I’ve been reading a lot of best lists over at <a href=” http://www.crimefictionblog.com/”_blank”>Crime Fiction Dossier</a> and been saddened by the dearth of female names. So I did what I always <a href=” http://www.lauralippman.com/jan06.html”_blank”>do</a> when I worry about bias. I start with myself.
First, the good news: One of my three chosen titles for the Crime Fiction Dossier round-up was by a woman (Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas.) Bad news: I mangled that very title on my own website, when hitting the literary highlights of 2007. And, in examining that more detailed list, I found it a little light on female writers as well. What gives?
Well, there’s my memory. It’s been almost a year since S.J. Rozan released In This Rain. Megan Abbott’s The Song is You was also published early in the year, but I read it in 2006. I “liberated” Maxine Swann’s Flower Children while traveling in England; its absence from my physical shelves may explain its absence from my original list. Still I’m not sure how I overlooked Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World, although it, too, was relatively early in the year.
Then there are tricks of timing. Sujata Massey and Jan Burke did not publish novels in 2007; Touchstone, by Laurie King, hit stores this week. I put Alison Gaylin’s Trashed aside until I was finished with my own take on Hollywood, gobbling it up over the past two days.
There are lapses. A favorite literary writer’s latest (well-reviewed in most places) didn’t work for me, for extremely personal reasons. There are the tricks of categorization: Julia Sweeney is not, technically, a writer, yet I have enjoyed her three performance pieces (God Said Ha, The Family Way, Letting Go of God) as much as I have any thing I’ve read this year. In fact, I prefer Letting Go of God to God is Not Good, because Sweeney’s journey to atheism is so intensely personal and heartfelt.
There are oversights: If I am going to mention Michael Pollan, I should add Barbara Kingsolver and Julia Child. There are the logistics of packing. I have just started Bliss Broyard’s One Drop and Katherine Center’s The Bright Edge of Disaster; I met both writers at the Houston Chronicle Book and Author evening in October, but I was traveling with a carry-on and had no room for their books that weekend. (And, yes, I double- and triple-team books all the time.)
Meanwhile, the TBR pile calls, with sirens as varied as Theresa Schwegel, Alafair Burke, Karen Olson, Gillian Flynn, Julianna Baggott, Natalie Angier, Valerie Martin and Elizabeth McCracken. Then there’s the TBP pile: Cornelia Read, Denise Mina, Susan Sonnenberg, Jennifer Weiner.
What’s the point? I’m not sure, but I suppose I should have one. It’s not, as regulars here know, a case of sour grapes about best-of lists. Still, I brood endlessly about passages such as this one, from Entertainment Weekly’s (well-deserved) paean to Shriver: “Before it was co-opted and trivialized by chick lit, romantic love was a subject that writers from Flaubert to Tolstoy deemed worthy of artistic and moral scrutiny.” I don’t think “chick lit” has co-opted or trivialized anything. Instead, it’s a marketing term that has been co-opted by those who wish to trivialize books by women.
But I have found a powerful corrective in the regular Jezebel feature <a href=” http://jezebel.com/tag/fine-lines/”_blank”> Fine Lines</a> written by friend of TMP Lizzie Skurnick, who reminds us weekly that party dresses and pennies and pig bladders can be the stuff of great literature.
Tomorrow: The one-word New Year’s resolution challenge. I’ve got my list down to one all–purpose word. Can you?