I was a bit flippant in suggesting no one get bent out of shape over Naipaul’s absurd sexism without giving further explanation. And Nicole, over at confessions of a booklush, makes a series of strong points in favor of getting all sorts of bent out of shape. She writes:
Because that would require me to act as though Naipaul’s words aren’t symptomatic of this culture, that he didn’t just express what I bet a lot of other people actually BELIEVE.
Here’s my thinking. First, have you read Sir Vidia’s Shadow? If no, you should. It is a beautifully crafted portrait of literary friendship and mentor-ship over thirty years and shows how young writers developed before the existence of MFA programs (by doing exactly the same things they currently do in MFA programs). If yes, you know that V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux are lowly, womanizing, misogynistic human beings. And exceptional writers. So, why tacitly seek V.S. Naipaul’s approval of women writers? Not going to happen. Your sweet, but old-fashioned, status-conscious grandmother from Virginia is never going to approve of your African-American boyfriend. The alcoholic, abusive, stuck in a dead-end job, father is never going to approve of his child’s fancy college and humanities degree.
These may not be the best analogies, but my point is, some people by their pre-disposition, are never are going to stop being ignorant and demeaning. And just like you can placate and move past your grandmother’s worn-out thinking, so too, can we move unfazed past Naipaul’s screeds. No one who matters is listening to Grandma, or to Naipaul.
What mature reader chooses books based on the author’s gender? We choose by recommendations from friends, from authors we’ve discovered in English class, from the handy little tables over at Barnes and Nobles, from the litter recommended for you side-bar on Powells.com. We may note the gender of the author as we begin reading, but then the story takes over and the decision to finish the book lies solely with the content of its characters.
But there are some other strong points–and a sexy picture of a nude woman reading–over at booklush.
I then thought about Esquire and its list of 75 books all men should read that only had a single female writer on there, Flannery O’Connor, whom they probably thought was a man.
This is an excellent point. All I can say, is a list of book for “men” as opposed to 75 books “you” must read, would be slanted towards stereotypical masculine authors and characters. I suspect a similar list of books for “women” would have a disproportionate amount of women writers, though probably not to the same extent. So I agree, this is a problem.
I thought of Bret Easton Ellis’ recent tweet “Am I the only person who can’t get through the Stieg Larsson books even if the original Swedish/European titles are “Men Who Hate Women”?…” a comment where Larsson detractors rushed to say, yeah I thought they sucked too! without realizing that the latter part of his statement is deeply disturbing.
I’ve reread these lines quite a few times and I’m not sure why this bothers her. Does she think Bret Easton Ellis is surprised he doesn’t want to read a book about men who hate women because normally he loves reading about women-hating men? Perhaps he’s an SVU fan. I’m not sure what BEE is going for, but if it’s that, I suspect it’s a joke, or maybe BEE is a total P.O.S (I really know very little about the man) But I think we can agree those Dragon Tattoo books were impossible to put down, poorly-written, and that replacing the original title was an excellent move.
My mind went to the stats VIDA Lit uncovered, that Jennifer Egan won the NBCC award for fiction yet Franzen’s pic was used in the announcement and his name was in the headline.
This VIDA stuff is legit, though one day I’ll make some mildly salty arguments. But how about the fact Jennifer Egan won the NBCC award over of the media’s darling golden boy and his newest opus? My mom and sister-in-law’s all female book club was very unimpressed by A Visit From the Good Squad, though I dug it. So the fact a newspaper used a more famous author’s pic and name in a headline, for an article I suspect was maybe more about the literary upset, in an effort to get more readers, doesn’t seem like so bad, considering the woman did win the award.
And here is something else that gets to me: why was he asked if he considered any woman writer his match? Do women get asked this same question?
I have no idea. Was he asked if he considers any man writers his equal? I bet even if he did, he’d have to think pretty hard to come up with someone.
And are we so certain it is an advantage to be a man in the literary world? Agent Nat Sobel disagrees. in this 2008 interview with Poets&Writers.
We’ve read a number of pretty good novels by male writers that we know just won’t go. Male coming-of-age novels are impossible to sell….outside the thriller genre, there aren’t too many male fiction writers who are succeeding. And I don’t think that’s going to change for a while…..So if a male writer can write from the female point of view, or has a story that will interest a woman’s audience, I think he has a better chance than somebody who’s writing the kind of Hemingway-esque stuff we read in school.
If I may be allowed some liberties with the subtext: So you’re a young male writer who has written a novel? Are you sure you’re not a minority? Maybe you could be gay? Lived on the streets for part of your life? No. Hmmm? Well, the writing is really strong. How about you write a book that women will like, with a female narrator, and maybe we’ll just make your pen-name suitably feminine. (Sort of like Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin, in that last part I didn’t actually change anything that wasn’t said)
Now, I excuse while I–a cis-gendered straight white male from a privileged background–try to find motivation to keep working on my coming-of-age novel.