Why Book Criticism and Literary Culture Needs a Poptimist Revolution

This post by Elisabeth Donnelly originally appeared on Flavorwire on 8/28/14.

When bestselling author Jennifer Weiner was profiled by The New Yorker in January 2014 in an article called “Written Off,” writer Rebecca Mead made sure to outline Weiner’s two audiences: one, the loyal readers of her books, who propel them onto the best-seller list, and number two, a pricklier sort, consisting of the “writers, editors, and critics… who have given Weiner a parallel notoriety, as an unlikely feminist enforcer.” The short version is that, through Twitter (and her following, which currently numbers about 93K), Weiner used her platform to needle such august institutions as The New York Times Book Review and everyplace else with mediocre VIDA counts regarding the amounts of space they give to reviewing and considering the three books that “matter” for the season written by male authors like Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides, while simultaneously ignoring the span of women’s writing, and, additionally, commercial fiction.

Like any provocateur’s performance, it was equal parts annoying — if you see book reviewing as advocacy for the little guy, a review of a Weiner novel is certainly not part of that performance — and righteous truth. It’s sexist that book critics can ignore Weiner while making sure to cover the next book by a Stephen King (who bridges “commercial” and also gets literary cred all the time).

 

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