Publisher’s Weekly has announced its pick of the 10 best fiction and nonfiction books published in 2009. As in most “best of” literary lists, no female authors were included. I’m sure some of PW‘s picks were outstanding by anybody’s standards, but the ones I’ve read are all at this moment in a bag of books to be donated to my local library’s book store. I found them too boring to pass along to friends.
I don’t know if it’s a general coarsening of sensitivity in the human psyche or simply a persistent androcentric approach to literature, but when a middle-aged male writer pens a novel in which a middle-aged man finds himself cast into a real-life version of adolescent male fantasies, middle-aged male critics swoon in ecstatic awe at the story’s truthfulness, its edginess, its gritty courage. Sometimes that’s just plain funny, and a little pathetic, but it also glorifies hackneyed porn just because it’s written with big words.
One of the books PW named as a top 10 is a plodding, episodic tale of a man who finds great romantic pleasure when a woman he’s known a few hours urinates on his hand. But wait, his name is Atman, and the second half of the book takes place in India, and Atman is the Hindu name of the ultimate godhead, so this must really be a spiritual allegory, right? Not quite. If a woman had written that drek, it wouldn’t have even been considered. Nor should it have been.
For a long time I’ve suspected that a lot of literary critics read the first and last two chapters of a book and skip the middle. That’s the only explanation I can find for some of the rave reviews for books that begin and end with big bangs but have hollow insides.
And no, I’m not writing in a pique of jealousy. I don’t for one minute place myself in the company of the world’s greatest writers. But I know good writing when I read it, and a lot of it is done by women. I wish the reviewing world would stop thinking it’s always done by men.