Readersforum's Blog

January 22, 2012

The agony of the male novelist

(Credit: iStockphoto/srebrina)

Jennifer Weiner’s new attack on the New York Times misses the point. In today’s book world, men are disadvantaged.

By Teddy Wayne

Bestselling writer Jennifer Weiner revisited a favorite topic on her blog Tuesday, unearthing data on gender bias in New York Times book reviews. By her calculations, of the 254 novels reviewed by the Gray Lady in 2011 — both in the daily pages and the Sunday book review — only 41 percent were written by women.

This ratio is just a smidgen higher than it was in August 2010, when Weiner, along with fellow “commercial women’s fiction” writer Jodi Picoult, launched a broadside against the “literary” media machine that had luminously reviewed Jonathan Franzen twice in the Times, put him on the cover of Time, and decoded in his novel “Freedom” a viable cure for the common cold.

Their argument was that Franzen writes the same genre of books they do — indeed, Amazon categorizes “Freedom” as “Women’s Fiction > Domestic Life” — yet the publishing establishment hails him as a genius while paying less attention to women writers. (Weiner later slightly, and passive-aggressively, backpedaled in a Huffington Post interview, saying, “Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan ‘Genius’ Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely.”)

Overlook the food-fight-at-Versailles vibe of the squabble — all parties involved are famous multimillionaires with lucrative film and TV deals — and some good came out of it. The debate, misnamed “Franzenfreude” (that would more accurately be described as taking pleasure in Franzen’s misery, not having envy over his success) got people talking about gender and the organization VIDA’s irrefutable evidence that serious book-reviewing outlets are heavily slanted toward covering male authors, with male reviewers.

What went underreported, however, was what Weiner hinted at in the final sentence of one of her tweets: “In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance. And now, to go weep into my royalty statement.”

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