on: the franzen feud

Last week, my Twitter feed was inundated with Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult’s complaining about the coverage Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” has gotten in the New York Times Book Review. They have been interviewed by the Huffington Post and written about all over the blogosphere. Some people call them whiney. I call them right.

As a writer (or someone trying to be a writer), I was crushed when one of the professors at my MFA program told me, “The literary world is ruled by men.” He also told me, “Nobody wants to read about lesbian protagonists in anything but erotica.” This came from a gay man who had his ass kicked all throughout the 80’s for writing gay-themed things. I was floored. I probably Tweeted about how much of an asshole he was, too. And then I forgot about it. (Except when someone told me about his three-million dollar book deal. Then I rehashed the entire conversation and made it a point to one-day get back at him.)

The point is: this entire Franzen feud is proving him right. There are plenty of women who write well and never get the type of literary publicity that Franzen is getting. Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult have, between the two of them, twenty-four best-sellers. But they are not satisfied. They want to be recognized as important to people who decide what books are important. They don’t even want the sort of acclaim that Franzen is getting; they just want to be taken seriously.

This whole debate doesn’t even begin to cover those who are deemed as important by the literary snobs, but aren’t widely read. Lorrie Moore? Mary Gaitskill? Lydia Davis? They all have well-acclaimed novels, and not one of them is going to achieve the hype that Franzen is receiving. Because they’re women? That is absurd, especially since women comprise most of the population’s readership… for any genre! Shelley Jackson and Lynne Tillman will never get the type of recognition that David Foster Wallace has gotten because they are women.

Commercial fiction has a huge readership, and we should thank what these women (Weiner and Picoult) have done for reading, in general. Just because the readership is huge does not and should not discredit the writer, (unless it’s Stephanie Meyer, but that’s an entirely different beast… or vampire?)

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One Response

  1. We’re in an age of scarcity when it comes to book coverage. I started reviewing for the Detroit Free Press when it had three pages for books, two on Sunday, one on Tuesday and the latter disappeared and what’s left is dumbed down and off the wire.

    But Picoult does herself no good when she invokes Jane Austen as a popular novelist, since the reverse ist rue, as I just blogged on the Huffington Post:

    Whatever the validity of Picoult’s argument, she’s dead wrong when she invokes Jane Austen as backup. Austen was not a popular novelist, as I’ve just blogged on The Huffington Post:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lev-raphael/was-jane-austen-a-popular_b_705583.html

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