"Male genius has far outnumbered female genius in the history of literature, and it shouldn't be a crime to say so. This issue will die when women produce more and more work of indisputable genius and, until then, we need to stop championing mediocre female work out of defensiveness, stop firing spitballs at male work and stop dissolving the line between high art and pop art.”
-A young female member of the literati in response to Franzenfreude.
Ugh. This kind of thing annoys me so much. Franzenfreude has gotten me thinking a lot about why I read and why in recent years I've been so angry about the hierarchy imposed by "literary fiction" on other genres, and the way it's connected to sexism. (Male genius has outnumbered female genius? REELY? Has someone not read her feminist lit-crit or a little book about how ladies kinda need rooms of their own to get scribbling?)
I started this blog a long time ago to discuss my love of literature in a snob-free context--thus its original "unpretentious lit crit" URL. I did this because I was ashamed of my own previous closed-mindedness, the way I'd wrinkled my nose as a late-adolescent when I saw movie tie-in paperbacks on people's coffee tables. But as I, needing books to read during difficult times or long trips, started reading said paperbacks more and more I realized that popular commercial fiction brings us back to reading the way we read as kids--ravenously, emotionally, viscerally. It's a beautiful thing, and it's important and great to mix that reading with the kind that elevates your mind as you parse its complex symbols and sentences. And really, who's to say what's "better"? In our tech-heavy, politically disastrous day and age, emotional engagement may be a truer antidote to what ails us.
I just snarfed my way through 'The Hunger Games" trilogy and I'd say it was probably the most profound reading experience I've had in at least a year, besides re-reading Emma and Dubliners. It was a one-note YA series that the Slate book club is currently analyzing and denigrating at the same time, but I'm unashamed to admit how much I loved it and how sophisticated I thought its treatment of its themes was.
That's why I'm so obsessed with Jennifer Weiner's crusade. The line between high art and pop art won't be dissolved, but who cares if it is? It's meaningless. Of course some writers are more clever, smart, talented, more ambitious in their stories, in their sentences than others. A canon-lover like me would never deny that one George Eliot is worth a thousand whoevers. But you know what? Sometimes "literary" writers have more exciting plots than their pop counterparts, and sometimes pop writers make you think about contemporary society more than their literary counterparts. Sometimes genre writers use the conventions of their form like a sonnet and make magic that's utterly original--while a lot of the lit-fic I review for Publishers Weekly feels like it was cranked out in a factory (not that it isn't usually good, but there's a sameness to it). It's pure insecurity on the part of the literati to police their borders so assiduously--why not just get good writing to speak for itself?
Yes, there's a good thought. Let's ask a bunch of questions beginning with "why". Why can't we admit that Bronte heroes get us hot under the collar and we enjoy the fart jokes in Joyce and Shakespeare even as we respect their genius? Why do so many adults who read Harry Potter have to qualify that love with some sort of snipe at Rowling's prose style? Why don't we celebrate writers who are keeping our dying written medium alive by connecting deeply with thousands of readers? After all, they're the ones who allow cutting-edge literary experimentation to happen by bringing in profits. And why do these discussions about high art and low art always smack of sexism? Franzen gets more respect than his literary female equivalents who write in similarly highbrow manners. For-profit churners-out like James Patterson get grudging respect and NYTimes Magazine cover stories. Would they do that for Danielle Steele? Me thinks not. And yet there's nooo connection between the two phenomena.
But all this consternation has made me glad that I found VCFA, where writers of speculative, realistic, literary genre and in-between fiction all learn to do the same thing together: engage the reader, stay in scene, write compellingly from the sentence through the plot arc. And I'm glad, although I neglect it often, that I have this blog--and I have you, dear readers, who share my taste and my opinions. So thank you!
And now I'm off to immerse myself in an epic, stream-of-consciousness novel in translation about the Holocaust, a review of which was due yesterday. Happy labor day and may the Egalitarian Bookworm spirit be with you.
A few more links worth reading:
- Is the New York Times' book section really a boys' club? (Slate crunches the #s)
- I write a nasty book. And they want a girly cover on it | Lionel Shriver
- Jonathan Franzen Reviewed on Video (WaPo's Ron Charles)
- Franzen Frenzy! (Lizzie Skurnick @ book beast )