There is a huge debate about Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner talking about the New York Times is being all mean to women writers by not reviewing them. And when I really thought about it, I realised the Times rarely does review run-of-the-mill books, which is why it has that stellar reputation.
I guess the Times does have that reputation to protect… when I read a review in the Times, I trust it. And I never expected to read a review of Sidney Sheldon’s latest on the Times. I would expect it to be on the best seller’s list but not a review. Because it just aint the way things work there.
But now, here are two women who are complaining that the Times is not reviewing their books. Is it just a case of sour grapes? Or is there more behind this whole rationale? Wiener’s book could perhaps be called ‘chick lit’ but Picoult’s is perhaps more of a general commercial fiction. Now, I have not read either author… they weren’t my type of books. Picoult had too much drama and misery it seemed while Weiner seemed… well, not available at times when I wanted to read it.
Commercial fiction and chick lit are often scorned upon. They are books to be hidden away on your bookshelf, or read int he privacy of your room. The arrival of e-books did ease that bookshelf dilemma a bit. One no longer had be embarrassed by the semi-nude men and women on bold red colours peeking out from in between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie. You didn’t have to bear the smirks of the local bookshop dealer while he was tallying up the bill. You order it online and it stays in a little piece of technology called Kindle or something like that.
Such books (and not just M&B) are the hottest selling things out there, reviews or no reviews. So why are two of the hottest selling authors insisting on being reviewed by NYT and making statements that the Times is partial to male authors? Is it sexist?
Is it true that they review more men than women? Perhaps. But that is more to do with our mindset and the kind of books the Times reviews, which are interlinked.
As Weiner said on her blog… a women writing about her glory days is seen as soft literature while a guy talking about the past is seen as… memoir. Women talking about emotions is classified chick lit while men are given awards for the same. So perhaps that same idea creeps into the Times picking the book.
Honestly, I have had no issues with the book reviews on NYT. I love Nora Roberts (and it took me about 8 years of reading and a lot of guts to accept that openly) and I know what sort of books she writes and I will pick up those books anyway. Likewise, people pick up Sheldon. Or Jeffrey Archer. Or John Grisham. But picking up a book like Jonathan Frazen’s “The Freedom” would require some knowledge. And I would definitely appreciate a paper like the Times guiding me.
The Times does have a habit of repeating its reviews… Michiko Kakutoni’s are the ones I generally ignore, ironically. She is harsh and I’ve found that our point of views never really gel. It happens. But the Times has reviewed women’s books, if we insist on calling women-oriented books that.
“Eat Pray Love” for instance. When a friend recommended it to me a while ago, I was quite skeptical if the book was more my type than a spiritual or a philosophical one that I generally avoid. I remember going straight to NYT to search for a review and guess what? There was one. Would I consider this book chick lit? I don’t think so.
Chick lit to me is those fluffy books like the Shopaholic series. I wouldn’t dream of having a review of that on NYT.
Maybe more men do write hard hitting books than women do… note i say maybe. I don’t know if that is true. Or maybe it could just be the difference in perception about the “hard hitting” definition for men and women. I came across this book by an Indian girl who was a volunteer for the UN. Would that be called a women’s book? Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is a timeless classic like Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye. Neither were ever classified as “chick lit” or “teenage angst” type books.
Maybe the Times does need to loosen its definitions a little more. Give something to the common reader in another section while reserving the Sunday book review for perusing those books I probably wouldn’t be intrigued about otherwise. I have picked several books simply because the Times thought it was worth a review. Those one-off books, not written by chain authors whose genre is mainly fixed.
On the other hand, I would love to read a typical Michiko Kakutani review about Twilight! Oh yes! That would be wonderful indeed!