September 8, 2010

There's been a lot of noise about sexism in the NYT approach to book reviews.

I've read this so you don't have to. It boils down to a complaint that favoring literary fiction over genre fiction has a disparate impact on female writers.

34 comments:

TMink said...

Who are these people working so hard to keep women down? What a paranoid trip, it is almost as bad as the vapor racism fears.

Trey

traditionalguy said...

So the Patriarchy is alive and well after all. How much time and effort goes into equality, and then the sneaky men still put one over on the NYT. As a long time consultant, I advise that all women give up and wait until there is a woman President, someday.

Maguro said...

It’s a sad commentary that the Times’gender imbalance persists despite the fact that two of the paper’s three staff critics are women.

Hmmm...so it turns out that the NYT's predominantly female book-reviewers are secret members (ha!) of the official Patriarchal He-Man Woman-Haters Club.

Very reassuring. The patriarchy is in better shape than I thought.

ricpic said...

If the Times truly isn't "lauding" the mythical great female authoress perhaps the Times isn't totally devoid of standards. Whodathunkit?

MadisonMan said...

I love how they acknowledge that they don't have all the data -- as in the number of books with male authors vs. female authors -- but they're gonna be pissed off anyway.

It's not about the book reviews, obviously. Someone just wants a little power.

Pogo said...

Women just can't catch a break.

Alex said...

My god will this PC nonsense EVER stop? Althouse - you are guilty for perpetuating it.

Scott M said...

How about the disparate impact on male breast cancer sufferers? Or, more importantly, men that pine for three-ways, but can't seem to wrangle one? How disparate is that?

And yes..."wrangle" is the only acceptable verb to use in this context.

Shanna said...

While it would be a bit ridiculous for Michiko Kakutani to elaborate on the lapidary qualities of the latest James Patterson thriller

Why on earth is James Patterson so popular? I read one of his books and the ending was not an ending. If you read a mystery you want something wrapped up at the end! What the heck, James Patterson?

Anyway, I think this is more about genre than anything. There are tons of great writers, but if they are writing a mystery or sci fi, forget about getting any respect. There is a prejudice against certain types of movies and books. This is nothing new.

Pogo said...

The NYTimes should review the backs of cereal boxes. They used to be great reading when I was a kid.

shoutingthomas said...

Literature was far better 60 years ago when it was dominated by men.

prairie wind said...

Many women writers publish under a man's name. Alex Kava, for one, sent books to publishers and agents under her own name (Sharon) with no positive responses. The first time she sent her book out under 'Alex', she got a book deal.

I'm not putting her out there as any kind of great writer...this is just an anecdote.

I do remember thinking that the hoopla that heralded the arrival of Robert J. Waller's Bridges of Madison County was unwarranted. Pure schlock, yet it received a different kind of attention than similar books by women. When Picoult says, 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, I think she's probably on to something.

So much literature today is so completely uninteresting to me, I'm hardly one to judge what is worthy or not. I read mostly YA stuff. Great stories, there.

AJ Lynch said...

Maybe apply Title Nine guidelines to the publishing world and this horrible inequity will be solved.

In fact, books can be stamped "Title Nine Approved". Hell the NYT can start a new bestseller list with only books approved by Title Nine.

Lem said...

The Times is more interested in race than gender.

Shanna said...

Many women writers publish under a man's name.

True. Also, whenever I see initials, and then there is a vague, gender neutral description on the back of the book, I wonder if they are female. Often times they are.

I remember reading a study in the WSJ years ago that used bookjackets that were neutral, male or female, and then used names that were male or female and concluded that many men would not read the female authors books, even if the subject matter or bookjacket were considered neutral or masculine. (the same was not true for women, who would purchase books by male and female authors). Very interesting.

Lamar63 said...

I know the Times reviewed a Stephen King novel last year. The review convinced me to try King again after many years. The book sucked.

prairie wind said...

Why on earth is James Patterson so popular? I read one of his books and the ending was not an ending. If you read a mystery you want something wrapped up at the end! What the heck, James Patterson?

James Patterson doesn't write mysteries; he writes "James Patterson books" ...and now he's begun producing books for the YA market. Writers have cottoned on to the marketing strategy of developing brand loyalty while consumers are young. I'm not a Patterson fan--or of the suspense/thriller genre as a whole.

prairie wind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

My wife quilts. She noticed that women go NUTS over the few guys who delve into quilting. They become stars on the circuit, and make some dough selling their stuff, even magazines.

Women seem to eat their own, IMO.

Scott M said...

I know the Times reviewed a Stephen King novel last year. The review convinced me to try King again after many years. The book sucked.

Was the "The Dome"? Cuz I got suckered into that as well after years of swearing off King.

I've read a number of different female sci-fi authors over the years. There is definitely a subtle difference in texture. But that doesn't make any sense, does it? Isn't the PC meme that we're all the same?

Maguro said...

Women seem to eat their own, IMO.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Bruce Hayden said...

Many women writers publish under a man's name. Alex Kava, for one, sent books to publishers and agents under her own name (Sharon) with no positive responses. The first time she sent her book out under 'Alex', she got a book deal.

Well, I know one guy who publishes under a woman's name, and he hires a woman to go to book signings and the like. He is a psychiatrist (MD, PhD), and openly writing the types of books he writes would conceivably impact his credibility.

Bruce Hayden said...

I've read a number of different female sci-fi authors over the years. There is definitely a subtle difference in texture. But that doesn't make any sense, does it? Isn't the PC meme that we're all the same?

I have read a large amount of sci-fi/fantasy over the years, and I prefer female authors. Of my top authors who are still writing, I would expect that they are 80% female, and the only authors I will buy and read automatically without regard to what is in the books.

Partly, I think that it is because they are better at blending personal interactions with action. Indeed, that is the problem with a lot of male authors - they ignore the personal.

That said, there seems to be a new genre out there that is growing quickly in this area, and that is the modern woman in modern society interacting with, say, a vampire, who is invariably old enough that he still is bound by old mores concerning his treatment of women. So, the heroine can have the best of both worlds - the virile domineering gentleman who treats her like a lady, without giving up all her modern freedoms.

In short, the books should be over in the romance section where they belong. I didn't realize how sexually explicit they were until a (late) teenaged girl pointed that out to me. It is female porn with a fantasy or sci-fi overlay.

What is depressing to me is that there are a number of female sci-fi/fantasy authors who seem to have dropped their previous good work to engage in this formulaic work that apparently pays better. And that may 1/3 of the sci-fi/fantasy section of many bookstores is now filled with this stuff.

prairie wind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
prairie wind said...

he hires a woman to go to book signings
How do I find a job like that? I wouldn't like it for long, but it would be an interesting gig for a few months.

The sexes are different, thank goodness. They write differently, they purchase differently, they read differently.

But still. The idea that the NYTimes is favoring men writers...I would like to see some real numbers around that. My guess is that the Gray Lady likes men. I no longer find it surprising to discover that while liberals like to beat up those who don't ascribe to liberal ideas (equality of sexes), the liberals haven't cleansed themselves of those old ideas.

Wasn't it MSNBC complaining about the lack of color somewhere, even though they have a pretty pale collection of faces themselves?

Richard Dolan said...

MMan makes the point that the critical data needed even to evaluate the article's conclusion of sex-based discrimination is missing. It's not just the numbers of male vs female authors. There are lots of categories of fiction other than genre/chick lit that the NYT mostly ignores. You don't often see a review of sci fi or futuristic fantasy novels, for example. Not only does that stuff appeal mostly to male readers, but the authors are usually men (with perhaps a few women wanting to pass as well).

The NYT disdains such unworthiness. It likes to review books that one might see in a college course in contemporary fiction, the sort of thing that makes the annual 'best of' lists and gets a mention as Pulitzer material. You know what you're in for if you pick up a copy.

In the spirit of Ann's piece yesterday about disproportionate divorce rates based on the sex of the kids (men stay if the kids are boys, women leave if they're girls), we need to find an explanation that validates the Women good, Men bad meme. Here's a possibility: Women know the book publishing-reviewing racket, and have dumped all of that to focus on the money-makers. They've moved on from caring about approval by clueless academics, who wouldn't know a good read from a tech handbook. Men are too dumb to figure any of this out, or if they ever do, too insecure to act on it.

So: Women good, Men bad. It never changes.

Rocketeer67 said...

Many women writers publish under a man's name.

How to explain Evelyn Waugh?

Pogo said...

I would definitely publish under a woman's mane.

Hell, I'd spend most of my time there if she'd let me.

c3 said...

from the piece;

Over about two years, from June 29, 2008 to August 27, 2010, the Times reviewed 545 works of fiction—338, or 62 percent, were by men. During that period, 101 books got the “one-two punch” of a review in both the daily Times and the Sunday Book Review—72 of them were by men.

Of course, as the authors of the article are quick to point out, a crucial datum is missing: the percentage of all published fiction written by men versus women.


"Numerator" thinking.

So once again an argument ensues with incomplete information.

Kirk Parker said...

Bruce,

Hey, Niven and Pournelle put several nice up-close-and-personal scenes into Lucifer's Hammer, didn't then?

Scott M said...

Hey, Niven and Pournelle put several nice up-close-and-personal scenes into Lucifer's Hammer, didn't then?

They did, actually, though I would put forward that interpersonal relationships are neither one's strong suite.

You might check out Hamilton's "Night's Dawn" trilogy or his Pandora's Star books. SM Stirling's work has always been very female-relationship heavy and he's admitted to getting it wrong somewhat back when he was getting going.

Dan Simmon's "Ilium" and "Olympos" on the other hand, added interpersonal relationships like window dressing. It didn't matter, though, because the stories were so much fun, you didn't care.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Maybe if these women are under-reviewed due to being in genre fiction, they're compensated by better sales in genre fiction. (I don't know the sales rates, honestly; I just see a lot more readers in the genre sections, so I assume better sales.)

Side note, since Stephen King was brought up... (SPOILER ALERT for Cell...)

I heard a radio interview with King when he was going into his second retirement. He had just released From a Buick 8 (which I quite enjoyed); and he said when he was done writing it, he looked and said, "This is about a paranormal car and the havoc it wreaks in people's lives. Didn't I write that already? Yeah, Christine. When you start ripping off your prior books, it's time to retire."

Shortly after that, he released Cell, which I loathed; and it proved his point, somewhat ironically. Not only does it largely rework plot and action from The Stand... No, this is the first book I've seen that actually rips off itself. In the middle of the book, the heroes dispatch a great crowd of cell phone zombies by running a vehicle full of explosives into their midst and setting it off with a cell phone. Then, at the end of the book, they're captives of the cell phone zombies in a no-cell-signal area; but they defeat the cell phone zombies by driving a bus full of explosives into their midst and then -- through the magic of a conveniently placed pirate cell phone tower -- setting it off with a cell phone.

Maybe when you start ripping off your prior books, it's not quite time to retire; but when you start ripping off your prior chapters, it's time to retire.

As much as I enjoy Mr. King's earlier books, I no longer support his compulsive writing habit. That shelf space could certainly be cut back to make more room for female authors (or male authors, or android authors), and I wouldn't mind.

knox said...

Shanna: Why on earth is James Patterson so popular?

Beats me. I read one years ago and it was just unbelievably lazily written.

Prairie: I do remember thinking that the hoopla that heralded the arrival of Robert J. Waller's Bridges of Madison County was unwarranted. Pure schlock, yet it received a different kind of attention than similar books by women.

Totally true. The book, however, is so bad it's good. Very worth reading for laughs.

So much literature today is so completely uninteresting to me, I'm hardly one to judge what is worthy or not. I read mostly YA stuff. Great stories, there.

Yes. I've not had a good experience with popular adult fiction/literary fiction in years. I took a risk recently and read Her Fearful Symmetry which had the potential to be a great story ... and it was as if the author purposely sabotaged it... she went out of her way to make it boring!


Lamar63: I know the Times reviewed a Stephen King novel last year. The review convinced me to try King again after many years. The book sucked.

I am guessing that it had some "message" that they liked. So it gets the thumbs up.

knox said...

when you start ripping off your prior chapters, it's time to retire.

LOL