Right off the bat in this piece, Ms. Black sets a combative tone.
While there's no way to know whether Hillary Clinton would have hung tougher than President Obama with those recalcitrant Republicans, here's a safe bet -- her summer reading list would have included a few more women authors than his.So, the assumption here is that, because she's a woman, Hillary Clinton would read more women authors. But isn't that the same wrong-headed gender-biased logic Ms. Black is attempting to take Obama to task for? What we get here is your standard-issue double-standard. It's okay if it's a woman reading mostly (or just a "few more"? what's the proper balance?) women writers, but it's not okay when it's a man reading mostly men writers. This is especially troubling given that, later, Black writes:
As I suspect Obama would agree, matters of prejudice are never entirely minor, even when their manifestations may seem relatively benign.That's true. But Ms. Black started her piece with the same matter of gender prejudice, i.e. that a woman would read more women. That's not minor there either, right? Still, as I'll contend later, none of this really matters all that much.
Okay, let's take a breath, and laugh through an easy-to-spot hyperbole.
Now the fact that the president of the United States apparently doesn't read women writers is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation -- but it's upsetting nevertheless.Ms. Black points out that Obama has read very few (maybe as low as 30 percent this year, and 4 percent overall) women authors. That means he actually does read women writers. Sloppy writing.
Now, let's get down to the heart of the matter. Here's what seems to be Ms. Black's central thesis for why men don't read women writers as much as they apparently should.
It is a well-known fact among those of us to whom this matters that while women read books written by men, men do not tend to reciprocate. The reasons for this imbalance are the subject of much speculation and little conclusion, but, simple as this may sound, it looks an awful lot to me like we think they are more interesting than they think we may turn out to be.First of all, that first sentence is FAR from a fact. Case in point: me. I reciprocate. I read lots of women novelists, and actually, so do 99.9 percent of the male readers I know. But, secondly, Black's point seems to be that men don't read women because we find women boring. (Indeed, the subtitle of the article she links to as "proof" is: "Women are underrepresented in literary publishing because men aren't interested in what they have to say.") That subtitle specifically and Ms. Black's central thesis in general are what almost shot me through the roof. This paragraph was the moment in the article when it began to feel less like a sophisticated discussion of reading preferences and more like an attack on male readers as knuckle-dragging neanderthals who have to be coaxed into listening to their women.
Look, here's the rub: We read for fun, not to be fair. Regardless of the gender of the author, we read for enjoyment, not to make other people happy. Those are true whether you're the leader of the free world or the purveyor of a lightly trafficked literary book blog. If some (but not all) male readers wind up reading more men writers than women, it's probably for the same reason that some (but not all) women readers read more women writers than men. Maybe we can convince Malcolm Gladwell to write an article explaining that reason in more detail. But for now, I know this for sure: The reason is definitely not that a reader stands in a bookstore, prepares for a book purchase, but then makes one last check of the gender of the author to make sure it's the "right" one.
The Franzen/Weiner/Picoult stuff in the last half of the piece is a nice walk down last summer's memory lane, but that dead horse has been sufficiently beaten. I don't think, though, that most people saw Weiner as attacking Franzen. People were more perplexed that she seemed to consider herself in the same category of writer as Franzen. And that's preposterous, in my view — like Adam Sandler getting on Jack Nicholson's case.
Lastly, I couldn't agree more with this:
Women authors write kick-ass books.Of course they do. (Though, I'd disagree with her that The Year We Left Home is an example of that.) My favorite novel of the year is written by a woman (Ida Hattemer-Higgins' The History of History). But I think it's silly to suggest we all must be equal opportunity readers. So let's all be cool, and read and let read.