Oh, D.E.A.R. – #Franzenfreude Edition

Do you remember D.E.A.R? At my elementary school that meant “Drop Everything And Read,” something we typically did for 10 or 15 minutes every day. Best part of my day, really. As my TBR and Library piles are battling for supremacy and trying to sneak in around the review copies who have staked out places on my calendar, I’m thinking back to the simpler days of D.E.A.R., when I believed I had time to get to any book I wanted. And that, of course, got me fantasizing about a world where I really could just Drop Everything And Read for more than just 15 minutes a day.

If you haven’t heard the backlash about the New York Times’ coverage of Jonathan Franzen’s new book, “Freedom,” you obviously haven’t been frequenting the bookish corners of the internet (particularly Twitter) lately. I’m not going to go too much into the whole thing, but basically Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, hugely successful women writers without much critical acclaim, want us to take a look at how we assess literary merit. You can read an interview with both of them on the Huffington Post. And, for the record, Jonathan Franzen doesn’t think they are totally off base. Even among people who largely agree with Picoult and Weiner, there has been disagreement over whether this is primarily a genre issue, or a gender issue (personally, I think it is likely some of both).

You’re probably wondering, at this point, how I’m going to relate this back to what I’d like to drop everything to read.

Amongst all this talk about women’s writing been seen as secondary to that of men, even about the same topics, there has also been a strong undercurrent of ‘Picoult and Weiner are just jealous because they write lesser fiction.’ Now, honestly, these two women really don’t write my favorite books; I’ve only experienced one of Weiner’s books, but I didn’t love it, and I tend to find Picoult’s work formulaic and manipulative.

HOWEVER! In the last year I have discovered some really great women’s fiction and, during this whole mess, one title I read and reviewed last year keeps coming back to me: “Crossing Washington Square” by Joanne Rendell.

“Crossing Washington Square” is basically the story of two women who are professors of Literature at Manhattan University. One teaches what she considers to be ‘real’ literature, the other teaches and writes about chick lit. I’m sure you can guess the rest of the plot from here: they don’t particularly like each other, go through something, learn to like each other, first woman realizes chick lit often has important things to say.

And, really, although the way I described it makes it sound cliche, Rendell’s writing is such that it does not feel that way at all while you are reading it, she absolutely brings these women to life. Actually, “Crossing Washington Square” deserves a great deal of the credit for my warming to ‘women’s fiction’ over the past year, betwee

n Rendell’s smart writing and the message she delivered about the value that can be found in books that book snobs tend to turn their noses up at.

If I could just Drop Everything And Read, I would be settling in with “Crossing Washington Square” for a reread right about now, because I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Oh, and I’d probably be alternating “Crossing Washington Square” with my pretty (but thick!) hardcover of “Freedom.”

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2010

26 comments to Oh, D.E.A.R. – #Franzenfreude Edition

  • This as been a topic/debate that I’ve been watching curiously. I agree with you that it’s both a gender and genre issue. Someone I was talking about it with recently called their books chick lit and I was like “it’s not chick lit! Chick lit is Sophie Kinsella (which I love), but it’s not Jennifer Weiner.

    Crossing Washington Square sounds awesome. I’m going to add it to my library requests now! Thanks!

  • Great post. I agree about Picoult and Weiner and wish the argument would have been made by someone with (in my opinion) better chops than either of them because I think they are right to a large extent.

    As you say, there are female writers out there who blow me away – they write about women – or men – or family, so why are we pigeonholing them? It’s frustrating. The book you mention sounds fantastic, and I’ll be adding it to my library list. Thanks!

  • I’ve stopped trying to categorize and just call it Fiction when tagging recent reviews. I have Crossing Washington Square on my TBR list. Moving it up now :) Great post.

  • If you don’t drop everything and read FREEDOM immediately, the terrorists win.

  • This “controversy” has intrigued me, as well. I don’t think I’ve read as many “general fiction” books by men as by women, but I tend to shy away from the prolific authors – of any gender – because of the formulaic quality that’s clear after, um, two books. I read and loved Weiner’s Good in Bed, but her subsequent novels didn’t do as much for me. I read one Picoult – Nineteen Minutes – and while I enjoyed it and could see why she’s got such a following, I could tell just from back jacket blurbs that others of her books would feel like the same story with different characters. I am considering giving House Rules a shot, as my baby brother has Asperger’s Syndrome and I’ve heard good things about the book. I’ve not read any Franzen, but may give Freedom a listen, since the audiobook won an Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine. (disclosure – I work for AF Mag; link leads to review)

    I’d say Nicolas Sparks is a “chick lit” author; where does he fit into the mix?

  • Sparks would be right up there under Weiner and Piccoult I think. I actually DO agree with them though.

  • I loved Crossing Washington Square! Definitely a good book to re-read!

  • I picked up Freedom, but I haven’t read it yet. We had PATTER in school. Put Aside Time To Enjoy Reading. I’ve been keeping an eye on the whole Franzen thing too, it’s been interesting. I’ve been trying to make a point to read more women and minority writers, I don’t know if it helps any, but anyway.

  • Joanne did a reading of CROSSING WASHINGTON SQUARE at the first Lady Jane’s Salon reading series event I ever attended with Leslie back in the winter of last year. She has such a great sense of humor. I found it particularly interesting because she made many not-so-vague references to Manhattan University representing NYU. Makes sense, since Washington Square basically IS NYU. And her husband is a professor there, so he was likely a source for some of her inspiration. Definitely one of the best readings I’ve been to, and the perfect atmosphere/intimate setting!

  • I was happy to discover your blog through BBAW. I think you right about it being a genre and gender issue. I’m adding Crossing Washington Square to my list. Sadly, I’ve never heard of it before.

  • Meg

    Um, how have I never heard of Crossing Washington Square before now? That sounds like exactly the type of book I would love! I’ve been steering clear of most of the Franzen controversy, mostly because his book doesn’t interest me at all, but it’s good to catch up on all the literary news. :)

  • I still think you should give some of Jennifer Weiner’s other books a chance. Best Friends Forever is by far my least favorite.

    You might like Little Earthquakes since you’re a young mom.

  • I’ve been meaning to read Joanne Rendell for far too long. Thanks for the reminder!

  • I love Rendell too (I even included her as my Forgotten Treasure today for BBAW post — oh wait, no I didn’t — I replaced her with Jennie Nash), and that book did make me rethink of how I classify or explain away women’s fiction or chick lit or whatever.

    I have Rendell’s newest book sitting here, and I can’t wait to read it!

  • What a terrific and intriguing premise! I’m tbring this. THanks!

  • I own but have not yet read Crossing Washington Square, but your mini-review of it here has me wanting to get it off the shelf and read it soon. It’s a good time of year for it too.

  • I loved DEAR so much, I’ve incorporated it into my classroom. Every Friday. :)

  • Great post! I really enjoyed the article about Weiner and Picoult, and I can’t wait to read “Crossing Washington Square”!

  • […] Devourer of Books – “Crossing Washington Square” deserves a great deal of the credit for my warming to ‘women’s fiction’ over the past year, between Rendell’s smart writing and the message she delivered about the value that can be found in books that book snobs tend to turn their noses up at.” […]