Don't Blame Jonathan Franzen for New York Times Sexism

What Women Really Think
Aug. 27 2010 2:34 PM

Don't Blame Jonathan Franzen for New York Times Sexism

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Does the New York Times ’ treatment of Jonathan Franzen ’s soon-to-be-released Freedom reveal a basic inequity in the literary world-that while women writers sell all the books, it’s the men who get all the critical acclaim? Bestselling novelists Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner certainly think so.

Picoult set off a mini-firestorm when she tweeted her annoyance about Michiko Kakutani’s over-the-top rave of Freedom last week, and Jennifer Weiner chimed in her agreement: If you write chick lit, she claims, "You'll be lucky if they spell your name right on the bestseller list." Weiner goes on to say that "I think it's irrefutable that when it comes to picking favorites - those lucky few writers who get the double reviews AND the fawning magazine profile AND the back-page essay space AND the op-ed, or the Q and A edited and condensed by Deborah Solomon - the Times tends to pick white guys."

I agree, mostly, but choosing the occasion of Freedom ’s publication to air these grievances is misdirected and even a little offensive. We should be jealous of Franzen’s talent, not his press coverage. Freedom is a nearly perfect novel that succeeds, even more so than The Corrections , in blurring that literary-commercial divide that so preoccupies Picoult and Weiner.

Sure, I was disappointed when Tana French’s wonderful Faithful Place received only a hoopla-free weekday review in the Times last month. It wasn’t exactly ignored, but nor did it get anything like the marquee treatment that Weiner claims the NYT bestows mostly on men. But if you want to complain about male favoritism in the Times , pick on some of the other writers Weiner mentions-Carl Hiassen, say, or Nick Hornby-or even those less exacting Jonathans so often splashed across the pages of the NYTBR. Just leave Freedom out of it.

Jonathan Franzen doesn’t get all this attention because he’s a man, or even because he insulted Oprah. He gets it because he has virtuoso standards, and because his newest book is explosively great. And, incidentally, I can’t think of a single living white guy who writes better about women.

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Photograph of Jonathan Franzen by Joe Kohen/Getty Images for The New Yorker.

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