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.”