As Jessica discussed last week, authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner have been vocally irritated by the raves for Jonathan Franzen’s new book, Freedom. They’ve lashed out at the New York Times for focusing too much on white male authors but also for their almost complete discounting of all commercial fiction. These are points that lend themselves to ample debate. I’ve mentioned before that I think fiction across categories and types can be brilliant. And I have ample concerns about the blinding whiteness of the literary landscape (which is a topic for a whooooole other post). So why do I find myself so irritated by the articles coming out?
First of all, it’s a little tough to stomach the argument when it’s coming from two of the bestselling authors in the country. Why are they so angry they aren’t getting reviews? Can’t they just dive into their money a la Scrooge McDuck whenever they need to feel loved? I’d find this a lot easier to stomach coming from someone straddling the commercial/literary divide who hadn’t broken out and needed reviews to break through.
Second, did you catch this in the Guardian article? “Picoult also criticised Kakutani’s use of the word ‘lapidary.’ ‘Did you know what [it] meant when you read it in Kakutani’s review? I think reviewers just like to look smart,’ she tweeted.” Oh no, she didn’t… Mocking someone for using a “smart” word is already ignorant. But coming from an author? That’s disgraceful. Working with language is what you DO. If you want to understand why people don’t take you seriously, you probably shouldn’t indicate that you yourself don’t take the language that seriously. Not knowing the word? Totally fine. It’s not like I don’t make regular stops at dictionary.com. But Picoult’s tweet is just anti-intellectual and insulting.
Mostly, though, I’m annoyed because these articles are linked to a novel by someone whose last effort, nine years ago, was a masterpiece. People aren’t excited about Freedom because it’s by a white man. They’re enthusiastic about getting to dive back into the landscapes of the person who created The Corrections, one of the best written, most deeply moving novels of the past decade. Pick on someone divisive like Jonathan Safran-Foer or someone whose output is uneven like Jonathan Lethem. Hell, they even have the same first names and all live in the same borough of New York City. But attacking Franzen…you’re just sabotaging your own arguments.
I’m probably exposing all sorts of biases here. What do you all think?