Bookforum has an interesting article about bestselling novels in America. The condescension dripping from parts of the article is a pity though, especially since it is so unnecessary.
Never mind that the author is just plain wrong in many cases. Forever Amber is classified as a sex book? Excuse me, but while Amber may have earned her living as a courtesan, the actual sex happens off page. I would probably classify it as historical fiction, though it is considered one of the ancestors of the “bodiceripper” type historical romance. It isn’t a romance though, for starters because it hasn’t got a happy ending, let alone a HEA.
Finally, isn’t it telling that Forever Amber, Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls are classified as sex novels, while Tropic of Cancer and Portnoy’s Complaint are classified as literary fiction? Even though there is more explicit sex in the latter two novels than in Forever Amber. But then Forever Amber, Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls were written by women (Kathleen Winsor, Grace Metalious and Jacqueline Susann respectively), while Tropic of Cancer and Portnoy’s Complaint were written by men (Henry Miller and Philip Roth respectively). Another example of the literary double standard in action.
And talking of double standards, it’s also interesting that The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck are classified as “social problem novels” rather than as literary fiction. John Steinbeck only won the freaking Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and he still doesn’t get to be literary?
Talking of double standards, the women in SFF debate is still raging on with some good posts such as this one by a livejournal user known as mouseworks who argues that women writers should stop trying to pander to men’s likes and dislikes and just do their own thing.
This post resonated with me, because in the SFF community you frequently see women desperately trying to convince the men* that they are cool and have great taste and read/write the right stuff and are not girly like those other women over there. I can’t even judge them, I used to be one of them. But guess what? It doesn’t work. Because no matter how many “right” opinions you sprout and how many “right” books you read, sooner or later you’re still going to read/write/watch/like the wrong thing.
The bit about those women writers whom men like also resonated. Because whenever you politely point out that the overwhelmingly negative attitude towards urban fantasy and paranormal romance in the SFF community or the negative attitude towards the romance genre pretty much everywhere may have something to do with the fact that those genres are dominated by women, you inevitably get men declaring that they of course like women writers, good women writers.** And then comes the list. The list of women writers acceptable to men. The number is usually between three and five, rarely more. And the same handful of names keeps popping up over and over again on those lists. And I have to confess that if I haven’t yet sampled a female writer’s work and her name keeps popping up on those lists of “women writers acceptable to men”, I feel an immediate resistance to giving that writer’s works a chance. It’s deeply unfair, of course, and when I actually read a short story by one of the writers that keep showing up on those lists in an anthology, I ended up enjoying it, because it was simply a good story by a good writer and not pandering to male tastes at all. But those list of women acceptable to men always leave a bad taste in my mouth.
German politicians seem to have refrained from getting caught plagiarizing these past few months, but now paranormal romance author Moira Rogers has been hit by a particularly blatant and stupid plagiarist. Found via Lilith Saintcrow.
Finally, the results of the Cover Café‘s annual contest for the best and worst romance covers have been posted. Most of my picks finished pretty high this year (though one came in last), which is unusual, because my tastes are mostly out of step with the tastes of the majority of romance readers. They even quoted a few of my comments.
*Not all men, of course. Just a certain sort of more or less openly misogynist man.
**I’ve heard these very same words from a fairly prominent and influential male writer/critic.