I got this audiobook on an Audible sale and when I told my mom I'd bought it, she said she'd looked at the same sale but hadn't seen it. The reason? II got this audiobook on an Audible sale and when I told my mom I'd bought it, she said she'd looked at the same sale but hadn't seen it. The reason? It was categorized under "Romance." I'd looked at all the books and she'd just looked at "Fiction." Yes, this book is a love story. But it is also just a good story. Unfortunately, Audible's categorization of it as "Romance," with the books with bodice-ripping covers by authors using cheesy pseudonyms and even cheesier descriptions of penises, proves Jennifer Weiner's point.
Reading Weiner and Jonathan Franzen's Twitter war over what good literature is and the sexism extant in how fiction is marketed has been both eye-opening and cringe-worthy for me. Weiner says that fiction should be enjoyable and tell a good story and that the marketing of her books as chick lit, with cutesy covers to match, undermines her standing as a "real" author, worthy of respect in the literary community. She asks, just because women like to read her books, does that make her oeuvre unserious, not reviewable in the New York Times?
Weiner also says that Franzen is pretentious and that his books are not enjoyable to read. She claims that she didn't even bother to finish Freedom. Ok. Franzen is unbelievably pretentious. Like if you look up pretentious in the dictionary, a photo of him with the hipster glasses and bird-watching binoculars is probably in there. His refusal to cooperate with Oprah when she picked The Corrections for her book club was outlandishly hoity toity. He thought he was too important to be read by Oprah's viewers - women. And he believed this so strongly that he was willings to forgo a shitload of money just to make his point. (Of course, he got the money anyway.) He thought Oprah's viewers were not smart enough to read his book, but they were and they did, and they bought it and he made a whole lot of money off of those silly women.
Between the Oprah scenario and the Jennifer Weiner Twitter war, I totally concede that the guy is a total douche.
But here's the unfortunate thing. He also happens to be a genius. I hate when that happens. And it seems like it happens a lot. But, though a mere woman, and a woman who enjoyed watching Oprah at that, I am intelligent and well-educated enough to love the art and hate the artist. I enjoyed every page of Freedom, and The Corrections, and Purity. I recognize them as great literature. Even his insufferable articles about birds in the New Yorker include some revelatory insights. (To it's credit, The New Yorker did a feature on Jennifer Weiner that included some talk about her online battle with Franzen.)
I believe that Jonathan Franzen is a literary genius. I am not sure I think that Jennifer Weiner is. Yet, I love her books. Reading them is not hard work, but they are well written. Who Do You Love examines race and class and love and how people change - all that in just some chick lit with a heart on the cover! I have cried more reading Weiner's books than I have Franzen's. Weiner makes me feel more and think a little less.
So next week when I go to the beach I am taking a Weiner book. I can handle hating the people who write books I love, but feeling a connection with a person I have never met through their work is a different sort of joy. I want to be Jennifer Weiner's friend. I feel that if she met me she would want to hang out. If I met Jonathan Franzen I feel like I would just kind of raise an eyebrow.