Authors Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult spoke with crime novelist Jason Pinter about their beef with the fawning over Jonathan Franzen and Franzen’s Freedom as well as what they see as the narrow scope of coverage in the Times Book Review. Weiner and Picoult have both topped the NYT bestseller list on more than one occasion but both feel their work has been marginalized. The Times may contribute to the problem.
- Weiner, on why critics seem to ignore commercial fiction: “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.”
- Picoult, on feeling like her books may have been dismissed or overlooked due to content or the author’s gender: “[You] know what? That’s your trade off. I think Jen Weiner was the one who tweeted the very comment that, ‘I’m going to weep into my royalty check’. She’s funny and honest and that’s what makes her great. There’s that unwritten schism that literary writers get all the awards and commericals writers get all the success. I don’t begrudge the label of ‘commercial writer’, because I wanted to reach as many readers as I could. I read a lot of commercial fiction and a lot of the same themes and wisdoms I find in commercial fiction are the same themes and wisdoms as what i see lauded in literary fiction.”
- Jennifer Weiner, on the Times giving praise and attention to commercially successful authors like Lee Child and Laura Lippman: “The examples you cite reinforce my argument that women are still getting the short end of the stick. If you write thrillers or mysteries or horror fiction or quote-unquote speculative fiction, men might read you, and the Times might notice you. If you write chick lit, and if you’re a New Yorker, and if your book becomes the topic of pop-culture fascination, the paper might make dismissive and ignorant mention of your book. If you write romance, forget about it. You’ll be lucky if they spell your name right on the bestseller list…”
- Jodi Picoult, addressing the same question from Pinter: “I think those are anomalies more than the norm. But again it is one person’s opinion.”
Asked why commercial fiction should receive critical notice, Picoult invoked Dickens and Shakespeare, saying books that have “persevered in our culture” were usually popular fiction: “Think about Jane Austen. Think about Charles Dickens. Think about Shakespeare. They were popular authors. They were writing for the masses.”
The first part of Weiner’s response to Pinter’s question about critical attention to popular novels was cutting: “Because, honestly, I think if the NYT cares about its darlings finding a wider audience, the smartest thing it can do is be a little more respectful toward the books readers are actually reading.”