Do book reviewers pay enough attention to female novelists?
Jennifer Weiner, a New York Times best-selling writer, doesn't think so, according to her recent blogpost.
It's not the first time she's spoken out about this issue. In 2010, she and fellow author Jodi Picoult voiced their irritation with The New York Times' glowing reviews of Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom." The chief concern? Franzen's work concerned itself with familial issues, much like books written by women that are deemed less serious genre 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."
"I don't write literary fiction - I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan "Genius" Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely."
There are numbers to back up their grievances. According to Slate's blog Double X, "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."
In spite of the clamor concerning the issue in 2010, the Times did not respond to the issue, and Jennifer Weiner has now announced on her blog that 2011's gender demographics from the newspaper's reviewers were just as dismal. After counting the number of men and women reviewed in The New York Times in 2011, she found that only 40 percent were female. Additionally, 10 men were given two reviews and a profile, while only one woman was (Téa Obreht, author of our first Book Club pick "The Tiger's Wife").
"...if you believe the Times could have swapped one of its multiple pieces on well-connected cross-dressing memoirist Jon-Jon Goulian for a write-up of National Book Award-winning Jesmyn Ward (who was eventually reviewed, once, months after SALVAGE THE BONES was published)… or if you believe that a book review that makes space for mysteries, thrillers and horror novels can also spare a few paragraphs each week for romance, commercial women’s fiction and quote-unquote chick lit, get on Twitter, get on your blog, post something on Facebook. Speak up."
But according to Salon, male novelists are the ones at a disadvantage, at least sales-wise:
"By a wide margin, women also belong more frequently to book clubs... The publishing industry has noticed this trend in reading habits, and knows that word of mouth can spread much more easily through a dozen gregarious club members than through a solitary, likely introverted reader. And so the mainstream publishing paradigm has shifted from books the highbrow critics are buzzing about to books that these clubs will embrace."
And even if men are favored in the literary fiction world, are reviewers really to blame? Salon reported that, when you look at the demographics of books that are published, reviewers are representing the field accurately. In a survey of imprints big and small, "women accounted for around 30 percent of the list, with small independent presses turning out to be even more male-heavy than a behemoth like Random House."
What do you think? Are women underrepresented in the book world?