Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We Need More Jennifer Egans

Jennifer Egan, you just won the National Book Critics Circle Award! Where are you going next?

"To the Harold Washington Library!"

Fresh off the honor for her highly innovative
A Visit From the Goon Squad (a prize many felt was destined to go to Jonathan Franzen), Egan appeared at Columbia College's Story Week in Chicago.

While not addressing the surprise win directly, Egan did note: "There's a cultural expectation that our most adventurous books will come from men. I was aware of feeling that I might be overreaching. There was the sense, 'Am I allowed to do this?'"

She was and she did, but a number of her fellow female authors seems to have denied themselves the same permission.

For the past year or so, I've been reviewing books for
Booklist. Maybe the editor there has me pigeonholed into reading works from a specific genre, but it seems like all the female authors I've been assigned write about one topic and one topic only: relationships. A popular sub-topic: marital infidelity.

I'm not saying this isn't fertile ground for a novel--heck, even Franzen thought so--I'm just saying there's a whole wide world of other material out there that women shouldn't leave to the guys to explore.

Take the two most recent books I've reviewed (both due out this summer): One is about a woman's break-up with her long-time boyfriend and subsequent whirlwind romance with and marriage to her rebound guy. The other is about a wildly dysfunctional summer camp, a misfit counselor, and a tragic act of shocking violence. Guess which book is by a female author.

I realize I'm making a sweeping generalization here, and of course there are exceptions. Hilary Mantel picked up a slew of accolades for Wolf Hall, which had nothing to do with Men from Mars and Women from Venus and everything to do with Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

More of that please.


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