The Li'l Woman Reads that Stuff

lil woman reads that3

Overheard at a party:
"What do you do?" he asks.
"I'm a writer," she says.
"Would I have heard of you?"
So she tells him her name.
No recognition.
"I write about families, marriage, sex, and desire," she adds.
"Oh, wait,"he says. "Lemme get my wife—SHE READS THOSE KIND OF BOOKS."

True story as told by author Meg Wolitzer in a NY Times Book Review essay. Wolitzer is a fine author with a string of highly regarded books to her name.

Her beef isn't that the man didn't know her name (she's not a celebrity writer) it's that he's a stand-in for most male readers, who don't value novels about marriage and family.

But then neither do the literati, Wolitzer argues, who typically ignore "relationship books"—unless those books are written by men.

She points to the shower of FAME & ACCLAIM poured down on Jeffrey Eugenides for The Marriage Plot and Jonathan Franzen for both Corrections and Freedom—all books centered around love, marriage, and family. The two authors romp in the same territory as female authors, but they get all the kudos.

Remember the dust-up between Oprah and Jonathan Franzen? In 2001 Oprah selected Corrections as one of her book club picks, but Franzen demurred… with an unfortunate comment: if his book became An Oprah Selection, no man—NO MAN!!!—would touch it. Oprah withdrew her Seal of Approval (only to bestow it 10 years later for Franzen's 2011 novel, Freedom).

I've written about this subject before, and shame on me. I was TIRED of all those intimate portraits of troubled families—you're always waiting for the next SHOE TO DROP… then the next… and the next …and eveyone's miserable …all the time. Men seem to use a larger canvas, resulting in books with more heft.

I feel like a traitor to my sex… especially because Meg Wolitizer reminded us of female authors who explore some daring territory:

—Jennifer Egan (A Visit by the Goon Squad)
—Karen Russell (Swamplandia!)
—Tea Obreht (The Tiger's Wife). Let's also add…
—A.S. Byatt (everything)
—Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies)
—Anne Patchett (State of Wonder)
—Zadie Smith (White Teeth)… And all that's just for starters.

Anyway, do read Meg Wolitizer's piece. It's thought provoking—with lots to talk about for any book group, especially a co-ed club.


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