Blog Archive for April, 2012

19 Apr 2012

Much Ado About the Pulitzer

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If you’ve been reading the news these last few days, then you are aware of the brouhaha over the failure to award a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. No one doubts that there must have been at least one worthy novel (we can think of a few), yet the controversy is interesting.

Ann Patchett is upset with the Pulitzer committee and writes, “Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings.”

This is true, and smart women are aware of this. We also know that when a book is honored with a prize (Booker, Pulitzer, National Book Award), this doesn’t necessarily mean that we agree that it was the right choice or that we want to read it. It is just a guidepost indicating what has been recognized and we may want to consider it.

But, the good news is that numerous titles have been floated in the press as potential contenders. This gives us the chance to explore what may not have been on our literary radar. We will definitely look into Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, Russell Banks’ Lost Memory of Skin, and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones. Another well-received 2012 title, The Art of Fielding, is already on our list and will be the subject of a forthcoming blog.

Although Patchett concludes, “The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction,” a prize isn’t necessarily what creates a buzz about a new book. Fifty Shades of Grey is the hottest (no pun intended) book at the moment, and surely it won’t be a finalist for the Pulitzer.



11 Apr 2012

Are Women Writers Taken Seriously?

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A painting of the vatican and its surroundingsAnnie Dillard wrote, “At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then–and only then–it is handed to you.” Writers, both male and female, know this. The process can be a mean, exhausting task, but it’s part of the job description.

Interestingly enough, Dillard does not discriminate between male and female authors in The Writing Life; on the contrary, she draws liberally on the experiences of all writers as she describes their sometimes grueling challenges. Nonetheless, many smart women readers seek balance in their authors, trying to spend equal time with writers from both genders.

One of our reading groups this year made a conscious decision to read only prize winning authors, eight in all, four men and four women. We are nearing the end of our journey with only Nadine Gordimer left on the roster, and none of our women disappointed us (Didion, Sontag, and Oates were the others). So, when we read Meg Wolitzer’s essay, “The Second Shelf: Are there different rules for men and women in the world of literary fiction?” we took note of her questions.

Wolitzer begins her essay by asking: “If The Marriage Plot had been written by a woman yet still had the same title and wedding ring on its cover, would it have received a great deal of serious literary attention?” It’s a good question, but considering that Eugenides draws on Jane Austen, a women writer who is taken seriously, it’s hard to answer anything but ‘yes.’ And if you have read Amy Waldman’s The Submission or Nicole Krauss’s History of Love or Great House (just to name a few recent titles), then you know that there are serious, well-received contemporary women authors.

Yet, Wolitzer makes an interesting point: “The top tier of literary fiction–where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters into the public imagination and current conversation–tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male.” What do you think? Is there a gender bias in literary fiction and how a work is received? Let us hear from you.