Fact-Checking the Franzenfreude
Is the New York Times' book section really a boys' club?
Two weeks ago, best-selling author Jodi Picoult sent a Tweet in a fit of pique. Upon reading Michiko Kakutani's glowing review of Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom in the New York Times, the lady novelist took to her keyboard and typed out the following:
NYT raved about Franzen's new book. Is anyone shocked? Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren't white male literary darlings.
Then fellow best-seller Jennifer Weiner revved up her Twitter account, too, and posted about the breathless critical love of Franzen, whose book was still not out yet. She invented the Twitter hashtag #franzenfreude, which she describes thusly: "Schadenfreude is taking pleasure in the pain in others. Franzenfreude is taking pain in the multiple and copious reviews being showered on Jonathan Franzen."
Weiner tweeted prolifically after starting the franzenfreude meme. "In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance. And now, to go weep into my royalty statement," she wrote on Aug. 19. Not everyone felt her pain. Paris Review editor in chief and former Farrar, Straus, and Giroux editor Lorin Stein responded to Weiner and Picoult's complaints on the Atlantic's Web site, slamming their desire for mass-market fiction to be reviewed by the Times as "fake populism" that "pretends to speak for women." After that, Weiner and Picoult gave an interview to the Huffington Post, responding to Stein. Just a few days ago, Weiner and Times book review editor Sam Tanenhaus duked it out on NPR.
The discussion is ongoing, especially now that Franzen's book has finally hit the general population. The bookish blogosphere continues to debate whether the New York Times—and, by extension, other cultural gatekeepers—really does give white male fiction writers preferential coverage over authors of the distaff and ethnicvariety.
Other groups have looked into the Times' record on reviewing political books (95 percent male) and crime novels (66 percent male). And there's a slightly older study from Brown that concluded that 72 percent of all books reviewed in the Times Book Review were written by men. (You can see the full Brown paper at this cached link here). But so far, no one's taken an extended look at the paper of record's general fiction coverage. So we decided to gather some statistics in order to determine whether the Times' book pages really are a boys' club.
Slate associate editor Chris Wilson got us started by putting together a spreadsheet listing every work of adult fiction that's been reviewed in the New York Times in the past two years.
We compared men to women and then highlighted the authors whose books had been singled out for the one-two punch of a weekday review and a review in the Sunday Times Book Review.