|A Moment of Jen|
posted by Jen at 12/13/2013 10:26:00 AM
While this is, of course, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, it is also the time I typically spend counting and grumbling.
I count the number of books reviewed that were written by women, and the number of women writers profiled in the Times, and then I grumble when those numbers turn out to be significantly lower than the number of male authors whose works and selves got that consideration.
It's interesting that this willingness to count and to talk about the results means that I just might be, in the eyes of no less venerated an institution than The Nation, the "most aggrieved of the bestselling novelist" in all the land.
So, the breakdown: railing against social media and Amazon and name-checking fellow novelists for having "succumbed" to Twitter? A-okay! Pointing out that there are gaping inequities between the number of men and the number of women getting published and reviewed? Bitch, bitch, bitch.
In the three years since individuals and organizations have been doing the count-and-grumble, not much has improved. I’m sure I could run the numbers right now and come up with predictably grim tallies…but this was a year where a lot of things went right.
Under the leadership of Pamela Paul, who took over last April, the New York Times Book Review has become a more inclusive, more embracing, more interesting place.
Interspersed with the typical big-boy heavy hitters whose tastes are probed and recommendations sought in the “By the Book” feature are pop-culture figures from Penn, of Penn and Teller, to Sting. Popular writers like Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson alternate with Tom Perrotta and Jhumpa Lahiri.
Bestselling authors have gotten the cover treatment. Hey, there’s Stephen King! Look, it’s Elizabeth Gilbert!
Paul’s Book Review has even found room for the kind of commercial fiction whose presence has long been limited to the bestseller list. Each week, the Book Review publishes "The Short List," capsule reviews of books grouped by subject or genre…which means that if you’re a woman who writes genre fiction that isn’t mysteries (those are still covered by Marilyn Stasio’s column,) you’ve got a chance at getting some notice.
As a whole, 2013 was a good year for ladies at the Times. Women wrote big books, and they got the kind of two-reviews-and-a-profile attention that’s long been lavished on the Jonathans (Franzen, Lethem, Safran-Foer).
This year, Meg Wolitzer, Claire Messud, Kate Atkinson, Elizabeth Gilbert and Donna Tartt all joined the two-reviews-plus club. Of the paper’s five best novels of 2013, four were written by women.
Predictably, Paul’s revamp prompted a certain amount of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching literary quarters.
A woman whose debut novel got scads of press (and two NYT reviews) fretted that it just wasn’t fair that commercial fiction, which already gets all the readers, would “dominate” the book review section, too.
Other literary ladies sniffed that they simply couldn’t find the energy to get worked up over questions of who gets covered, and how, and where, while one book publicist memorably tweeting that she was too busy selling books to waste time on “literary fueds.”
Many of the got-no-time-for-it ladies, big surprise, are the ones who are currently reviewed by the Times, published in the New Yorker and, in one case, short-listed for the women-only Orange Prize (it takes a special kind of chutzpah to declare yourself above the gender fray while you’re happily collecting accolades and cash that are only available because other women pointed out inequities and fought for ways to address them).
Other defenders of the status quo worried that if commercial writers succeeded in getting coverage in the NYTBR, it would result in the total absence of gatekeepers, a lowering of the what-deserves-attention bar so radical that anything could clear it, resulting in a boring book review.
It's early days but, so far, none of the worst-case scenarios have come to pass.
Boring, of course, is in the eye of the beholder...but I'd submit that brilliant book plus smart reviewer does not always equal a great piece of criticism. Too often, what you end up with is lengthy, tendentious criticism in which the critic unloads every literary reference and four-syllable word in his or her arsenal in an attempt to prove that he or she is as smart as the author under consideration.
Nor has a page’s worth of capsule reviews once a week in the Times meant that serious writers of fiction are no longer getting their due. That worried debut novelist, for example, hasn't had any trouble getting the Times to publish her beer preferences in the Sunday Magazine.
As for the fear of a world without gatekeepers, at The New York Review of Books and The Paris Review have proved themselves more than capable of distinguishing between a big, important novel and a piece of self-published Wookie erotica.
The New Yorker is still publishing Lionel Shriver and Jeffrey Eugenides. The Paris Review is still publishing Lydia Davis and Rachel Cusk. The New York Times might do capsule reviews of best sellers, but it is still spending more of its resources calling attention to quieter, less accessible fare that might otherwise be overlooked.
None of this is new...and all of it's okay. Sure, the VIDA numbers at these publications are nothing short of appalling, and literary magazine could do a better job of actively seeking out and encouraging young women writers to submit their work...but, as long as People and Entertainment Weekly cover popular fiction, editors at The Paris Review and The New Yorker are welcome to confine their attention to highbrow books.
Three years after the start of a conversation about why the Times was writing so many stories about Jonathan Franzen while giving literary women writers short shrift, ignoring commercial women writers completely and implicitly telling readers of romance and chick lit that they weren't welcome, the Times has shown that it is, in fact, capable of changing.
Most readers make room on their shelves for a variety of books -- capital-L literature, graphic novels, science fiction, mysteries and beach reads and beloved childhood favorites. It's been great -- and gratifying -- to watch The New York Times make room on its pages for a similar bounty.
Friday, October 25, 2013
posted by Jen at 10/25/2013 11:03:00 AM
My third annual Halloween e-short story, "Disconnected," goes on sale Monday - it'll be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and wherever fine e-books are sold. (And if you don't have an e-reader? Buy it here, and read it on your laptop or your phone!)
Here's a little taste...
"Get a new phone number,” they had told her, along with “go to a meeting your first day out,” and “do ninety in ninety,” and “find a sponsor,” and “find a home group,” and “the only thing you have to change is everything.” Feeling as skinless as a peeled egg, Shannon vowed that this time, she’d follow directions. She was almost thirty years old, hardly a kid anymore, and she had been in and out of rehab six times already, not that anyone was counting.
Besides, this last time she’d almost died. They’d Narcanned her in the hospital. She’d come surging up and out of the darkness with tubes up her nose, a needle buried in the crook of her elbow, and a terrified-looking nurse leaning over her, saying, “God, we almost lost you!”
I’m done, Shannon had decided, lying on the narrow gurney in the ER while a homeless man vomited into his lap and two cops stood guard over a bloodied woman handcuffed to her bed. I am really and truly done. By then she had lost her dignity, her money, her job as an editorial assistant at Paragon Press. For the past three years she had supported herself writing blog posts for a site called Busted! that had started its life as an aggregator of celebrity mug shots. She had studied with Jane Smiley in graduate school, she'd once received a semi-encouraging rejection letter from The New Yorker (“This isn’t quite right for us, but please try again”). Now she spent her days scanning electronic police-department databases for the faces of the famous, the formerly famous, the almost famous, and the reality-TV famous, as well as scribbing snarky comments across the thighs and torsos of actors and singers who’d gained weight and then had the temerity to appear in public in spite of it.
Ten posts a day netted her five hundred dollars a week. She’d given up her apartment, the few pieces of non-Ikea furniture that she’d acquired. Busted! did not offer its employees health insurance, which meant that the hospital was eager to see her backside. After they’d moved her to a room, another nurse had come in with a rape kit. She and Shannon had had a quiet conversation, and then the nurse had left with the kit, still sealed in plastic, in her hands. What had happened to her wasn’t rape, Shannon had decided. It can’t be rape if they pay you when it’s over.
From the hospital she’d gone back into an overwarm October night and thence to rehab—a low-end one, a place where they sent people on welfare who had no money to go anyplace better. After twenty-eight days, she’d taken the Chinatown bus to Manhattan, then the subway to Brooklyn. There was a ten-thirty meeting in the basement of St. Patrick’s in Bay Ridge. She went there because she knew there was a T-Mobile store just down the street, and also that the meeting, which she’d found when she’d gone to meetings the year before, often had doughnuts or cookies—important if you had little money and no food. Ever since she’d left rehab, Shannon found that she was hungry all the time, craving processed flour and white sugar, big mouthfuls of cheap sweet stuff, food that could fill you and hold you in place like an anchor.
She arrived while the two dozen attendees were mumbling through the preamble, and dumped powdered creamer and sugar into a cup of coffee until she’d created what looked like a latte. There were cinnamon-dusted doughnuts, and she stuffed two into her pockets and devoured a third before taking a seat in a folding chair toward the back of the room. It was a speaker meeting. The woman behind the podium, a trembly sixtysomething with short brown hair and orthopedic sneakers with white laces tied in neat bows, told the story about how she’d been hooked on Vicodin. When her doctor wouldn’t renew her prescription, she began buying pills from a neighbor. Her habit had crept slowly from being once a week to once a day to all day, every day, until she had slept through the pickup at her grand- daughter’s preschool. That, she said, was her rock bottom. That was when she decided to get help. Shannon licked cinnamon off her fingers while the woman dug tissues out of her bag. She wondered what would happen if she told them the things that she’d done, the things that had been done to her. There was a line she’d read in a book somewhere, about how if a woman told the truth about her life, the world would crack open. She wasn’t sure about the world, but she suspected that such truth-telling could prove mightily disruptive at an AA meeting.
She was thinking about getting another doughnut when she saw a man with a spiderweb tattooed on his neck squinting through the dusty church light like he wasn’t quite sure he was seeing her or not. Shannon didn’t recognize him, but that meant nothing. He could have been someone she’d dated or someone she’d fucked for drugs, or maybe even someone she had known in college, the good old days when she’d been young and bright and full of promise, when her short stories had won prizes, when drugs were just something that showed up, or didn't, at a party on a Saturday night, and she didn’t think of them between one appearance and the next.
She dropped a dollar in the basket for the Seventh Tradition, and when she turned she was unsurprised to see the spiderweb guy sitting next to her. “You new?” he whispered. Shannon considered the question. New to the program? New to this meeting?
Of course, big surprise, the guy didn’t want to hear her story. He wanted to tell her his own, which was a variation on every junkie’s story that she’d heard. Shannon tuned it out as the guy recited the particulars: “. . . and then he’s like, ‘You aren’t gonna believe this stuff,’ and I was all, ‘Hey, wasn’t this on the news last week? Aren’t people dying from it?’ It was fucked up, I know, but all I thought was, okay, this is gonna be super-strong, so I’m gonna get super-high, and the next thing you know . . .” He pursed his lips, an endearing little-boy-ish gesture, and made a popping sound. “Next thing you know, you’re, like, flat-lining in the ambulance.”
Shannon gave him a distracted smile. “Yeah, they Narcanned me,” she said. The guy tipped an imaginary hat.
“Respect,” he said. Shannon smiled and tried not to think about how she’d once gotten an A plus in a class on modern British poets, how the professor had written her a letter of recommendation saying that in his decade of teaching, she’d been his most promising student.
At the center of the circle, the leader cleared his throat. Shannon bent her head and closed her eyes as the guy at her side finally subsided, then spoke the words of the Serenity Prayer. | #
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
posted by Jen at 10/03/2012 10:39:00 PM
My goodness! October already!
It's been a busy few months around here, right?
My kids started school. Then they both got lice. I feel like my life has been an endless cycle of combing, rinsing, washing, and calling the professional nit-pickers.
I went on "The Today Show," where I talked about un-kosher chickens and sanitary napkins and why women are so hard on each other about baby weight, and how that really needs to stop. Missed it? Here's the link!
Jeffrey Eugenides, who teaches Creative Writing at my alma mater, told Salon that he didn't know why Jodi Picoult would be the one "bellyaching" about the disparity between the ways men's and women's books were treated. I emailed him to try to explain why, sending him a link to the VIDA count, explaining that the women he was teaching would likely graduate into a world where their work was less likely to be published and reviewed than that of their male peers.
After Eugenides said he wasn't presented with the Vida stats -- that, essentially, the reporter slipped in a question about gender and genre at the end of an interview, than made it the centerpiece of the interview -- I suggested that he might want to say so, in as public a place as he made the "bellyaching" remark. Not "Say you were wrong!" like I'm the Feminist Crusader Thought Police (now meeting at my house, after "30 Rock") and he's a goatee'd desperado, but just "maybe say you didn't have all of the information when you answered the question." At which point, Professor Eugenides, who'd proposed getting together for a beer so he could explain why he said what he said, stopped returning my emails...and the head of the Creative Writing department, which I've supported, with my gratitude and my yearly contributions, said, "We can't make him listen to you, now bug off and go away." (I'm paraphrasing).
Over at NPR, Linda Holmes wrote a piece called "Women, Men and Fiction: On How Not To Answer Hard Questions," which brilliantly explained all of the reasons why who gets reviewed, and where, and how often, continues to be an issue, and how many ways, in a few short paragraphs, Eugenides misses so much of the point (as Holmes writes, when you say that you've "heard about" an issue, "That's a red flag. You usually don't want to ask anyone to respond in any depth to an argument he's "heard about."")
Jodi and I wrote a letter to the editor of the campus paper trying, again, to explain where we stand, and why... and I'm trying to let it go. Will let you know how that turns out, to let this serve as the universe's reminder that authors are not their books, and some perfectly wonderful work's been written by people who were bigots, anti-Semites, and just jerks in general in their day. Maybe some day I'll have better luck changing the mind of a man at the tippy-top of the literary pyramid, or at least getting him to think about who gets covered, and where, and how.
What else? I wrote piece for Allure about "The F-Word," about growing up fat, and being prepared with a speech for a kid who got taunted for her weight...but being completely un-prepared when that same kid used the f-word to describe another girl.
It was a hard piece to write, because it meant thinking about a hard part of my life. You can read all about it right here...and it looks like next week I might be taping a talk show about it. Of course, I got the email, and the first thing Mrs. Love Your Body As It Is thinks is, 'How much weight can I lose between now and next week?" Some things never change. Oh, and I'm working on another spooky short story that'll be available in e-form just in time for Halloween. It does not involve lice. It does involve a woman who hits the bestseller list after her husband, a Great Man of American Letters, dies, and she writes a memoir about their life together. Everything's fine...until her agent starts asking about her next book.
Stay tuned for details, and stay away from lice!
Sunday, July 08, 2012
posted by Jen at 7/08/2012 02:21:00 PM
THE NEXT BEST THING -- which I am quite proud of -- came out on Tuesday.
On Friday, I showed up on "The Today Show," dishing about the book, "The Bachelor," and my summer reading list with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford.
No, I was not offered booze.
No, I'm not bitter.
Then, this morning, I was on NPR, talking gender imbalance in book reviews, why it's tough for women in writers' rooms, and how to cast a goat for your sit-com (turns out, in Hollywood, the goats have head shots).
Here's a link to the audio:
Thanks to the helpful "Bachelorette" producers, I have figured out a way to BEND TIME ITSELF, so I can tweet "The Bachelorette" while I'm at my reading at the Upper East Side Barnes & Noble, at 150 East 86th Street, at 7 p.m. tomorrow night.
The rest of my tour dates are all right here. Cupcakes will be provided, and I hope to see lots of you there. In vests. Wear a vest, win a prize!
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
posted by Jen at 7/04/2012 05:11:00 PM
Lots of exciting stuff happening with THE NEXT VEST -- er, BEST THING! (Have you bought it yet? You totally should! The first chapter's right here, and here is a lovely Kirkus review!)
I taped "The Today Show" yesterday,and got to dish about "The Bachelorette," hot summer reads, and what it's like to tell your mom that your first book is going to be published, only it's called GOOD IN BED.
The way it happened was kind of amazing...turns out, Hoda Kotb is on Twitter is a fan of my "Bachelorette" tweets! So a few Mondays ago, when Em and the boys were having their Scottish games in Croatia, she tweeted "everyone must follow the funny Jennifer Weiner," and my sister, who's also on Twitter -- and have you seen her video "Eye of the Cougar" yet? -- said, "Hoda Kotb just tweeted at you!"
So I wrote back something along the lines of "OMG! You follow me!," and shamelessly begged her to allow me on her show "And vwolla!" as my four-year-old likes to say.
The segment is scheduled to air in the ten o'clock hour on Friday, July 6, but for all I know, Brad and Angie could decide to make their union legal tonight, and I could end up in Bumpsville, population, Me. But I'll keep you posted.
Also, I am wearing a LOT of fake hair in the segment. Like, Lady Godiva-length extensions. It was fun!
Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to tape "CBS Sunday Morning," where I'll be recommending five great books for summer. If you follow me on Twitter, you can probably guess a few of them already, but a few are surprises. I hope you'll enjoy the books, and that I'll keep it together on camera (no wardrobe malfunctions, no mispronouncing authors' names, spitting while talking, etc).
Then I'm zipping over to NPR's studios to tape "Weekend Edition," where I'll talk about THE NEXT BEST THING and maybe what it feels like to don the Vest of Literary Legitimacy, which my assistant found on the clearance rack of Men's Wearhouse in Philadelphia.
What else? I'm in Philadelphia Magazine, complaining about men spitting on the sidewalk (so not okay!), and how I met Bill Clinton when I was a nubile eighteen-year-old college freshman (all I did was shake his hand). The title of the book is slightly wrong -- it's THE NEXT BEST THING, not THE NEXT BIG THING -- but you knew that already, right?
Finally, because I have the most amazing publicist in the world, I am also in the August issue of O Magazine, talking about the five books that made a difference to me. There's girlhood favorites, A WRINKLE IN TIME and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, the wonderfully weird GEEK LOVE, and the two books I picked up as a young woman that were frank and funny and honest and sexy and made me believe that, maybe, someday, I, too, could be a writer: Erica Jong's FEAR OF FLYING, and the late, great Nora Ephron's CRAZY SALAD: SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT WOMEN.
When I made my picks, months ago, I had no idea that Ephron was unwell...and while I am heartbroken that we won't get to read any more of her sharp, trenchant essays, I'm glad I got a chance to mention her book and let the world know how much she meant to me, and to the generation of female writers and bloggers who would follow in her footsteps, taking on Nora's kind of topics: cooking, body anxiety, being so in love that you talk in a tiny little hamster-voice to your beloved (who, of course, hamster-answers you right back).
So! After the NPR taping I'll be zipping back home to remind my kids that they have an actual, breathing mother instead of just a Skype image on a screen, and then the book tour starts in NYC on Monday night. All my dates are right here, there will be yummy cupcakes from local bakeries at each event, and I hope to see lots of you out there...and remember, wear a vest, go home with a cute tote bag or towel!
(And yes, I know that many of you live too far away from the readings to show up in a vest. I'm busily trying to think of some kind of contest or giveaway, so please check back!)
I hope you're all having a wonderful Fourth. Happy Independence Day, happy picnicking and barbecuing, and happy reading.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
posted by Jen at 6/30/2012 09:19:00 AM
Wow! Who knew that all you needed to do to get noticed by The New York Times was wear a silly vest?
Don't forget, today's the last day to enter the win-a-book-club-visit contest (scroll down for details). We'll be picking the winner tomorrow night.
And! When one of my Twitter followers volunteered to wear a vest to my reading, I thought,"That's worth a prize! So! If you wear a vest to one of my readings -- the schedule's listed here -- you will get a cute tote bag or beach towel (also pictured below).
Have a wonderful weekend. Keep cool. And remember the point of all these funny ads and fun contests: THE NEXT BEST THING goes on sale on Tuesday. I'm really, really proud of it...and I'd be really, really grateful if you got yourself a copy.
Time Magazine says it's "utterly engaging." Kirkus says it's unsparing in "exposing Hollywood’s sexism, ageism and incurable penchant for extravagant silliness." Library Journal raves "full of warm and interesting characters as well as a wealth of insider industry detail (Weiner was a cocreator of an ABC Family sitcom), this is a must-read for Weiner’s many fans and anyone who enjoys smart, funny fiction.
You can read the first chapter of THE NEXT BEST THING here...and you can order it anywhere books are sold.
Friday, June 29, 2012
posted by Jen at 6/29/2012 01:34:00 PM
So, what if you were a novelist, hoping and praying for your new book to take off?
Why, you'd don Jeffrey Eugenides' billboard-famous vest...
And then you'd make your own billboards....
You'd buy ads on literary websites....
And hope that people would notice! And that it would go viral -- or, as your mother says, "virile!"
By golly, it's The Next Vest Thing!
When a smart reader suggested showing up in a vest to one of my readings, I thought, well, that deserves a prize!
Like, perhaps, a cute tote bag!
Or an adorable beach towel!
My tour dates are all right here...and, of course, you can pre-order your copy of THE NEXT BEST THING!