Sunday Salon: A Rambly Rant About Genre and Gender

If you spent much time in the literary corners of the Internet this week, you probably got wind of the Franzen-fracas, that is, Jodi Picoult’s and Jennifer Weiner’s irritation at the coverage (over-coverage?) of the release of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom. It started with a couple of snarky tweets from Picoult and Weiner and led to umpteen-zillion tweets, blog posts, interviews, and articles about sexism in book reviewing and the status of literary and commercial fiction. I could probably fill this post with links to the conversation, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just point you to this Huffington Post interview where the two authors state their case.

The whole conversation circled around multiple issues. First, there’s Picoult and Weiner claiming their work isn’t taken seriously because they are women. The New York Times was their primary target here, and I really can’t speak to that because I don’t read more than the odd review now and then in the NYT. Outside the NYT, though, I’m not under the impression that women aren’t taken seriously in the world of literary fiction. If you look at the major prize lists from the past few years, you’ll see nearly as many women as men listed. Sure, it’s not a perfect 50/50 balance, but there are too many women listed for me to call it tokenism. Granted, given that women are the predominant purchasers and readers of fiction, one would think the balance would tip the other way, so there may be some bias at work, but I think Weiner is overstating the case.

For me, the more interesting part of the conversation has to do less with gender and more with genre, and how it relates to gender. Their detractors say that Picoult and Weiner are mere chick lit authors who write fluffy, insignificant crap, while Franzen’s work is artful and important. Interestingly, I haven’t seen much direct criticism of Franzen’s writing. The criticism is more along the lines of his work being no better than that of the women writers who don’t get any critical attention.

Before I go any further, let me state for the record that I have read a book or three by all three authors involved in this discussion. Picoult’s books are my least favorite. The two I read seemed to follow a simple formula: big issue, varying points of view, twist at the end, lots of heartstring tugging in between. Franzen falls in between for me. I read and did not like The Corrections. I found the characters unpleasant and uninteresting and the storyline a little overly conscious of its own hipster cleverness. However, I can see that it was well written. It’s just not to my taste. Weiner’s books are my favorites of the lot. They’re not great art, but they don’t slavishly follow the chick lit formula either. The characters and plots are sufficiently varied to hold my interest, and the writing is competent, but not spectacular.

That said, I wouldn’t say that I like Weiner’s books in the same way that I like the books of the authors I tend to read the most, which raises that whole question of the distinction between commercial and literary fiction that I’ve danced around before in this space. One of the comments that Weiner made in the HuffPo interview is that women’s novels about family and feelings are automatically treated as commercial fiction and ignored by critics. I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit on that. Yes, that may happen sometimes, but I think the categorization has to do less with what is the book about than how is it about it. Marilynne Robinson, Zadie Smith, Isabel Allende, Andrea Levy, and Margaret Atwood, just to name a few, all write about family and feelings, and their work is taken seriously by critics. Again, imbalance may exist, but it’s an imbalance, not an automatic shunting to the corner.

As far as getting critical attention goes, Picoult’s and Weiner’s problem is not that they are women writing about family and feelings, but that they are writing about it in a superficial way. They are, as both readily admit, writing commercial, not literary, fiction. As I was pondering this distinction, I happened upon this terrific post by literary agent Nathan Bransford that explains the distinction rather well. Bransford writes that “In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface.” He goes on to explain what he means in more detail, using Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead as an example of a book with a plot beneath the surface.

Regardless of what some of her detractors might say, Picoult’s books are about serious topics: school shootings, organ donations, and other ethical issues. Same with Weiner, although her topics are more personal and universal: self-image, friendship, parenting, sisterhood. All of these themes could appear in literary and popular fiction. But mostly, in commercial fiction, you can take the message at face value. That doesn’t mean the authors tell you what to think. Picoult in particular is known for showing many sides of the issue. But you don’t have to dig to get at the main idea. I think that’s where a huge chunk of the distinction resides. That and the fact that the prose tends to be more on the workmanlike side.

If you read the interview carefully, you’ll see that a big piece of Weiner’s complaint is not that Franzen and the like get praised—it’s that male commercial writers do and female commercial writers don’t. Weiner says quite clearly that she doesn’t see her work as the equivalent of Franzen’s. She does, however, see it as comparable to that of Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Carl Hiaasen, and David Nicholls. I’ve not read Tropper or Nicholls, but I have read Hornby and Hiaasen (well, 1/3 of a Hiaasen), and as far as those two authors go, she has a fair point.

As it happens, I like Hornby better than I do Weiner, but a huge chunk of my affection could be for his British voice. But he, like Weiner, takes on heavy topics with a light touch. In fact, I remember a brief period years ago when the term “lad lit” was tossed around as the male equivalent of “chick lit” and Hornby was always mentioned as the exemplar. So it seems to me that if Hornby and Hiaasen get critical attention, there’s no good reason Weiner should not. Similarly, if male authors of commercial fiction in other genres get critical attention, then Weiner and Picoult should too. To ignore their books while taking note of commercial books in genres that aren’t dominated by women does look like something worth calling shenanigans on.

I could probably go on and on about this—I found this conversation both fascinating and vexing. The whole question of popularity and its relationship to quality and worthiness of review pages is equally interesting and could be a post in itself. And then there’s the whole idea of how different kinds of novels are good in different ways. What makes for good chick lit is altogether different from what makes a good mystery or a good literary novel, and so on.

However, because either of these topics could be a whole post in itself, I’d better stop now and let all of you, dear readers, weigh in. So go to it! Have you read any of these authors? What do you think of them? Do you think women are given their due in the literary establishment?

In Other News: Jenny and I are pleased to report that we were shortlisted for Best Literary Fiction blog in this year’s BBAW Awards. Thanks to the judges and to everyone else who voted us onto the longlist, and congrats to all the others who were shortlisted.

Notes from a Reading Life

Books Completed

  • The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. For my church’s book club. Some good arguments for the compatibility of faith and science, but not likely to convince the skeptic on either side.
  • Devotion by Howard Norman. Some nice writing and an intriguing premise don’t make up for a contrived and silly plot or boring characters.
  • Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. Compelling Sudanese novella about clashes between cultures.
  • Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (audio). My second Coetzee. Very interesting book. Still working out my feelings about it.

Currently Reading

  • The Mirage by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. My monthly Morland Dynasty book. This is number 22.
  • Half Magic by Edward Eager (audio). Just started this, and the story seems charming, but I do not like the audio production so far.
  • The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. Rereading one of my favorite Atwood novels.
  • What Good Is God? by Philip Yancey. An exploration of how faith helps people through difficulty.

New Acquisitions

  • Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 by Roger Daniels. For my church’s book club.

On My Radar

  • Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell. A mystery novel involving a goupr of barristers, a trip to Venice, and a murder. Reviewed by Dorothy at Of Books and Bicycles.
  • The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald. A novel about a man who as an infant was a “practice baby” for a home economics class. (Seriously! And it’s based on something that really happened!). Reviewed at The Literary Omnivore.
  • Fludd by Hilary Mantel. I don’t think it’s possible for Catherine at Juxtabook to post a rave review without tempting me to read the book she’s reviewing. In her review, she says that this book about a Catholic parish in Lancashire in the 1950s is “a witty historical novel, about the restraints of religions on the surface, but about much more than that in its many layers.”
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39 Responses to Sunday Salon: A Rambly Rant About Genre and Gender

  1. chasing bawa says:

    I’ve been following this debate/rant with interest and although I’ve only read Franzen’s The Corrections so can’t really compare the three authors, I do feel that there is some critical bias generally towards fiction written by men. Fiction by women tend to be broadly labelled as ‘chick lit’ or ‘women’s fiction’ when there’s no such equivalent for men (maybe there should be a term such as ‘lad-lit’? Who knows whether that will help.) I find this very interesting because it also makes me question how I see literature and how I view the work of male authors as opposed to female. Whether I automatically think male authors have gravitas. I fight that, naturally, and I find myself reading a lot more female authors because I want to understand how the world is from my perspective as a woman. If women, as they say, read more fiction than men, then why do men get so much more coverage in mainstream media? I’ll stop here as I seem to be rambling, but I do think they have a point. I, like most readers, would prefer a literary world where there is no gender bias in any form, between between genres, popularity or gravitas. Great post, by the way.

    • Teresa says:

      That’s a really good question regarding how an author’s gender affects us as readers. I mulled over the same thing in comparing Hornby and Weiner. Do I like his work better because he’s a man? Do I automatically imbue it with more gravitas?

  2. Nymeth says:

    Picoult is one of those rare writers I almost want to say I dislike without ever having read. Yes, there’s a chance I could be wrong, of course, but everything I’ve heard about her over the years makes me think I’d agree that there’s a certain superficiality to how she deals with the themes she writes about, serious though they might be. So in her cause in specific, I’m not sure if it’s fair to say that gender accounts for her not being taken seriously – but nevertheless, I still wouldn’t say that things like that don’t happen at all.

    The mere existence of categories like “women’s fiction” or “chick lit” (a term I detest) is quite telling in my opinion. And even when it comes to “serious” awards, I’m still not sure if I see that 50/50 ratio you talk about, or a ratio that is truly indicative of the proportion of male and female writers of so-called literary fiction. So yes, I do think women are still dismissed far more easily than men, but I don’t want to cheapen the very real problem of sexism by saying that’s the explanation every time.

    • Teresa says:

      I totally understand people’s discomfort over the terms “chick lit” and “women’s fiction.” I tend to use the former term and not the latter because the latter just seems like “fiction” to me, since most fiction is written by women. I do sometimes refer to books as “chick lit” because it helps me clarify that a book is more light romantic comedy, and I don’t have a lot of internal conflict about it because it seems the writers and readers of these books embrace the term. But I can see where a gender-neutral term for these “relationship comedies” would be useful and could include the likes of Hornby if appropriate.

      What I would *really* like to know is how writers like Julia Glass, Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, et al., view the situation. That fact that Picoult, Weiner, and Franzen are apples and oranges confuses the issue and seems to be causing people to dismiss everything they are saying. (Weiner’s first comment in the interview was extremely off-putting, I thought, and it was only after I read on that I could see what she was getting at.)

  3. Things are changing. Women now make up the bulk of readers, so it will be up to us to take our own selves seriously.

    • Teresa says:

      I think that’s where Chasing Bawa’s point is so interesting. Are we taking ourselves seriously enough? I know, based on Nymeth’s comment, that I’m reexamining my use of the term chick lit.

  4. I tend to think of Picoult as having written one good novel and just redressing it over and over again; it’s mean, I know, but it is true. I used to read her in high school.

    I haven’t been following this, but I think I would have had female authors of roughly the same genre- Atwood, as you mention, for instance- spoken about it. Nothing against Picoult and Weiner, of course, but it’s not the same thing.

    • Teresa says:

      Heh on Picoult. I’d say one mediocre novel ;p

      And yes, the difference in genre and style between Picoult/Weiner and Franzen muddies the waters.

  5. Jenny says:

    I’ve read Picoult but not the other two authors, so I can’t speak very much to the quality of their work. As far as gender disparity goes, I do think there’s a tendency to take light-hearted works by women far less seriously than light-hearted works by men. The family-and-relationships thing probably happens too, but it’s the humor thing that I tend to notice. It seems to me that light-hearted (not necessarily funny, but certainly including funny) books by women, even if they also deal with heavy topics, tend to be dismissed as junk more readily than light-hearted books by men. (I feel like I’ve even read some articles lately about how women feel like they have to write unbelievably bleak books in order to be considered “serious” authors.)

    Having said that, I don’t take Jodi Picoult that seriously as a writer, and it’s not because she’s a woman. I think she writes really smoothly and well, and I think she could write much better, less same-y, more thoughtful books than she does write.

    • Teresa says:

      If you run across any links to those articles, I’d love to see them. They do seem pertinent to this discussion.

      And I think what you say is exactly what Weiner is trying to say in her Hornby, Hiaasen, Tropper statement.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh! And congratulations on the short list! Very very well-deserved!

  6. Frances says:

    Great post, Teresa. Liked this: “As far as getting critical attention goes, Picoult’s and Weiner’s problem is not that they are women writing about family and feelings, but that they are writing about it in a superficial way.” And in a stereotypical way too. I have actually read a few Picoult novels at a family member’s urging and hated them all. I felt that the conversations of women bore so little resemblance to conversations I actually have as to be comical. Written as if there was a script from which all women play. And honestly, I find this to be a far greater disservice to our gender than male authors getting greater play than female. (I also think that that perceived achievement gap has been closing over the last two decades or so.)

    Funny timing as I was just goofing off and saw a promo piece for the new Drew Barrymore romantic comedy in which she and Christina Applegate character are having a conversation not typically had in romantic comedies. Barrymore’s whole idea about portraying women realistically and not that far apart from men in thinking appealed to me.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks, Frances. And yeah, I agree on Picoult. I think the ideas and issues she raises are interesting, but as *stories* about *people* they’re weak. Not being urged to read Picoult is one of the reasons I’m glad not to be in a book club any more ;)

  7. cbjames says:

    Are there still “critics” out there? I suspect that your post here, which I enjoyed very much, is probably much more interesting than any of the three author’s novels are. I’ve not read any of them, so I shouldn’t say, but I’ve always suspected that they wrote “bestsellers” which tend to bore so I’ve avoided them. And, I’ve come to so distrust what I read on Huffingtonpost that I’ve just stayed far away from the whole thing.

    Your post, however, was excellent. I enjoyed reading it. All I want to add is that women have always been the majority of both novel writers and novel readers. That doesn’t mean they are also always the best, but the odds are certainly in their favor.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks! And LOL on HuffPo and bestsellers. I could go either way on a lot of best sellers, and critical darlings for that matter. Some get the praise and sales they deserve, some don’t.

  8. Great post – you have done an excellent job examining this hot issue. I have read books by all three authors and have to admit that Franzen’s writing is in a different category to Weiner’s and Picoult’s and the accolades he has garnered recently are probably well-deserved. I don’t think Picoult and Weiner can expect the same for their books.

    However, I think their point about the genre they write not getting equal coverage in places like NYTBR fair – it speaks to the idea that some books are “better” than others and therefore more worthy. It seems there should be room for different genres in the world of literary coverage.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks, Colleen. Yes, Weiner and Picoult’s argument really doesn’t make much sense when you’re lumping these three authors together. It only started to make sense to me when Weiner brought in Hornby and Hiaasen, as well as some of the thriller writers like Lee Child.

  9. Steph says:

    Fantastic post, Teresa! You really get at some of the things that have really bothered me about this fracas over the past few days. Excuse me for being trite, but I feel like Jennifer Weiner has really been Jennifer Whiner this whole time.

    It’s not that I don’t get being frustrated if you feel your books aren’t getting enough deserved attention, but I don’t think either Weiner or Picoult can claim this. They are both wildly successful in terms of the publishing game, and both have had at least one book made into a film. These are not women who are destitute and overlooked.

    Moreover, I don’t think that the argument that more women buy fiction therefore more women authors should be covered really holds water. I probably do read slightly more male authors than female, but regardless, why would Picoult and Weiner argue that women only want to read women authors (or are strongly influenced to do so) when they also then get cranky at the notion that women authors are so easily labeled as “chick lit” writers. If only women purchase your books, there might be something to that statement… I guess I’m just bothered that they say “not all women authors write chick lit (i.e., fiction directed at women) but since women buy more books than men, we should highlight more female authors.” It just smacks of a foolish, ill-thought out double standard, because clearly these women want to have their cake and eat it too. Why do I get the feeling that if either of them were reviewed twice in the NYT in the span of one week they’d have no problem with it?

    Also, as you say, the fact that they claim that female authors are automatically dismissed as commerical or frivolous is simply not true. What of Nicole Krauss, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, Lionel Shriver, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Andrea Levy, A.S. Byatt, and myriad others? It seems ridiculous to even start a list, because you hardly know where it would end. I think it’s exactly as you point out: sometimes these authors are addressing issues that are not necessarily female-oriented, but the more important thing is how they approach their novels and, in my mind, the level of the prose within the pages. One could argue, I suppose that The Handmaid’s Tale or Possession or We Need to Talk About Kevin have certain elements of chick lit, and yet no one would really think to categorize them as such.

    Honestly, this whole thing just reeks of sour grapes to me, and I think less of Weiner and Picoult for it. Not because I think there aren’t kernels of legitimate reasons to be frustrated that motivate them, but because of how they’ve handled it. Weiner’s tweets were so unprofessional and bitchy that they made me not want to read any of her books just on principle. I, for one, am really looking forward to Freedom, and while I think that maybe there has been a bit of a media overload on the subject, for any book to be so prominently discussed (that isn’t Twilight or Dan Brown) is a-ok in my book.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks, Steph. There was a lot about Weiner and Picoult’s responses that bugged me, too, and I think their snarky attitude caused people to tune out a lot of their legitimate complaints.

      The whole fact that these women most manage to be best-selling writers despite (or perhaps because of?) the lack of critical attention does make me wonder why they care so much. Tess Gerritson had a great comment on that at her blog—essentially about how it’s great to be reviewed by the NYT, except for the fact that a review often means an evisceration. As much as I’d like to see all kinds of books covered in the media, it’s not like they need the press–although I’m not sure Franzen did either, but when you publish so rarely, of course your new book will be an event.

  10. Trisha says:

    I love that you mention Marilynne Robinson, Zadie Smith, Isabel Allende, Andrea Levy, and Margaret Atwood. The minute I heard about this little kerfuffle I thought of Atwood and Allende. While I do believe that gender can influence attention, many times the issue is not one of gender but of skill, complexity and style.

  11. I have to say that I loved what Laura Lippman wrote about this and I think this issue is about more than gender but also genre and the worthiness of books.

    I would also like to see your statistics on the awards because I distinctly remember this being a huge issue last year when the various publications released their “best of” lists and they were male dominated.

    • Teresa says:

      Amy, I agree that Laura Lippman’s remarks were well worth reading, as were Tess Gerritson’s. I loved Lippman’s point about how women writers often end up being asked about their families, but it doesn’t come up in profiles of male authors. I haven’t noticed that myself, but it’s certainly something I’ll pay attention to.

      I missed that whole “best of” list conversation last year. I’ll certainly be paying attention to it this year. I’m afraid I don’t have any formal stats regarding award. I just took at look at the Pulitzer, Booker, and National Book Award lists and saw that in the past 20 years, the split in winners for fiction tends to fall in the 70/30 to 60/40 range. As I said, not a 50/50 split, but a strong showing for women.

  12. Wendy says:

    This is a great post, Theresa…it seems like this topic has been the “hot” one for a while now on the blogs (wasn’t there a lot of talk about the term “chick lit” and how it is insulting to women too?). I tend to agree with you – it is less about gender and more about genre. Commercial fiction has always been skimmed over by the print reviewers, and literary fiction gets all the attention and awards. There is nothing new about all of that. Once in a blue moon, someone writes something commercial that gets everyone talking, then the talk simmers down and we’re back to literary fiction.

    Here’s what I think – they BOTH have a role to play. I read a ton of literary fiction (and love it), but I also read a fair amount of commercial fiction (chick lit and suspense-thrillers being my most common choices). Sometime I want a light, entertaining read, sometimes I want something deeper. I recognize them both being important because, let’s face it, isn’t it just great people are reading?

    I’ve read a number of Picoult’s books – some have been highly enjoyable (and good discussion starters), some have just been ‘meh’ to me. I have yet to read anything by Weiner. I’ve had The Corrections on my shelf for years and have never picked it up.

    One last comment :) I think the book bloggers have done the women commercial writers a great service – those books have gotten tons of coverage on the blogs – I think, perhaps, because it seem to me that most book bloggers are women these days.

    • Teresa says:

      There was an NPR commentary about the term “chick lit.” The whole conversation brought up so many issues!

      And I’m with you on there being a place for both. I probably read more lit fic and classics than anything else, but I do love a mystery or a comedy now and then. The last Weiner novel I read was after a spell of heavy books, and it was so nice to read something that wasn’t taxing but still competently written and diverting.

      I do wish print reviews were more comprehensive, just as movie reviews are, but at this point, I’m just happy to see books get mainstream media coverage at all!

  13. Kristen M. says:

    The problem with the “chick lit” label is that you know exactly what is being referenced when it’s used and there’s no polite alternative. Would they rather it be called “emotional baggage lit” or “rampant consumerism lit” or “me-me-me lit”? I think that too many books are erroneously lumped into the genre but I think there is an argument that the genre, in fact, exists and that the books in it hold little more than entertainment value and will not be generally read or available any number of years from now.

    Wow, that came off a bit bitchy but there really are divisions in literature. There certainly don’t need to be rankings between the genres of what is “better” but authors need to realize that the NYT review holds weight and is therefore more likely to be used to promote books that at least have the possibility of being read (and appreciated) in twenty or fifty years.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree that there are divisions in literature, and we do need terms to sort them out. It certainly helps me figure out which books to read!

      I do wonder, though, if we might end up surprised at the books that will stick around and those that don’t. I’m thinking of stuff like Henrietta’s War and Miss Pettigrew, which actually do share some qualities with better chick lit. Maybe some of the better, more creative authors of books we call chick lit today will end up republished by small presses and read by people who enjoy that kind of entertaining glimpse into an era.

      And I guess the reason I think it would be nice for mainstream review press to pay some attention to chick lit and the like is to help readers who do have some interest in the genre to separate the wheat from the chaff. I won’t watch a blockbuster film without reading Roger Ebert’s review because I trust him to help me figure out whether I’ll like it. Couldn’t the same happen with blockbuster fiction?

      Granted, if book blogs were more widely read, this wouldn’t be an issue because as Wendy says, there are blogs covering books of all types!

  14. I have read most of the authors mentioned and I think that whether you like them is all down to personal taste. For example, I didn’t enjoy Hiaason, liked some Hornby and loved Nicholls. I don’t like dismissing the work of an entire sex or a genre and find any articles doing this quite uncomfortable to read. I haven’t read much of the Picoult/Weiner debate so can’t really comment on that, but I love your post and agree with your sentiments.

    PS. Congratulations on the BBAW shortlist :-)

    • Teresa says:

      Thank you, Jackie! I agree with you that it is largely down to personal taste. Some people’s taste does lead them to exclude whole genres, which doesn’t bother me as long as they aren’t dismissing readers of that genre. But dismissing a whole sex or race is obviously a bad thing, and thankfully, I don’t think that’s happening.

      Funny though as I think of Hiaasen, whose Star Island absolutely grated on me. I couldn’t finish it. And part of the problem, as I reflect on it, was the whole testosterone-fueled frenzy, male wish-fulfillment fantasy of much of it. I wonder if some chick lit reads the same way to men but in reverse?

  15. Gavin says:

    I have been following the hoop-la throughout the week and appreciate your well thought out post. I have not read Weiner, Picoult or Franzen so can not really comment on their writing, but I do agree with Weiner’s take on the critical attention paid to Hornby et al. Now I’m going to wade through all the comments on this post!

    • Teresa says:

      Weiner made a lot of sense when she started talking about authors whose books are similar to hers. Before that, I had a hard time not dismissing everything she said.

  16. pburt says:

    Very interesting discussion. I like the analogy of plot above and below the surface and it fits with my reading of Gilead. On a side note, I still remember moving into a new school in the third grade and meeting the school librarian. She bent down to meet my eyes and asked me what I liked to read. After listening to me, she went to the shelf and handed me Half Magic. I love the whole series of Eager’s work and still occasionally will dig them out and re-read them.


    • Teresa says:

      I’m enjoying the Eager so far, except that I really wish it were a straightforward audiobook, instead of having additional readers for the dialogue. Some of the children are too shouty. I think I would have *loved* it as a kid.

  17. Stefanie says:

    Great post! I’ve head my head in schoolwork all weekend and just happened upon the Huffington Post interview this morning. I read a Picoult book once many years ago. I have Franzen’s new book on order but have never read him before. Nor have I read Weiner. I think women do tend to be taken less seriously as writers but I think as you commented somewhere above, comparing Picoult and Weiner to Franzen is like comparing apples to oranges.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Freedom. I’m mildly interested because of all the chatter about it, but I didn’t like The Corrections that much, and the Washington Post review said a lot of things about Freedom that are exactly what I would have said about The Corrections. But so far, that’s the only negative review I’ve seen.

  18. Kathleen says:

    I can’t believe I missed all the coverage of this in the media. I must have my head in the sand! I actually think that Picoult and Weiner are more commercial since both of them have had movies made from their books? For this reason they aren’t taken as seriously as someone like Franzen who has rejected the commercialization of his books. Let’s not forget that he was the one who rejected Oprah’s offer to make The Corrections an Oprah book club selection. Maybe this is part of the reason why he has received so much press and Picoult and Weiner have been left out?

    • Teresa says:

      I’m sure Franzen’s previous rejection of the Oprah label is part of the reason his name is so well-known—and probably also part of the reason Weiner and Picoult are so frustrated by all the coverage he’s getting. It’s like he rejected the kinds of readers they appeal to and now he’s getting all this attention. Yeah, that would be galling.

      And I thought Franzen’s attitude toward being an Oprah selection was silly, since Oprah chooses a wide variety of books, many of them quite good (and some quite terrible).

  19. I am late to this party but will thank you for writing this post. I tend not to read chick-lit, but I do read tons of lit by chicks–I mean women. I appreciate you helping define the difference for me–I think the level of superficiality is what separates the former from the latter. Candace Bushnell is chick-lit but is Helen Fielding? I’ve been referring to Elinor Lipman and some others as writing intelligent chick-lit, but I think that may be doing them a disservice. I do think that women authors are given short shrift in the media and marketplace despite women being the majority readers.

    • Teresa says:

      I’d say Helen Fielding is smart chick-lit, much like Jennifer Weiner. For me, it’s the surface-level storytelling (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and a comic touch that defines chick lit. If it’s comic and you don’t have to dig too deeply to “get it,” I’d say it’s chick lit.

      But as I’ve been seeing so many people toss the term around as an insult to define all fiction by women that they don’t like, I’m getting more and more uncomfortable with the term. I don’t think it has to be derogatory, but it’s getting used that way so much that maybe it’s not a useful term at all. Hmmm…

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