Thursday, October 24, 2013

Are You Toying With Me, NYTBR?

I'm kind of at a loss as to what to make of this week's New York Times Book Review. I was ready to shut my little "do they read women?" project down, after week after week of depressing results, when Donna Tartt broke my heart a little by including not a single woman in her entire "By the Book" interview (unless you count fictional characters). 

Donna! Where's the love, sister? I  had actually been a fan of yours, not because of your work (my bad; haven't read you yet) but because you were apparently lovely to the hairdresser who accidentally cut you. But good manners are something one must practice every day. It's perfectly fine to have one's preferences ("I'm not very interested in...books about marriage, parenting, suburbia, divorce"), but - since you say you love "fairy tales, ghost stories, adventures" and plan to read King's DOCTOR SLEEP next, it's downright rude to snub the many, many fantastic female authors of same.

But back to the subject. In this week's review, I give credit for the coverage of genre fiction, something we should celebrate with great gusto. (Pause for cheering.)  However, was it necessary to backhandedly snub all those who write it? Perhaps I should be satisfied that - in gender terms anyway - y'all were evenhanded, providing this apologia for Helen Fielding's new book: "This is romantic comedy - chick-lit, really - but [it's okay to read it anyway - paraphrasing mine]" and these snippy words for the new Scott Turow: "The novel grows more lurid and pulpy as it proceeds, with enough running around and twists to make a soap opera writer blush."

(Ouch! Soap opera writers, so sorry, but apparently you've been barred from the party. Don't worry; you may find kinship with romance writers, who were kicked out long ago and are congregating at the lowbrow establishment down the street. You know, the one with SIXTY PERCENT OF THE FICTION READERSHIP.***)

I was feeling a little bruised at this point, but there was little to find objectionable in the reviews of the historic and literary novels and short story collections that followed. The discussion of Philip Roth and Norman Mailer at least allowed (again, paraphrasing) that both men were essentially giant dicks in many important perhaps now we can stop devoting precious dwindling review column inches to them? Please?

Anyway, i find myself wandering from the path. If I keep this up, it seems unlikely that the NYTBR will ever invite me to guest-post. I should admit that the antipathy isn't really mutual. I'm more like a jilted ex-lover. They've said lovely things about me in the past, after all. But in the years since A BAD DAY FOR PRETTY was named a NYT Notable Book, I've grown a little more - what's the word? - critical

*** Yes, it's true. Don't faint. ***

****** UPDATE!!! ******

An astute reader pointed out that Tartt does mention several women writers in her interview. That did not jibe with my memory so I asked a friend and my brother to check their print copies.  Here are their responses:

from my brother - I went to the library and copied the printed version of her interview. The online version is longer, with 3 or 4 additional questions. The relevant one is the first, "What are you reading at the moment?" which is omitted entirely from the print version, and is the only place where Tartt mentions female authors by name. All other questions are exactly the same, or are included only online but mention no authors; apart from that first question, the only female author is mentioned implicitly, in a reference to Tom Ripley.

from my friend - THAT FIRST PARAGRAPH IS MISSING from the paper version. This seriously deserves a NEW blog post. Holy shit. At the end it does an expanded version can be found online. What should we cut? Cut the women! That's it! 

Unfortunately I don't have time to share all my thoughts about this at the moment as I am headed for Phoenix in the morning and there are several beers I must drink first with some friends tonight. So I invite all of you to ponder what this means and if, indeed, by removing the ONLY paragraph mentioning women authors, NYTBR is, indeed, messing with me/us.

Oh, and sorry, Donna!  I owe *you* a beer!


Anonymous said...

She mentions three or four in the first graph. Read it again.

Ruby Laska said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sophie Littlefield said...

Thank you, Anonymous, but it turns out that the paragraph you refer to was omitted from the print version. You are correct that she does mention women writers, though that version was only available online.

Terry Shames said...

I noticed the same thing and am not particularly appeased by the one paragraph she gives to women that got omitted. She had plenty of opportunities throughout the interview to mention women, but she stuck with mostly DWMs (dead white males).

Mysti said...

To be fair, it may have been the only paragraph they could cut without damaging "continuity." That's the only good reason I can think of.

Colleen Thompson said...


"Don't worry; you may find kinship with romance writers, who were kicked out long ago and are congregating at the lowbrow establishment down the street. You know, the one with SIXTY PERCENT OF THE FICTION READERSHIP.***"

Thank you. A happy romance writer.

Anonymous said...

Ah okay.... Yeah she could have easily listed Bronte, Austen, Eliot, in that Usual Suspects list of hers