One of the things about being a stay-at-home writer is that you have perhaps a little bit too much time to peruse and write blogs! We were reminded of this by chick lit author Jennifer Weiner's rant in the comments of the Times' 'Paper Cuts' blog, which she continued on over at her own blog 'Snark Spot' (really). She has a bone to pick with an author who'd yearningly mentioned her books' consistent presence on bookstore shelves. "Be careful what you wish for, oh shelfmate o' mine! If you wrote chick lit—provided it was any good—you would indeed find your books on the shelf of most every store. But your books would not be reviewed twice by the Times."
She goes on: "Your books would not be reviewed once by the Times. Your books would be completely ignored by the Times unless they included a thinly-veiled villainess who was nonetheless recognizable to Times editors, in which case said editors would hire her former deputy to review your book. Also, you'd be ignored by Oprah. This would be worse." Ignored by Oprah! But wait, the list of depredations worsens.
Your MFA-toting literary peers would shun you at panels or public events, assuming you actually got invited to such things. They'd sneer at your breezy, accessible tales of young women and love, especially if your breezy, accessible tales were selling and their deeply ambiguous, finely wrought short-story collections and/or memoirs about masturbation were not.
The grande dames of literature would turn up their distinguished noses, complaining that you'd undone their years of struggle by writing amusingly of heroines who care about love and marriage. Maureen Dowd and her very good friend Leon Wieseltier would call you frivolous (apparently, novels about women who date are verboten, while autobiography about not being able to get a date is just fine).
Your loved ones would blush when describing your covers and mumble the names of your titles. You'd spend each day living with the pain of having betrayed feminism, your early intellectual promise, and your expensive education by writing something popular instead of something important. Your life would be a hot-pink hell, a toxic cocktail of shame and sugary Cosmpolitans. Worst of all, nobody from the Times would ever email to ask what's on your iPod or how many hours a day you burn on Bluefly.com.
On the plus side, you'd be able to buy a great many pairs of cute shoes...and any board book your daughter's heart desired.
Now, Jennifer is clearly being a little bit nuttily megalomaniacal (and taking a line on the Times from Gore Vidal, too) but she's also right. Obviously, complaining that the Times and Oprah have neglected your hugely successful novels is just plain greedy. Why should the Times review Jennifer's books? Everyone who would need to already knows about them and reads them. It would be like if Frank Bruni went to the Olive Garden and then informed his readers that "despite the wan atmosphere, the bottomless bowl of salad is a refreshing medley of romaine and spinach, a wishing well of leafy greenage. Freshly baked breadsticks, their girth belying an earthy wheatiness, arrived at the table in a warm basket. I put the tip in my mouth, swirling my tongue over the poppy seeds." Like Olive Garden readers care?
But Jennifer is right that our rules about what constitutes highbrow and lowbrow literature are not only arbitrary, but informed by a outdated, snobbish sensibility that doesn't seem to have much to do with what people actually want to read about. Also, that Maureen Dowd can be such a ladder-pulling-up cow sometimes.