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Jodi Picoult’s Complaint

I may read romance novels and I’m not ashamed of it, but I’m also not particularly sympathetic to Jodi Picoult’s complaint that the New York Times in its book reviews “loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs … In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance.” I think there’s a narrow line to walk here. Obviously, domestic spheres are as important as the public sphere, and matters of the heart affect many of us as deeply and as frequently as matters of public policy. But I do think there is a difference in literary merit between a novel that, say, provides a reader with an avatar of themselves, be that avatar a chubby actuary or a plain, shy girl, or a misunderstood computer nerd, or whatever, and thus makes them feel less alone, and a novel that asks the reader to consider larger societal questions, and to attempt to understand the world around him or her. I understand the desire to escape into the former kind of fiction and regularly do it myself, but I also understand that the latter kind of fiction is more rigorous, and that it requires me to do more work not simply because it uses big words. I also think that all sorts of novels can fall into both categories. White dudes from Brooklyn can create Mary Sues, and genre fiction nerds can force us to reconsider the world we live in.Is it possible that white dudes from Brooklyn, or whatever other enclave, may have more financial resources and societal encouragement to write big, outward-looking books? Sure. But prove it. And it’s much more important who gets the opportunity to write what, than what the times says about it in the end.

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