Hey, so, been a bit busy for posting stuff here. Once again, a huge backlog of interesting stuff has built up. We’ll see how much of it I can get through… First up, several weeks late, another literary controversy.
Jennifer Egan (who I have three friends in common with on Facebook! So close to fame!) won this year’s National Book Critics Circle Award, Pulitzer Prize and a ton of other awards for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. It is firmly on my reading list, having had some blazingly good reviews and an awful lot of buzz. Many people have exclaimed at what a good thing it is for a book by a woman to have been so hailed by all the serious critics and awards panels (which is kind of wild itself, right, that the very fact that a female author is gaining lots of praise is even news?), especially when this book was in competition with a book by The Man From the Cover of Time Magazine, Jonathan Franzen. In fact, Goon Squad had gone up against Freedom in the final of the Tournament of Books, meaning that its superiority over Franzen’s book had been verified in the most direct and explicit manner possible.
Where is this going though? Well, mere minutes after the news broke that Egan had won the Pulitzer, a journalist from the Wall Street Journal managed to get her on the phone. I imagine she was feeling kind of high at the time, but whatever. Here’s the interview, but in a TL;DR spirit, what you need to know is this:
Q: Over the past year, there’s been a debate about female and male writers and how they come off in the press. [blah blah]. Do you think female writers have to start proclaiming, “OK, my book is going to be the book of the century”?
A: Anyone can say anything, that’s easy. My focus is less on the need for women to trumpet their own achievements than to shoot high and achieve a lot. What I want to see is young, ambitious writers. And there are tons of them. Look at “The Tiger’s Wife.” There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models? I’m not saying you should say you’ve never done anything good, but I don’t go around saying I’ve written the book of the century. My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower.
She’s referring to a book called How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by Kaavya Viswanathan, which had been getting some positive attention until it was discovered sections were plagiarized from various other works in the genre known as chicklit. Many people were not happy about this: most vocally, perhaps, Jennifer Weiner (author of In Her Shoes and other such novels), who tweeted: “And there goes my chance to be happy that a lady won the big prize. Thanks, Jenny Egan. You’re a model of graciousness.” There was a tremendous amount of internet-based soul searching over Egan’s comments, people’s responses to them, and the very fact that the debate was happening in the first place. This is very enlightening reflection on the controversy, which takes in many of the relevant points of view, as in:
Perhaps the bigger issue at hand, though, is the severity of the backlash to Egan’s comments and the reasoning behind it. Bloggers at the The Signature Thing declared it “majorly ugly girl-on-girl crime,” and numerous commenters declared a boycott of everything Egan from this point forward…
These former Egan fans are uniting under the notion that in addition to being a meanie, Egan is setting feminists back 50 years. How could she? In the male hegemony of publishing, us gals are supposed to stick together. Which is all well and good, in theory. But to suggest that a woman writer should not be critical of other women writers is counter to progress…
The writer (Deena Drewis) goes on to suggest that Egan was perfectly entitled to express her honest opinion about another writer’s work, and that people should focus on celebrating the crazy amount of success that she has had.
Ummm, I suggest you read the article; I’m not sure if I have an opinion on it, apart from the one above about it being sort of crazy that a woman winning the Pulitzer is inherently newsworthy. I do wonder why she chose to criticise another writer’s choice of genre; I’m sure there are tons of women writing more literary stuff that she’s a fan of and that she could have talked about. I guess it’s just what popped into her head. But of course, she was only given the opportunity to make this unfortunate comment because of the strange situation of women writers in the first place: noone would even think to ask the equivalent question to Mr. Franzen.