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Margaret Wheeler Johnson

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Jodi Kantor's 'The Obamas' Was Called What In The New York Times Book Review?

Posted: 02/19/2012 2:43 pm

So here we are again. I thought after the Great Jonathan Franzen Debacle of 2001, no man would ever again dare to suggest publicly that there is an inferior class of books that only women read. Then Douglas Brinkley did it in this morning's New York Times Book Review. In his review of Jodi Kantor's "The Obamas," published in January, he wrote:

Call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it's about marriage...

"Chick nonfiction": With those two little words, Brinkley provoked a wave of outrage on Twitter and elsewhere.

Author Jennifer Weiner, who has argued in the past that female writers are under-appreciated by critics, weighed in, as did Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and the New Yorker's TV critic Emily Nussbaum. (Scroll down to view their tweets.)

Weiner also told TABLET magazine in an email this morning:

"My suspicion is that if a male reporter had written a detailed, well-researched, revealing book about the First Marriage, it would have been praised as a serious work of journalism. However, when the old, pernicious double standards still apply, if it's a lady doing the investigation, the personal can never be political ... it can only be gossip, and the writer, however skilled a reporter, is still merely a chick."

I assume that by "Chick Nonfiction," Brinkley meant stories women are thought to enjoy reading -- you know, books with anecdote and narrative, books not about the policy decision but about the emotion and relationships that influenced the policy decision.

Is Brinkley suggesting that men don't enjoy this sort of writing? Because if so, he is also basically arguing that no man enjoyed "The West Wing."

It sounds like he thinks "The Obamas" belongs to that set of nonfiction books that are not textbooks or manuals, that are not about economics or warfare or statistical analysis but about marriage, divorce, love, sex, and the absurd joy, hardship, and tragedy family involves. It sounds like he means it's a book about the kind of stuff you think about when you're looking back on the most important moments in your life. It sounds like he doesn't understand that it doesn't get more serious than that.

What's your reaction to Brinkley's review? Tweet it @HuffPostWomen using #chicktweets or #chicknonfiction, and we'll include it the slideshow below.

SLIDESHOW: Twitter Erupts Over NYT Book Review Of 'The Obamas'

Dahlia Lithwick
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