I have been trying for a week now to work out what I think about all the Franzen love and the reaction to the Franzen love, but I just can’t organize my thoughts. So I am going to make a listicle of random (or are they?) observations.
1) Middle-age women are the engine that drive fiction in this country. Ian McEwan told the New Yorker this year that he literally couldn’t give novels away to men.
2) Although women dominate fiction as consumers/readers, there is a genre known as “women’s fiction,” yet no correlating genre known as “men’s fiction.” True, there was an attempt to brand some books as “lad lit,” but that was about as successful as trying to make “fetch” happen.
3) In 2001, when THE CORRECTIONS was chosen for Oprah Winfrey’s book club, Franzen’s rather public hand-wringing over his winning lottery ticket did seem to center on the fact that his literary status would be tarnished by the embrace of her middlebrow fan base.
4) In 2001, Jennifer Weiner published her first novel, GOOD IN BED. It is a very good novel. Yes, it chooses to reward its heroine with a traditional happy ending, but it doesn’t choose to make its plus-size heroine slim down. The book made the extended New York Times bestseller list. Since then, Weiner has published seven more novels, some of which have reached #1 on the New York Times list. One of those was a sequel to GOOD IN BED, CERTAIN GIRLS, which is a much darker work that considers what happens after happily-ever-after.
5) After THE CORRECTIONS, Franzen did not publish another novel until this year’s FREEDOM, due next week, although he did publish a memoir and a book of essays.
6) In 2001, I published my sixth novel, which was a New York Times notable book. Since then, I have been profiled in the Times twice (the second time was probably because no one noticed the first time) and received primarily good reviews from its writers. But I write crime fiction, which is treated better than the other genres. A week ago, my fifteenth novel was published.
7) As Weiner’s and Jodi Picoult’s criticisms of the Times reverberated through the blogosphere/Twitterverse, the response was largely anecdotal — and often anonymous. However, Julianne Balmain, a member of the Sisters in Crime monitoring project, had some hard figures. In 2009, 66 percent of the crime novels reviewed by the Times were written by men — up from 61 percent in 2008. In the first six months of 2010, it’s 74 percent. Yet submissions to the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards indicate that men and women are published in almost equal numbers, 51 percent for men, compared to 49 percent for women. However, men write 56 percent of the hardcover originals.
8) Carl Hiaasen has been profiled in the New York Times. (And Vanity Fair.) Jennifer Weiner has not. Jodi Picoult has not been profiled, but her work was given a detailed critical overview, centering on the role of children in her novels.
9) Let me repeat, I was profiled in the New York Times twice. IIRC, both articles included information about my relationship status. I would guess the first article was about 800-1,000 words, the second perhaps 1,500.
10) This spring, the New York Times put Mr. Lippman on the cover of the New York Times magazine. The article was at least 5,000 words. Nowhere in it is there any mention of Mr. Lippman’s personal life. By the way, I was personally grateful for that. But do you think that Weiner or Picoult could ever be profiled without a reference to their children, partners, etc.?
Do popular writers make an either-or choice? Or is it that our culture, like a kindergarten teacher, feels that rewards must be divvied out — money for commercial fiction, praise for literary fiction? And what about writers like, well, me, who are lucky enough to support themselves AND get praise/attention, but aren’t a threat to the true commercial/critical powerhouses? What’s going on here? Is anything going on here?
One last thought: All fiction is women’s fiction. Women’s fiction is redundant. At the launch for my new book last week, I had an audience of 130 people and 120 of them were women. “Isn’t that weird?” someone asked. I said: “I think it’s wonderful.”
That’s all I have for now. More as it occurs to me.