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Male author bias and Jonathan Franzen

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Dick Whitman, Sep 22, 2010.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    New Republic piece on something that seems to be a hot topic right now: Does the New York Times, and by extension the mainstream literary criticism community, display a bias towards white male authors while dismissing the same kind of work from female authors as lightweight "chick lit"?


    Seems like the coverage of Franzen's blockbuster "Freedom" has touched a lot of nerves.

    Personally, about 200 pages in, I'm enjoying the novel more than I've enjoyed a work of fiction since probably Tom Perrotta's "The Abstinence Teacher." I've tried hard to enjoy plot-driven genre fiction like Dennis Lehane and Elmore Leonard, but I get bored very, very quickly. If I want entertainment, I'll watch a two-hour movie. Franzen's novel really engages me and does a great job putting his finger on how people actually think and behave. And I honestly don't feel like I'm being snobbish. Books like Franzen's are just ... better.
  2. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member


    After reading about this I realized that most of the authors I read are male authors. My favorite books are written by male authors. I probably do gravitate to them because they are male authors. Ann Tyler and Joyce Carol Oates are two of my favorite women writers, but I don't get all tingly when they have a new book out as I do when Richard Russo or Wally Lamb or Franzen does. But I like John Irving, too, and feel similarly toward his books as I do to Tyler's and Oates'.

    I came across a book by Julia Glass the other day that I would probably enjoy. Maybe I dismissed it because it is by a woman author. I certainly expect them to write about things which I can relate to less than I would a book by Richard Ford or any of the other men I mentioned. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't enjoy her books. I should just expand my horizons. The other part of it is that you only have so much time, so you gravitate toward the things you liked before.

    So there probably is a bit of gender bias. It probably isn't consciously done, though.
  3. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Read a lot about this when the whole thing blew up. Part of the problem is that Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner picked the wrong target to bitch about. Whether you like Freedom or not -- and TSP stated in the book thread that he did not; I enjoyed it very much and it appears Dick Whitman did as well -- you have to concede that Franzen is a very serious author who wants us to think about the critical issues of our day. He spent years writing this book. Picoult and Weiner are entertainers. The fact that they both write "family novels" and they think Franzen writes "family novels" is like saying Gary Smith and I both write "sport features." The New York Times lavishes praise on female authors like Marilynne Robinson, Curtis Sittenfeld, Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Lorie Moore, Elizabeth Strout and writers whose goals, aspirations, dedication to craft and prose are much more in line with what Franzen is trying to do. Certainly overall they don't seem to review enough female authors, but to use Jonathan Franzen's double review as an example of Brooklyn Jewish gender bias is ridiculous. (Jonathan Lethem, maybe; Franzen isn't even Jewish for starters.) I've read a Weiner novel (at the behest of my wife) and it was not good. Full of cliches, narrowly-drawn characters, and a female protagonist who just happened to mirror the author much too closely, right down to the fact that she learned to love herself, learned to love her not-that-thin figure, and embrace the you-go-girl within! (which from what my wife tells me, happens in pretty much every Weiner novel).

    The female equivalent to Weiner and Picoult is probably Nick Hornby, although he doesn't crank out a new book every single year like those two do, and his plots are "ripped from the headlines" they way Picoult's and Weiner's often are.
  4. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    I didn't not like Freedom, I just didn't love it, didn't think it lived up to the hype, and didn't think it was anything special. I understand he tried to tackle the big issues of the day, but I found that part of bordering on parody.

    I would never read a Jennifer Weiner novel. They strike me as disposable -- one step up from romance novels and one step down from Bridget Jones' Diary.
  5. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I'm not sure too many writers compare favorably to Franzen. Perrotta is my favorite writer of the last decade plus, but I think Franzen is nothing short of brilliant.
  6. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    I once cried for hours when my dad brought home a Nancy Drew book when he couldn't find a Hardy Boys title I hadn't read.

    So I guess it's true.
  7. Buck

    Buck Well-Known Member

    You can't ignore the lack of data and pretend as if you're conducting real analysis or discussion.

    'Now the data are in. My colleagues at Double X have crunched the numbers, and it’s official: The New York Times really does review more fiction by men than by women. Far more. Over about two years, from June 29, 2008 to August 27, 2010, the Times reviewed 545 works of fiction—338, or 62 percent, were by men. During that period, 101 books got the “one-two punch” of a review in both the daily Times and the Sunday Book Review—72 of them were by men. Of course, as the authors of the article are quick to point out, a crucial datum is missing: the percentage of all published fiction written by men versus women. If anyone has such a statistic, I would love to know what it is. (My instinct tells me that women might well publish more fiction than men, especially if genre novels are included in the total.) No matter how you spin them, though, these figures are disturbing.'

    It's not a matter of spin. You can't compare the number of books reviewed unless you know the number of books published. There's no data to indicate the 'figures are disturbing.'
  8. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I'm sure Snooki's book and the latest piece of literature from Chelsea Handler will get tons of coverage in the NYT. :D
  9. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    And further than that, you need to know what the percentage of applicable fiction is written by men. As an example, women might write 60 percent of all fiction, but a large chunk of that might be romance novels. As far as I know, the NYT doesn't review romance novels written by either gender, so those titles would need to be excluded from the total.
  10. Buck

    Buck Well-Known Member

    That's exactly my point.
    You can't discount that lack of data by saying the 'figures are disturbing' 'no matter how sping them.'
    It's a specious debate because there's not enough data for analysis.
  11. terrier

    terrier Well-Known Member

    Allow me to introduce you to Mabel Maney. I've read her two Nancy Clue books (reads just like a Nancy Drew, only with plenty of ho-yay going on). Probably the funniest novels I've ever read - I literally could not read them in a public place, I was laughing so hard.

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