Today’s piece by Janet Maslin on this summer’s books by women was astonishing. On the one hand there’s this:
The “Commencement” characters are savvy about, among other things, feminism and publishing. “When a woman writes a book that has anything to do with feelings or relationships, it’s either called chick lit or women’s fiction, right?” one of them asks. “But look at Updike, or Irving. Imagine if they’d been women. Just imagine. Someone would have slapped a pink cover onto ‘Rabbit at Rest,’ and poof, there goes the … Pulitzer.”
They’re right of course. But this is the season when prettily designed books flood the market and compete for female readers.
Too true. Women’s books are routinely lumped together even when they’re vastly different. They’re not deemed to be proper literature just because they’re written by women. And apparently this is especially true in summer which is a time “when literary and lightweight books aimed at women become hard to tell apart.”
So Maslin agrees that women’s writing is frequently compartmentalised and dismmissed. And yet she proceeds to do exactly that for for the rest of the article by lumping together eleven vastly different books and finding tenuous connections between them. All of it under the heading The Girls of Summer. Bless you, sub editor for spelling it out: it’s an article about the frivolous time of year and the frivolous gender. All is clear.
Where is the NYT piece on the boys of summer? That lumps together vastly different books by men. Oh, silly me, that would never happen because boys write real books and girls write summer fluff which is pretty much identical despite the different subject matter:
Amid such confusion, here’s a crib sheet for this season’s crop of novels and memoirs. It does mix seriously ambitious books (“Shanghai Girls”) with amiably schlocky ones (“Queen Takes King”) and includes one off-the-charts oddity (“My Judy Garland Life”). It’s even got a nascent Julia Roberts movie. But the common denominator is beach appeal, female variety. Each of these books takes a supportive, girlfriendly approach to weathering crises, be they global (World War II) or domestic (dead husband on the kitchen floor), great or small.
Let me repeat the key bit: “the common denominator is beach appeal, female variety.”
I’m confused. Is Maslin saying that no matter what subject these women write about their books are automatically light disposable beach reads because women wrote them? Or is she saying they’re automatically beach reads because of the way the publisher has decided to package the book:
Their covers use standard imagery: sand, flowers, cake, feet, houses, pastel colors, the occasional Adirondack chair. Their titles (“Summer House,” “Dune Road,” “The Wedding Girl,” “Trouble”) skew generic. And they tend to be blurbed exclusively by women.
If only the publishers had given them serious covers with non-generic titles and got a bloke to blurb them then Maslin would have been able to review their books separately and not as “women’s fiction”. Damned publishers confusing poor critics’ brains.
I think my head just exploded.