Two more quick notes on books

21 04 2011

First, an awesome, simply awesome thing to hear about the ‘Guys Read’ book club for 15 boys aged 8-11 in West Mercer, Washington. More of this, please. I wish there had been something like this for me growing up and I hope there’s something like that for my son. Maybe we’ll even start it, who knows?

Second, Jennifer Egan dissed “chick-lit” and now Jennifer Weiner among others are dissing Egan and there’s just too much damn lit/genre snark going on on twitter. To get started, go go here. Weiner even started an #eganfail hashtag. And you know what really fails? All of it. Give me a break.

3 Things: A Flash Fiction story, the Picoult-Weiner HuffPo Interview, and dick lit.

26 08 2010

Three things have sprung up over the day and I had time at the gym to toss them around in my head.

First, I wrote a 1,200 word flash fiction story last week, cleaned it up this morning thinking I’d post it tomorrow and instead of being able to get it back under the “prescribed” 1,000 word mark, I added a 100 words to it. Bleh. So, maybe it’ll turn into a short story. We’ll see. Probably won’t put it up tomorrow, regardless.

Secondly, though I said I was already bored with the story, I read with eagerness Jason Pinter’s interview with Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner this morning. I’ve got to say, Picoult really does seem pretty sane to me. I don’t agree with her opinion, but she seems less “aggressive” and less nutty. It might be because just about anyone standing in the same virtual space as Weiner seems well-grounded, but I’m digging her vibe. On the other hand, I don’t understand where Weiner’s coming from and her arguments are all over the place. She’s occasionally witty, but witty in a stark-raving mad sort of way. I just don’t get what she’s after, but if she wants to dry her tears in her royalty checks (the snark just doesn’t do it for me), that’s cool, I guess. Seems like her mode though is to throw as much shit at the wall as she can and see what sticks. Mostly, seems like she’s just attention-hungry. Would’ve never suspected that from a writer.

Third, I’ve heard the term “dick lit” three times as the male analog to “chick lit.” It’s cute and though some people have a bone to pick with anyone writing “chick lit” (and I use the scare quotes intentionally. I can’t really define what’s “chick lit” or not. At least not succinctly or with any real accuracy. For that matter, I can’t define pornography real well either, but I know it when I see it.) Does anyone truly write “dick lit,” though? I can’t imagine a dude thinking that to himself while writing. I’m gonna write me a novel just for other dudes. Yeah, that just feels weird. I wonder if the sogenannte “chick lit” authors think that way when they write theirs. Maybe I’ve just missed the memo on it, I’m willing to admit.

The whole Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, NYT Franzenparty thing

25 08 2010
Lightning Strikes NY Times Building

Image by Johnia! via Flickr

When Jodi Picoult started tweeting about how un-surprising Michiko Kakutani’s glowing review of Franzen’s Freedom was and how the NY Times book review is only interested in “white male literary darlings,” I’ll confess to having become intensely interested in this topic because it brings so many issues about the book world all together. I mean, just look at it: You have criticism against the relevance of a single publication’s book review, as high falutin’ as they may be, in an era when book reviews aren’t even that important anymore (so sayeth Goodreads); you have the entire commercial versus literary fiction debate and whether the NYTimes should be covering that; and you have the really hot and steamy sexism (and I guess race, too, although that’s even sillier) charge. I’ve even seen it thrown in there that the NYTimes only likes authors with MFA’s. That’s all good stuff. It’s like Jerry Springer for book nerds.

I think the sexism charge is outright ridiculous and we really need to knock that one off. As PWxyz’s Jonathan Segura blogged, even a quick glance of the Sunday Book Review shows that there are of lot of books being reviewed that were not written by over-educated white dudes from Brooklyn. It’s just a dumb card to play and it comes out way too early in the “game.” Can men do anything at all and not be accused of being favored due to their sex? Is there any such thing as true accomplishment for a guy? Who’s the one being sexist here?

It’s tempting to see it all as just sour grapes. I’m willing to concede that Picoult doesn’t have sour grapes and was just expressing her (however misguided) opinion. But oh, the poor others who haven’t been similarly acknowledged by the NYTimes. That’s the point of “chick-lit” Jennifer Weiner’s #Franzenfreude hashtag and the reading list that it has been generating. I agree, let’s celebrate those well-written family novels as well. But does that mean we can’t stop for a second and look at Franzen’s without going all ape-shit about it? Maybe this guy is right and the charges of sexism are just a smokescreen for resentment of the literary writers by those who actually make a decent bit of scratch writing successful commercial fiction. Personally, I think that Weiner’s opening tweet is the lamest of them all: “Carl Hiaasen doesn’t have to chose between getting a Times review and being a bestseller. Why should I? Oh, right. #girlparts.” Or is it because she is a bestselling author of “chick-lit”? The Times clearly doesn’t review genre. She’s been playing that tune for years now, too (see her rant in comments to this 2007 post on the Times’  Paper Cuts blog). Which is it?

And that issue doesn’t even touch the merits of Franzen’s writing, which, in all of this is only a tangential, teensy-weensy sidenote to the whole drama. That’s why the argument has headed off into the absurd. It’s become about who is deserving of acclaim based on so many extra-literary features and very little is actually said about whether or not Franzen might just be a pretty damn good writer. I started reading The Corrections last summer and got about a quarter of the way through before getting distracted by something else, but I thought it was brilliantly written and I’ll confess it did have that whole modern-day Buddenbrooks feel to it. I found Chip to be a very compelling character, pathetic and simultaneous over- and underachieving, exposing a lot of uncomfortable fears I have about myself. That’s the sign of literary fiction’s focus on character. That’s not the sign of bad writing. Is it not possible that NYTimes is just interested in reviewing well-written books?

Mostly, it’s just disappointing. I understand Franzen’s not the most likable guy. I rolled my eyes at his blowing off author videos while making an author video. I look at him and all I see is ego. Are you surprised? An egotistical writer? It’s not like that never happens. But he’s no LeBron James either. And I guarantee you more people care about LeBron. And LeBron makes a hell of a lot more money. This is overall a silly debate. I think it’s far more important that we have a book that actually does make a little noise once in a while. That we celebrate an accomplished novel by an accomplished writer and be glad that we still have that. Anything that draws attention to books, big books, is good, right? And who gives a damn who writes them as long as they keep doing so (and that goes for Jennifer Weiner, too).

Eventually I will get around to reading Freedom (and The Corrections), but because I appreciate his writing. But not before I’ve read the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Or Cherie Priest’s books. I probably won’t read Jennifer Weiner anytime soon, because she doesn’t write about experiences that I think I can ever really appreciate. Audrey Niffenegger is okay, though. See, because not only do I not generally care what naughty bits the authors have, I don’t usually think too long on whether I’m reading genre fiction or literary. In fact, I’d like to see the whole separation of the two go away, since it serves very little purpose other than to limit ideas and, more importantly, it keeps people from reading promiscuously. More than anything, though, I’m mostly bored with it and think we should just move on.