Thursday, August 26, 2010

August's Compendium of Literary Links

In this month's edition of The New Dork's list of interesting, fun or just silly literary stories, Dayton, Ohio hands out a literary prize, for some reason. President Obama causes a literary stir. And James Patterson is richer than God. 

1. "James Patterson" Makes $70 Million — In one year, Patterson, who tops the list of most-earning authors, made roughly the payroll of an entire mid-tier Major League Baseball team. You know how much I made in one year of periodically making fun of Patterson on this blog? Zero. Advantage: Patterson. Patterson's name "emblazons" one out of every 17 books sold in the U.S. He (and his "team of collaborators") publishes eight books per year. Amazing. Good on you, James.

2. Obama Causes Literary Stir — When President Obama was spotted leaving a Martha's Vineyward bookstore with a copy of Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom — which doesn't go on sale until next Tuesday — Franzen fans all over the country damn near lost their minds. Apparently, bookstores were inundated with folks who thought they, too, could get the book early. But then it was revealed that Obama's copy was an ARC, so then most people (except, apparently, the one gentleman who was somewhat indignant) relaxed again to settle in to wait until the 31st.  

3. Picoult and Weiner State Their Cases — Earlier this week, best-selling female novelist Jodi Picoult caused a kerfuffle when she tweeted that the NY Times's positive review of Franzen's new novel proves that the paper only likes its "white male literary darlings." Uh huh. Anyway, the story touched off a gigantic e-argument about, as best I can tell, why the NY Times hates women and popular fiction. Thankfully (thankfully!), the Huffington Post allowed Picoult and another famous female novelist, Jennifer Weiner, to state their cases. Since like 95 percent of my readers are women, I'm treading lightly here. LIGHTLY! So, I'll say this: Picoult's comments, for the most part were thoughtful and interesting, I thought. But some of Weiner's comments are so powerfully stupid they practically drool. 

4. Literary Dayton — Look, I lived in Dayton, Ohio for two years, and that city giving out a literary prize is a bit like Milwaukee handing out a prize for sobriety or Chicago handing out a prize ethical government and physical fitness. And what's more, it's a lifetime literary achievement award! At least the novelist who won — Geraldine Brooks — is a well-deserving recipient. It just slayed me that Dayton, Ohio, whose public schools were ranked last in the state of Ohio both years I lived there, and whose only downtown bookstore is called Exotic Fantasies, would hand out a literary prize. Stranger things have happened, I suppose. But not much stranger.

5. The Ape's List for the Textually Diseased — I loved this post from The Reading Ape about strange (or normal?) habits of obsessive readers. Read the comments — you'll find it heartening to learn you're not alone in your literary quirkiness. My favorite comment was Kenneth Griggs, who says he uses the same bookmark over and over again, until he reads a bad book. Kind of like a baseball player wearing the same underwear during a hitting streak. I've actually had the same bookmark since 2004 — it's a ticket stub (now, well taped up) from a Marquette basketball game.

6. Help Other Book Blogs — Cool idea on Twitter today (pointed out by Man of La Book): Use the hashtag #helpotherbookblogs and tweet a review from another book blogger you enjoyed. By the way, you can find me on Twitter here.


  1. I've been following the Picoult/Weiner/Franzen debate myself and while I agree that women don't always get the same share of the review love in certain places,there is a part of me that asks why are either one of them so determined to get the good opinion of people who wouldn't give them the time of day in the first place?

    Talking about the issue is fine but some proactive moves need to be made to affect a real change,like doing more to spread the good word about good books by women that need more of a push in the marketplace. Hey,Greg,I read that interview between Picoult and Weiner-just what did Weiner say that you didn't think was too savvy there? Not looking to attack you,just curious,honest!

  2. The first thing she said: "I think it's a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it's literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it's romance, or a beach book - in short, it's something unworthy of a serious critic's attention." So. Incredibly. Wrong...from the idea that the double standard is "deep-seated" to that women consider family or feelings it's "romance or a beach book." That sort of annoyed me enough that I didn't take seriously anything else she said in that interview - and then she compared herself to Tropper and Nick Hornby. Just funny, that!

    I like the point you make in your first paragraph, too - if you know that most men (me included, especially now) will never read you, why care so much? You're rich. Your royalty checks are much larger than many male "literary" novelists'. What're you whining about?!

  3. Thanks for the links! I always love your collection of other literary related things to check out.

    Part of me agrees with Picoult's point about the books NYTimes deems worthy and if they do prefer white males above other writers, regardless of work. However, since I don't particularly like Picoult's work, it's hard for me to totally get behind her argument without thinking "Maybe they don't like your work because it's not that great."

  4. Greg, I read the HuffPo interview with Weiner and Picoult this morning and have a lot to say about it! But, like you, I feel like a lot of my followers read chicklit books (and are also female) and I don't want to offend anyone... I think they need to worry less about the fact that they are women writers and more about the fact that they are chicklit writers. It's not their anatomy that is holding them back, it's their genre. All in all, I felt like Weiner and Picoult both said some pretty stupid stuff - I laughed out loud when Picoult compared herself to Shakespeare and Dickens and Weiner said she would love it the Times "celebrated" her genre. Well, Jennifer, I would love it the Times hired me as their editor in chief. I haven't read anything by either but I can't help but wonder why exactly they think the Times would say about their work.

  5. @Red - Glad you enjoy the links! Yeah, it was really hard to resist the temptation to say something like "Well, perhaps if you'd stop sucking so badly, the NY Times might consider you." Whoops - now I said it. ;)

    @Brenna - "It's not their anatomy that's holding them back, it's their genre." That made me laugh. Well said. But I also think that kind of their point is that they don't see themselves as women chick lit writers - just writers. And because don't understand that, that's why they're mad that they're not taken seriously in the Times. Yeah, the Shakespeare and Dickens? C'mon. I'd love if the NY Times took book bloggers seriously, or if someone paid me six figures to blog, but it ain't happenin' either.

  6. New follower from book blogs


  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I get your point,Greg and what I really think they need to do is use their platforms to promote works by other authors(female or not)in order to affect a change.

    A good example of this is the website,Smart Bitches,Trashy Books-instead of grumbling about the lack of coverage and serious discussion regarding the romance genre,the ladies who run that site decided to take charge and do it themselves.

    Others followed their example and today,there are plenty of places online where fans of romance novels can check out reviews that truly talk about the merits of the book instead of quickly dismissing it based on genre alone. The SBs even got a book deal and I was lucky enough to meet one of them, Sarah Wendall, at a book convention,where she signed my copy.

    No doubt there are other examples of genre writers who have done the same thing on and offline,so instead of waiting for the likes of the NYT to acknowledge you,beat the drum and sing out for those books and authors you feel deserve the attention for. As for the NYT,they have to put your name on the bestseller lists when your book does well,now don't they?

  9. @Autumn - Welcome aboard!

    @Ken - Hey, JK Rowling made $300 million in '08. Believe that?!

    @lady T - Love the idea of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site. You're absolutely right - Weiner should be addressing what she perceives to be the problem instead of just whining about it. In some ways, her complaining that her novels aren't reviewed in the NY Times is like Franzen complaining that his novels aren't reviewed in Sci-Fi Weeekly, or YA Adult Paranormal Urban Romance Daily. But she seemingly sees her fiction as on par with Franzen's, which is obviously ridiculous bordering on delusional, so what progress could be made?

  10. Ugh. The think about the Picoult/Franzen snaffu is that they both seem to assume that there are A) no women authors of literary fiction and B) no women readers of literary fiction. When women write about feelings, it's chick-lit? WTF? How would Zadie Smith or Isabella Allende or Margaret Atwood feel about that statement? As a female reader, I find it insulting that two of the best selling authors of the chick-lit genre assume their whole gender only wants to read beach books and books about women looking for men in the city. Get a grip. The NYT didn't review your books because they suck, ladies. Maybe the NYT is racist and sexist- I dunno, I don't read it. But it would take the statement of a serious author from the NYT target audience of literary people for me to believe it.

  11. and I meant "thing" in that first sentence there

  12. I don't know if this will count but Tess Gerritsen, a mystery/thriller author, spoke about the debate as well.

    Honestly, I don't know much about the entire issue, so I can't say a lot.. but I agree that Picoult speaks a little bit more clearly than Weiner.

    Oh and thanks for the textually diseased post -- very interesting.

  13. Also thought you'd like to know I got a laugh out of the paragraph on Dayton; deadest downtown I've ever seen on the weekend, but a lively chess club.

  14. @Jane - Very well said! Also, I add a C) That they assume that their work is on par with Franzen's. I'd LOVE to see Michiko Kakutani of the NY Times get her teeth on a Weiner novel. It's a blessing for them that they're not reviewed. As one of my female friends said yesterday, which I think makes sense: "Honest to God, I firmly believe that "Chick Lit" makes us dumber as a gender. I am all about escaping with a good book, but why do they try and sell me the same damn story time and again." And you're absolutely right - Barbara Kingsolver, Jennifer Egan, Nicole Krause, as well as the women novelists you mention (especially Zadie Smith) must be absolutely seething right now.

    @Jillian - Thanks for the link! "But oh dear, those reviews are too often public beheadings in which your blood ends up splattered all over those previously much-coveted 10 column-inches." That made me laugh - that's exactly what would happen if Weiner DID get reviewed in the NY Times.

    @Jeanne - Thanks! Never got to experience the chess club, and you're absolutely right about the downtown ghost town. I lived downtown and had to go to the suburbs for any fun!

  15. Did both Picoult and Weiner miss the fact that the 2009 Pulitzer for fiction went to a woman? And, *gasp* a woman who wrote LITERARY FICTION about women and relationships and life in America. And, it was a fabulous book that was miles above either of their entire canons put together.

    I am a woman, and I'm actually offended that Picoult and Weiner think they should be included in the Times (Offended may be a strong word, but for argument's sake, I'll use it). I've read works by both these women and it's about all I can do to keep reading without throwing the book across the room.

    I've read two Picoult books, and didn't really like either. She's got a habit of throwing in a "twist" ending, but since it's become her MO, it's not really a twist anymore. Sure, I liked "Nineteen Minutes" more than I liked "The Pact," but she also did a lot of things that were just ridiculous for a novelist. For one, she references Columbine several times in her book, yet she uses ACTUAL DETAILS from the Columbine incident in her FICTIONALIZED work. But, I digress... She may not be "chick lit" in the sense of the term, but she's definitely not-very-good popular, formulaic fiction. Not in any way, in my humble opinion, worthy of review in the Times.

    Weiner, on the other hand, is the epitome of everything meant by the term "chick lit," and she's probably a lot of the reason why the genre is so maligned (For the record, I don't read chick lit because I think it's awful). Her characters are not at all likable, rich, whiny, middle-aged women who have great lives but still find a million ways to complain until two weeks from next Tuesday. I learn NOTHING and feel NOTHING reading her books, and other books like hers, therefore I refuse to read them.

  16. In order to avoid a farther wall of text, I'm adding one thing in a separate comment:

    I think there's a difference between "chick lit" and "women's fiction" as genres. One, I find respectable (Counting the likes of Anita Shreve and Anna Quindlen in this group), literary, readable fiction that just happens to be written by women. The other I consider fluffy drivel written about women with far too much time and money (And I include Weiner in here with others such as Jennifer Crusie, Sophie Kinsella and Candace Bushnell).

  17. @Michelle - Thanks so much for the thoughtful and thorough comments. I'm so heartened, that like you, many women have taken issue with Weiner and Picoult. In fact, for all the reasons you mention and many more, it seems that most women are actually angry about it. That was so refreshing! I've never read a Weiner book nor a Picoult book, but from talking with folks who have and reading these comments, it's clear I'm not missing much. It's also clear that they were so far off base in their criticism of the NY Times that it almost wreaks of 'publicity stunt.' I couldn't agree more that there is a massive difference between what Picoult and Weiner write and actual women's literary fiction - like some of the authors mentioned above write, and as you mentioned, like Elizabeth Strout (and Geraldine Brooks in 2006) won a Pulitzer Prize for! Cheers to you!