in a way they don’t with so-called chick lit … meaning that even accepting the canons of literature you can see real differences in the attention paid to women as authors and as audiences.

  37. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    Here’s the interview that c mentions at the HuffPo.

    I didn’t see that, so thanks for the tip. See these comments from Weiner:

    However, I think it’s irrefutable that when it comes to picking favorites – those lucky few writers who get the double reviews AND the fawning magazine profile AND the back-page essay space AND the op-ed, or the Q and A edited and condensed by Deborah Solomon – the Times tends to pick white guys. Usually white guys living in Brooklyn or Manhattan, white guys who either have MFAs or teach at MFA programs…white guys who, I suspect, remind the Times’ powers-that-be of themselves, minus twenty years and plus some hair.

    Finally, I’d love it if the Times actually “celebrated” my genre, but at this point I’d happily settle for the paper merely acknowledging it. As it stands, thrillers and mysteries and speculative fiction can get daily reviews, or considered in the NYTBR round-ups. Chick lit gets ignored, unless it gores one of the paper’s sacred cows (note to self: don’t mess with Anna Wintour!). Romance gets ignored completely…and that, I think, is the most damning argument about gender bias at the Times. How can anyone claim the paper plays fair when genre fiction that men read gets reviewed but genre fiction that women read doesn’t exist on the paper’s review pages? It would be as if the paper’s film critics only reviewed tiny independent fare and refused to see so much as a single frame of a romantic comedy, or if the music critics listened to Grizzly Bear and refused to acknowledge the existence of Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. How seriously would a reader take a critic like that?

  38. Comrade PhysioProf on 31 Aug 2010 at 8:05 pm #

    I never heard of this fucken Franzen douche, but he definitely does look like a fucken boring pompous asswipe in that picture on the magazine cover.

  39. Western Dave on 31 Aug 2010 at 8:36 pm #

    Hated The Corrections, although I finished it, while my partner didn’t, cause she hated it more. And I really like Weiner’s books that I’ve read. Frantzen did get one thing right, we Germantown residents do have a habit of stealing the security signs of Chestnut Hill residents). At least when I read Weiner’s books I get a good restaurant recommendation or five when I’m done.

    Frantzen writes like the Swarthmore senior he once was, passing judgment on his characters and his readers with the uber-contempt of I know best combined with a look at me please, see how smart I am plea to the honors examiners. Most of us got over that after the first year of grad school.

    Reading the Elegance of the Hedgehog now. Love it.

    And are Barbara Kingsolver’s early works considered literary? Or did she only become literary after she started writing books you could use as a door stop.

  40. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    Fratguy and I found The Corrections un-putdownable. We fought over it, grabbing it back and forth on a vacation some years ago. But, I can see where you get the Swarthmore senior attitude. (Didn’t you find his portrayal of Chip, the failed academic, somewhat entertaining? I was amazed by his willingness to make the clearly more autobiographical character so unsympathetic–and even really loathesome, at times.)

    I recently finished Walter Kirn’s Lost in the Meritocracy, upon Comrade PhysioProf’s recommendation. I wonder if Franzen’s character Chip would relate to Kirn’s memoirs of gaming the system all the way to Princeton, and then wondering what the next game was when his 4 years were up. I also wonder if, per your comment about Swarthmore seniors, would recognize himself in Kirn’s autobiography, too.

    They apparently both (Kirn and Franzen) have a real fascination with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul roots and sense of midwestern alienation in the East.

  41. Susan on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    Historiann, re. romance lit, see Mary Bly (prof of Ren Lit) in the NYT some years ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/12/opinion/12bly.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Mary%20bly&st=cse
    (sorry, I don’t know how to make that a hyperlink)

  42. Historiann on 31 Aug 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    Hee-hee. Thanks, Susan. Loved this sentence in the article you sent on:

    “It also includes a description of terrific sex between a first-year surgical intern and a fudge salesman.”

    Another book I simply must read!

  43. Mamie on 01 Sep 2010 at 10:35 am #

    This was new when I was young, but reading the discussion above makes me think its time has come again–or maybe never left: Nina Baym, “Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors,” AQ 33 (1981).

  44. Historiann on 01 Sep 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Wow–thanks, Mamie. Baym has written so many very important articles surveying American literature.

  45. Monocle Man on 01 Sep 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Remember that scene from “The Corrections” where the guy is in the fancy grocery store and he gets some salmon and then he realizes that he can’t afford it and then he like shoves it down his trousers and it start to disintegrate?

    Yeah, well Jodi Picoult couldn’t carry Jonathan Franzen’s salmon-infused jockstrap.

  46. dandelion on 01 Sep 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    In my reading, it seems the bulk of American literature deals with main characters individuating and separating. Since it’s “selfish” for women to individuate and separate, the bulk of American literature doesn’t involve women. If women writers are writing stories about women’s lives, then, they are, by definition, not going to be writing literature.

  47. quixote on 01 Sep 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    Well, my regular reading is P.G. Wodehouse so I don’t belong in this discussion at all, but …

    To me, the epitome of dick lit is Hemingway. Gaaah. Just gaaaah.

  48. Historiann on 02 Sep 2010 at 9:30 am #

    dandelion–great point. There is no such thing as a female liberation story that’s not a moral indictment of the said woman.

  49. Western Dave on 02 Sep 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    I think I read the Corrections my first year teaching at a girls school while giving up searching for a TT college job. The fact that Chip is so loathsome is one of the reasons why I hated the book. The fact that Frantzen and I both went to Swat where we both did Honors (although he graduated the Spring of the year I started I believe), and Chip is a failed academic and I’m a failed academic and well, maybe I should re-read it now that I’m in a happier place.

  50. Freedom is mine! Or, “Melodramas of Beset Manhood,” redux. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 02 Sep 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    [...] Meanwhile, upon Mamie’s recommendation a few days ago in our discussion of Jennifer Weiner’s and Jodi Picoult’s critique of the American literary establishment , I’ve been reading Nina Baym’s classic essay, “Melodramas of Beset Manhood:  How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors,” American Quarterly 33: 2 (1981), 123-139.  Dandelion made the same point that Baym elaborates on in her essay about American literature:  “In my reading, it seems the bulk of American literature deals with main characters individuating and separating. Since it’s ’selfish’ for women to individuate and separate, the bulk of American literature doesn’t involve women. If women writers are writing stories about women’s lives, then, they are, by definition, not going to be writing literature.” [...]

  51. Historiann on 02 Sep 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    Western Dave: so not a failed academic! I think you ought to send your analysis of Shock the Monkey to a cultural studies journal.

  52. Hattie on 14 Sep 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    What about the intrusive and pornographic portrayals of women in *Freedom?* Since there are incredible amounts of porn around these days, do novels have to compete with porn to draw male readership?

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