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Misogyny In Publishing? Bitterness? Franzen Really That Good?

In this article in the Guardian (another hat tip to The Millions for directing me to this article), Lionel Shriver scrutinizes the recent public attention heaped on Jonathan Franzen and his latest novel. While she looks forward to reading Freedom, Shriver seconds Jodi Picoult's claim that such a media frenzy would never occur in America for a female novelist.

Could be they're right.

Albeit without giving more than a few seconds' search through my synapses, the most media-hyped literary release from a woman I can recall in recent years was Zadie Smith's On Beauty. Of course, she's not American, but she did cause quite a stir in our media--even though they didn't put her on the cover of TIME. I do see some parallels, though. Smith had captured the reading public's attention with White Teeth, and On Beauty garnered a lot of critical acclaim. I can't think of any releases by female authors since then which got quite as much attention (but please correct me if I'm wrong).

My trouble with the gender-bias cry, though, is that I can't really think of any other author who would have received such treatment. What African American author, or a Latino author, or any other subset of the American population, would cause as much stir?

What is it about Jonathan Franzen that is so buzzworthy? I never read The Corrections, but I remember what a media darling that became. And although I didn't immediately react to the email I got from Barnes & Noble announcing that they have Freedom, I probably will buy it soon. I'm not immune to the hype. (Part of the delay is attributable to my inability to decide whether to buy it in paper or electronic form. I'm also bound to trip myself up a bit, wondering whether I need to read The Corrections first.)

If there really is an anti-woman sentiment in the publishing industry, then I'm most definitely in Picoult and Shriver's camp. I'm just not convinced that this is more a gender issue than it is a Franzen issue. 

Pleasure Reading: It's Kind of Why I Started This Blog in the First Place

September 2010 Books