On Toni Morrison, Reviewers, and Other
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 decades.
that year, I was stunned to read Lev Grossman’s
review of LOVE
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 what? Love?
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 found:
72% of all the books reviewed by the New
York Times Book Review were by men.
• 66 percent of the reviews were written
editor 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 that be?
here’s the trigger: He says, “more
books are written by men than women.”
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
And therein lies the saddest tale of all.
(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
Winners feel free to capture
a banner for your website!