On Toni Morrison, Reviewers,
and Other Sad Tales
after Toni Morrison's book, Love,
was published, I heard her speak at Book Expo America. I paid
$25 for the privilege of hearing her and other book luminaries
speak before a packed house of book sellers, librarians, reviewers
and publishers who certainly weren’t there for the very
light breakfast. I remember--and this may not be an exact
quote—she said that her new book LOVE
was a great book. Bravo! She is unashamed to acknowledge her
own art just as she has taught her students to do over the
that year, I was stunned to read Lev Grossman’s review
in Time magazine. He indirectly accuses it of not
being much “fun,” as if that is the direction
all novels should take. He makes a couple of snide comments
about how difficult it is to read and accuses her of being
drawn to ugly people. I know he that he knows literature,
that he knows great characters (and characterization) are
not necessarily pretty. And, get this! He says she gave way
to some embarrassingly maudlin emotions. I asked myself, like
was when I started asking myself why Mr. Grossman had turned
from reviewer extraordinaire into The Shredder. The answer
did not come to me until yesterday. My fellow author, Leora
G. Krygier sent me a clip from the alternative newspaper,
Village Voice. It spotlighted a Brown University
study that surveyed the New York Times Book Review. The inquiry
72% of all the books reviewed by the New York Times
Book Review were by men.
• 66 percent of the reviews were written by men.
of The NY Times Book Review, Chip McGrath, showed
less contrition than Pete Rose. He said, “we don’t
have any plans at the moment for changing how we review books,”
and “I’m not convinced that we are guilty of a
male bias—either consciously or un-.” He went
on to explain that the reviews staff has more women than men.
So why more reviews by men? Could it be that when he used
the word “staff” the term included support personnel
rather than writers?
also said that The Times has been trying to use their women
reviewers on more publicity-prone books. Really why would
the trigger: He says, “more books are written by men
like to know where he came up with that zinger. Is he including
all those romances and erotica (probably mostly written by
women unless names like Kristie Leigh Maguire are pseudonyms
for more masculine types)? Does he actually have a count of
all those books that are subsidy and self-published lying
around in his slush pile? If there is any such study that
is reliable, I’d like to know just where they (and he)
got that information and how?
that got me to wondering what Time Magazine’s review
of Morrison’s book would have been like if they had
assigned a female reviewer.
my award-winning novel This is the Place was published,
a review of it was posted on Amazon.com. This reviewer strenuously
objected to what another reviewer had said, that my book was
as surely part of the cultural past of Utah as Gone with
the Wind was of the South. His objection was prompted
by his belief that subtle discrimination and prejudices don’t
count for much; they’re only important if they balloon
to the dimensions of slavery or the holocausts. “Insensitive
man,” I thought, practicing a little prejudice of my
own. Two days later another reviewer, one of Amazon’s
top reviewers at that—took him to task for his insensitivity,
praised my book and lambasted Gone With the Wind.
He, too, was a man.
brings me full circle to how the possible, even probable,
imbalance between feminine and masculine perspectives at the
New York Times Book Review affects their coverage.
Do I believe that disparity exists? Yep. Do I think it is
warranted because it reflects the existing inequality in the
publishing world? No. Do I think there really are more men
writing than women? I’m not so sure. It may be.
therein lies the saddest tale of all.
Tips and Tidbits
(Each month in this box, Carolyn
lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote
better. She will also include a Tip to help readers
find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire
among the newly-published.)
forget that I give a Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize
for Literature every year. Check the January Back
to Literature columns on this Web site for information.
All past columns are archived and the Nobel is
given each January.
Tip for Readers' Tip:
Ball and I coauthored a book of poetry to celebrate
earth and the universe for Earth Day and every
day of the Year. Sublime Planet is the
first full book of poetry in our Celebration Series
that includes chapbooks for holidays including
Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas, Valentine's,
and Women's Day. .