Publishers have a lot of power. Written material shapes thinking and conversations. When they choose a book or article, they are using physical and mental space that might have gone elsewhere.
For many, many years in the English-speaking countries, that space has gone to white cis men, excluding other voices. Compounding the exclusion has been misogyny in many of those men’s writing.
I gave up reading fiction a long time ago. It was all men’s viewpoints. When Henry Miller’s Tropics became legal in the US, I read them. An older male colleague asked me what I thought. I don’t recall my exact response, but it was along the lines of it being a viewpoint I didn’t recognize. And Norman Mailer and John Cheever and John Updike and Philip Roth and too many others.
The pretense was “Oh but they are such wonderful writers.” As recently as this week, I saw a woman tweeting how she loved Philip Roth’s sentences. I never could get to those sentences through the subject matter, which either didn’t interest me (men’s masturbatory fantasies) or was actively misogynist. Later fiction presented men’s fantasies about what people of color or women really thought. Women fiction writers too often picked up too much of the men’s influence. I tossed it all in the trash.
I’m encouraged by W. W. Norton’s decision to scrap Roth’s biography, written by his hand-picked biographer, who is now accused of inappropriate behavior toward his students and rape. Yes, I want to shout, of course the person Roth chose to represent him would be that way.
Ron Charles, in the Washington Post, points out that diversity at a publishing firm opens a route for non-cis-white-male viewpoints to go into those decisions about how that valuable print space will be allocated. The staff at Simon and Schuster has lodged an objection to the company’s signing a contract for a book by former Vice President Mike Pence. Supporting Nazis, it turns out, isn’t to everyone’s taste.
I suspect some major publishers still don’t understand what having a diverse workforce entails. It was never just about making your office look like a Benetton ad. The real goal behind a diverse workforce is a wide range of experiences and ideas — and people empowered to act on them.
Charles sees clearly what is happening. I’m pleased that my judgments are finally being validated.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner
One of the things that’s gotten me back into reading science fiction and fantasy on a regular basis is the increasing prominence of writers in the genres who are not white men, or (as women SF writers in, say, the 1970s-80s often were required to do) particularly catering to a business dominated by white men. The books end up feeling far less samey. I still read white-guy books but it’s like there are more food groups to eat.
What turned me off about Roth was reading about his relationship with Claire Bloom. He made her choose between him or her children. She chose him. That was back in the 70’s, maybe. Now that would be considered a major red flag for an abuser.
As a cis straight white male novelist, I….fully wish these changes had happened decades ago.
As McIrvin says, too, there’s been growth outside of strictly literary fiction, but it’s long, long overdue there. Here’s hoping fresh viewpoints might help revive the form.
O. Felix Culpa
I particularly liked the closing sentences of the WaPo article:
Four Seasons Total Landscaping mistermix
The Internet broke my brain and I don’t read books as much as I used to — mostly mystery fiction. Some of the self-published stuff on Amazon that Prime pushes to me is as good in that genre as anything else. I suppose non-genre fiction will still have “prestige” publishers acting as gatekeepers, but I’m guessing a lot of genre authors go around those gatekeepers.
The various genres have been going through the seismic shakes for the 10 or so years. Cracks radiated through SF&F and hit romance last year with the RWA debacle. It’s been a long time coming and has led to a wealth of great fiction in SFF, but the shake out is far from over.
and it wasn’t even a broad cross section of cis white men, it was a tiny subset of creepy sexuality, upper middle-class whining, narrow-minded academic, self-centered and oblivious cis white men, and then it allowed and encouraged the worst aspects of their inner lives to define ‘literature’
Having a baby (now small kid) broke my reading habit, but now I consume audiobooks like a fiend. I never had a taste for litrachure, preferring “trashy” romance novels written by and centering women.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
@Matt McIrvin: I gather sci-fi is samey because some magazine in the 40’s was like boot camp for the writers who created genre and the editor demanded a square jawed, crue cut, straight, American Flag Waving white male in tight spandex future. And add Harlan Elison into the mix.
I have had an issue with white male writers for some time. I could never quite put my finger on what it was about the writing that grated, but I suppose it was/is the “male gaze” aspect of it. I have found solace in non-american born female writers, in great part because it gives me a different view of the world.
our gatekeepers have been failing us for a long long time
I read a small tidbit in something that Julia Child wrote, years ago, when she was talking about getting her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” published. It was to the effect that a whole bunch of publishers turned down the opportunity to put out The Diary of Anne Frank, until Julia’s (woman) editor pushed for it (over objections) and got it out.
This is why I’m so incensed by all the praise and media the Ken Burns doc on Hemingway has been getting. I have despised Hemingway my entire life and have resented every time during my education that I’ve been forced to read his toxic literature. He represents everything I hate about the misogyny and white male point of view of so many in the publishing and literary worlds. He’s another, just like Roth is, who is given a pass on so much of his viewpoint and life just because he writes pretty words that affirm the white male point of view. It’s smothering and it just drives me crazy. I do not subscribe to the greatness of his works and I do not have any interest in his life story. It’s boringly typical of so many “great” artists. I feel the same about Picasso, so it’s not just literature.
ETA: A modern equivalent is Jonathan Franzen. Disgusting creature and horrible writing if you are anyone other than a cis white male with a sinecure in publishing or academia. Just awful stuff.
I highly, highly recommend the Men Write Women feed on Twitter. Equal parts hilarious and infuriating.
@Lt. Condition: There’s also been ferocious pushback from “anti-woke” movements in genre fiction, some of which are astonishingly blatantly bigoted. I’d go so far as to say that the fight in the science-fiction community was one of the harbingers of the rise of Trump–but the bad guys resoundingly lost that one within the genre.
There was a fascinating story about the Roth biography recently in The Atlantic (I think). Roth fell out with a previous hand-picked biographer for not being sufficiently hagiographic, then chose the second clown.
Roth was a sexist knob and apparently a terrible person in other ways. Sometimes awful people are talented artists (Woody Allen), and I don’t think we can or should have a moral turpitude clause in literary contracts.
But to your point, the decision-makers matter. Representation at that level is how we avoid having people like Roth set the standard.
Same is true of the pundit class, IMO. When people like Halperin and his imitators set the standard, of course the coverage was/is sexist and female candidates can’t get a fair shake.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques: Astounding. The editor’s name was John W. Campbell, Jr. He wasn’t just extremely racist and sexist, he was also a complete crank in a number of other ways, which authors soon learned to cater to.
But because Campbell also solicited work of somewhat higher literary quality than what the existing pulps of the 1930s had been publishing, he was lionized for decades as carrying the seal of quality in science fiction. Even though something of a reaction to his quirks on the part of other editors of quality also sprang up pretty quickly.
Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing is back in print… and still, tragically, relevant.
Reading it, back when it first came out, gave me ‘permission’ to discover wonderful women fiction writers by exploring ‘genre’ fiction. Since at least Austen’s day, it was easier for women to get their words professionally published if those words could be classified as Lesser — ‘just a novel’, in Austen’s day, or a mystery (Charity Blackstock), a kid’s book (Nina Bawden, Penelope Lively, Toni Morrison), that sci-fi crap (Joanna Russ! also Doris Piserchia, Margaret St. Clair, ‘James Tiptree’… ).
I was wondering why the title gave me an ear worm, until it came to me.
Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Not as easy as it looks.
This makes me think of a high school English class oh so many years ago. The school was small and at least 97% white. We read books by American authors in this year and one of them was Native Son by Richard Wright. The one Black student in my class spoke about how much he liked the book. The teacher very condescendingly told him that it was not nearly as good as the others we had read. I remember being so mad for so many reasons, but primarily because I thought this was an opportunity for the teacher to connect with this student and encourage further exploration of his interest. I had not thought of it from the angle of this post – the supremacy of white males (in the eyes of the teacher). As an aside I also liked Native Son more than many of the others we read in that class.
@MagdaInBlack: I think the fact that the Sexual Revolution got started a bit before the rise of second-wave feminism was a serious problem. The effect on high- and middlebrow culture was that a lot of really creepy stuff about dudes celebrating their objectifying horniness got elevated as taboo-busting and liberated.
The scales fell from my eyes when I had to read “On the Road” in a college class. I’d heard about how edgy, funny, yadayada it was. All I could see were the cartoonish female characters who resembled no woman ever.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
As opposed to what the internet taught us about everyone and everyone’s creepy sexuality?
This “my kink is a true liberation of my sexuality from the oppressive past, but your’s it loathsome, sick and icky” is what makes the intertubes so awesome. One can let one’s muse run wild, get an audience who appreciates one’s sick twisted shit, and at the same time tell everyone who doesn’t like it to sod off.
@JCJ: weird. I remember Native Son as one of the better books I read my senior year. (Though I also wondered if my very white perspective was affecting that–I know James Baldwin had some problems with the book.)
Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes se
I’m told by certain household residents that I seem to have a fundamental inability to hear, read, process or understand the female viewpoint….
Thank you so much for articulating a feeling I just couldn’t. I’ve also found it hard slogging to get through some of the “classics” and figured I was either stupid or unsophisticated, or possibly both.
Ah, yes. (Disclaimer: I am awful at remembering names.) There was a famous story Campbell edited about a spaceship where a girl snuck on as a stowaway, and there wasn’t enough fuel and oxygen to get there, so the pilot had to kill her as a demonstration of the hard realities of science and stuff. Campbell insisted on that ending. It wasn’t the original ending. The writer kept coming up with different ways to save her. Campbell demanded it be about a girl doing a foolish thing and Reality’s Cold Logic meant someone would have to die for it.
I’m not caffeinated enough to draw conclusions or see all the implications, but yet this will be a long-term issue for thinking, writing, and teaching. For the first time, a business decision has been made that the reading public does not need a biography of An Asshole, written by a probable Asshole, no matter how prominent the Asshole or repellent the other Asshole. Is this a good literary decision ? Waddya mean, literary, are we saying that Roth did or didn’t have literary pretensions? Are we saying that what the Asshole did and thought in his personal life did or didn’t spill onto the page? Or is it one decision, in which the merit of the Asshole as a whole is not confined to the page? How do we make the decision about the biographer? Same decision? At least in the case of Roth, the story needs explication by someone who is clearly not an Asshole, especially since Roth’s personal story isn’t necessarily generally known (Claire Bloom is still with us, and perhaps we’d like to preserve a bit of privacy for a 90 year old woman who is still a working actor.). But after she’s gone, well what of the story? Maybe there’s a guide in a past literary figure.
Ernest Hemingway. Christ what an asshole! At the end of his life, there were his works, his wives and children, and we can rely on Hotchner at least a little bit. I don’t recall knowing anything about Hemingway other than the Myth, which my American lit teacher was at pains to show fed the writing. It’s not until recently that his story has been fleshed out, and it’s clear that his life and work are of a piece, and need to be known. Martha Gellhorn’s letters are a revelation; she was an extraordinary writer and oh dear let’s look at
Charles Dickens. Christ what an asshole! Yet his private life was very private, for such a very public, attention-seeking paragon. These things need to be known. Is it a question of time and public taste?
I regret it when a book is cancelled, for the potential loss of something insightful, or at least some felicitous prose. But it’s likely that a cancellation might be grudging acknowledgement of a connection between ineptitude in thought and inappropriate (and worse) behavior. I mean, look at
Norman Mailer! Christ what an asshole…
Luigi Pirandello supported Mussolini, Knut Hamsun supported Hitler, D.H. Lawrence wanted suffrage limited to wealthy white men, and George Bernard Shaw offered praise for both Hitler and Stalin.
@Frankensteinbeck: The Cold Equations, Tom Godwin. And I think Campbell was right in this case — no one would remember that story today if the girl had been saved.
No joke. Some examples here:
Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes
I’m told by certain household residents that I seem to have a fundamental inability to hear, read, process or understand the female viewpoint….
I just put out a request on FB for fiction reading suggestions written by non-White and pref non-Men. There’s a ton of great stuff out there by Black, Latinx, Asian/Asian-American, Muslim, Undocumented, Women, Transgender Women etc. Hell, even if I only read Black authors, there’s enough great books to keep me busy pretty much forever.
“So, you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.'” Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, ‘fug,’ …
Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes
Argh – sorry about the bobbles – walking and posting is stupid.
All kidding aside, the “great writers” seemed to suffer from extreme narcissism, substance abuse and self-loathing….
@Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes: Huh. Both my sons suffer from the same affliction.
@geg6: Love this! Slogging through The Corrections felt exactly the same as slogging through For Whom the Bell Tolls. They’re not just assholes, they’re boring!
@Four Seasons Total Landscaping mistermix:
Me too. In fact, not only has my reading been mostly mystery fiction by women lately, during the pandemic year it has been mostly re reading: Jaqueline Winspear, Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie, Anne Cleeves, Elly Griffiths…. (Also, I prefer them NOT to be set in the US. :-)
I can’t imagine giving up reading fiction, but I tend to read male authors these days only when my book group picks something. David Mitchell is the rare exception.
@Ken: On the one hand, Campbell’s insistence made it an unforgettable, widely-remembered and hugely influential story. On the other hand, that vast influence was arguably malign.
@JCJ: I liked Native Son, too, when I read it in high school. I understand Baldwin’s criticisms, but as a teenager reading it, I never lost sympathy for the protagonist. When I got to college, I took a class on plays of the 1940-1950s where we read the stage adaptation of it, and I was the only student in the class who had read the novel (props to my public high school 9th grade English teacher!).
Did you see the recent HBO adaptation, screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks? I thought she did a very good job bringing it into the 21st Century.
@Matt McIrvin: Agreed, and we’re not aware of the cases where his influence turned a good story into a forgotten (or unpublished) one.
Which is sort of like the observation that it’s not that all classical music is great, it’s that we don’t play the 95% of it that was crap.
@Betty Cracker: +1 Excellent.
Yes, representation matters – a lot. I’m reminded of a couple of things.
Bad people can create good art, but we have to remember that people in power decide what becomes popular and what we’re taught. A lot of great writing, art, thought, never reaches an audience and that’s a big problem. Maybe cis-white-male dreck’s untilmate purpose is to serve as a counter-example for those that follow until things are more equitable.
Emma from Miami
I have never been fond of the New York Times bestsellers list type of authors, or any other list, for that matter. Mostly white, mostly male, mostly boring. I tend to read mostly genre fiction, although lately it had been mostly mysteries. In the last few years, though, the infusion of women of color, and both women and men from different cultural backgrounds, have pushed me back to science fiction and fantasy. Fantastic stuff being published.
@germy: Reading those excerpts, I’m strangely reminded of the South Park episode where Mr. Garrison tried to write a porn novel, and the publisher decided it was gay porn because he didn’t describe the women, just the men. The glorious, muscular, well-endowed men.
@geg6: What is your opinion about Faulkner?
On the other hand, writing pretty is a skill quite separate from working out a memorable story. I say this having read, in my time, a novel or two by authors who had one skill but not the other. I reckon the latter skill matters rather more.
I read For Whom the Bell Tolls in a Philosophy of Literature class and absolutely adored it, because the professor was so good, but when I tried to reread it years later, couldn’t make it through. I loved that class, but looking back on it, lo these many years later, every single book we read in that class was written by a white man. The Stranger, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Perfume, The Sound and the Fury… really, the professor could have called the class How a Bunch of White Guys Saw the World.
My list is your list, Cheryl. The list (incomplete) of NYT best-selling authors and the darlings of academe whom I can’t be bothered to read. Fifty years ago I read one Roth, opened and discarded one Updike, learned how Mailer treated Marilyn Monroe, etc. It was enough to learn about them; then I knew I didn’t need or care to read them.
I do read fiction, but selectively and mostly avoiding national best sellers. The decision makers — publishers, critics, etc. — aren’t people I need influencing my world view and self image.
Emma from Miami
The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin.
The Tolstoy example is unfair. That’s the thoughts of Stiva, not the narrator/author. It’s meant to tell us what an asshole Stiva is.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
Here is a different perspective on this issue; everyone in I know who does the arts professional, who are the creative talent as they say. gets treated like trash by their employers. Has nothing to with gender or race. Arts is seen as fun and the artist is always seen as a flake. Never mind the artist’s work is the product being sold, the artist is ALWAYS a luzer not worth the money they getting paid in their employer’s mind.
The reason why so many middle and upper class white men doing this stuff is because of white privilege, but not in the way you think; an affluent white families can support their son struggling to pay his dues much better than a minority family or a single working mother. As the joke goes “what’s the difference between a large pizza and an artist; a large pizza can feed a family of four”
So only white bois of certain social status can afford to do it professionally, so it ends up white bois all the way down. If this changing that means more minorities are breaking into the upper and middle classes threw more conventional careers and can afford to support their children getting into the arts.
I never liked Philip Roth. It’s definitely problematic when defining what constitutes literature is the province of such a narrow slice of population but especially when society is so diverse. Roth actually knew his life and reputation would take a shellacking after his death. That’s why he was so picky about who would get first dibs in telling it.
Considering that he chose someone with a vested interest in excusing atrocious behavior It’s not clear how valuable the end product really would be. However, I think generally that we are better off hearing more voices rather than fewer. The dilemma or even really the problem is how many resources are devoted to lifting up someone like – say – David Foster Wallace, one of a set of men who are basically given unlimited creative freedom, even if someone like me saw a lot of it as self-indulgent and mediocre. I don’t have an answer, but I still think more is better.
@Matt McIrvin: The meteoric rise of Devi Pillai (just named president of Tor books) and other diverse editors has been a large reason for this.
I don’t disagree with the general point about Roth and other white male novelists, but there are a ton of women and POC who have been wonderful fiction for several decades. e.g., A woman or POC has won 12 of the last 20 Booker prizes.
a TERRIBLE name for a rock group.
This is a good take.
@schrodingers_cat: I always hated Hemingway but liked Faulkner–he was on the good side of a line, wrote well about the problematic weirdness of growing up in the former Confederacy. And I thought his structural experiments were cool because I was impressed by that kind of thing at the time. Don’t know how I would feel re-reading him now.
I considered myself a voracious reader back when I was in school, but I never read any of the “NYTBestestSellerMegaHit” things by Roth, or even stuff like Mailer and Salinger and all the rest. I guess I figured I would get to them eventually after catching up on things more like “the classics”.
Sounds like I was better off for it. Maybe!
@Matt McIrvin: I have read one book by him and it was depressing as hell. I was told by a white southerner, who grew up in the segregated south (Mississippi) and was a part of the Civil Rights movement that things were indeed as bad, if anything Faulkner tones it down.
@Nicole: Seeing you mention The Sound and the Fury reminded me of this “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip
OT News out of India continues to be horrific. And husband kitteh’s aunt was cremated yesterday without most of the family present.
One thing I’ve gone around saying after my experience in working in tech in San Francisco vs lily-white Denver: Even for a cis white guy like me, diversity isn’t something you necessarily notice, but you definitely notice when it’s absent. People don’t seem to want to try anything new when everything’s homogeneous.
It must be very painful to have to miss out on saying goodbye to a beloved member of the family. I hope your family in India finds peace and suffers no further loss n this pandemic.
We know some of it because some authors refused to play and ended up mostly publishing elsewhere. For instance, Philip K. Dick (who, I won’t deny, had many Issues of his own, particularly concerning women and female characters) could not stand writing to Campbell’s hobbyhorses.
One of them was Campbell’s insistence on a kind of fantastic racism: humans always had to be better than aliens and beat them at their own game in a conflict. You couldn’t sell a story to him if the aliens were better than us in the end–any apparent advantage would have to be overcome by good old human pluck and cleverness. Asimov’s solution in the Foundation stories was to eliminate aliens from his fictional universe entirely, so he didn’t have to fight Campbell over it.
Also, Campbell insisted that parapsychology was 100% legit and was fascinated by the idea of mutants with psychic powers becoming the natural rulers of humanity (which is one of the reasons that “psi powers” were such a mainstay of 20th-century science fiction, even though writers in the Campbell vein insisted on a hard demarcation between SF and fantasy). You could please him by writing about psychic powers, but not so much if they turned out to be more a curse than a blessing; the psychics could only be defeated by better psychics.
There were more specific things, like Campbell’s fascination with a crank invention called the Dean Drive that supposedly violated conservation of momentum. You could really get on Campbell’s good side by putting Dean Drive-propelled spaceships in your story.
@M31: Creepy subset indeed: Even when I was growing up right-wing conservative, I knew there was something seriously wrong with Heinlein. Frankly I didn’t think much of his writing either: his characters were all one-dimensional mouthpieces, and boy did he blow that mouthpiece loud and often.
I quit him entirely after starting Time Enough for Love due to how much I couldn’t stand Lazarus Long and knowing said character was going to pop up like Falstaff everywhere in his other novels.
@schrodingers_cat: I’m so sorry.
@schrodingers_cat: I am so sorry. Every story I read is agonizing and it must be so much more horrific to be trying to live through it.
Woke up this morning and it seemed to me,
That every night turns out to be
A little more like Bukowski.
And yeah, I know he’s a pretty good read.
But God who’d want to be?
God who’d want to be such an asshole?
Modest Mouse, Bukowski
Another on my list of hates: John Irving. I LOOOOAAAAATTTTHHHHHED both Garp and Owen Meany.
I don’t read any of that stuff – I read urban fantasy. Snooty male authors? Meh. For a long awhile, urban fantasy was mostly men authors and then suddenly a bunch of women authors came into the whole fantasy genre and brought a lot of books that was heavy on the romance – lot of women on hot vampires/werewolves leaders etc. Combo of strong woman and hot alpha male I guess.
I tried to read some of it, but decided it was overly dramatic for the most part. A few I enjoyed.
In reaction to that, male and transgender authors have been doing ‘harem’ books which are mostly what you think they are. lol. However, I’ve read a few who basically if you remove the sex bits was a normal book. One I was totally engrossed in. That was kind of surprising.
I have never read Harry Potter – but read the first few books of Game of Thrones and decided to fuck right off because that asshole is not going to finish it. In my hey day, I used to go and hang out with sci-fi / fantasy novelists – listening to drunk fantasy writers read bad prose and laughing their asses off is a fun trip.
I thought Setting Free The Bears wasn’t too bad.
@Matt McIrvin: What’s interesting about this has been that the ‘fall’ of White Men Only in science fiction really started to kick into gear a couple decades ago, and it had a huge pushback that eerily resembles our national democracy. Even many of the newer ‘normal’ sci-fi writers like John Scalzi are very left and it drove part of the fandom insane.
The Hugos are a big, fan-run award. Several years back, a bunch of rightwing retrograde authors and fans decided that too many women and minorities were winning, and not enough ‘hard’ or military science fiction was winning the fan awards anymore, and that had to be the result of vote cheating. Stop me if this sounds familiar.
They set about to be organized and ‘hacked’ the rules. Basically, got a bunch of really awful (in both quality and morality) stuff entered by voting in blocs, and a few of them won some awards. But there was sufficient pushback that most of it failed in the end, but they succeeded in damaging the awards considerably and starting a bunch of shit in fandom. And not surprisingly, the bad actors were almost all white christian rightwing males who were angry that minorities and women were involved.
@schrodingers_cat: Best thoughts to you and your husband. My mother-in-law died last year (in Bangkok) and my wife was not able to go to the funeral as Thailand was not allowing flights into the country at the time. We are hoping to go in July this year.
Alzheimers. After Stranger In A Strange Land, my skin crawled watching him lose track of which story he was writing and lose his social filters. The gradual breakdown of a mind – ugh. It’s a nightmare to me. I can’t read Pratchett’s last few books, either. His characters start all talking the same and you can tell he can’t edit himself anymore. That poor man. At least I’m told Pratchett had an unusual style of Alzheimers that doesn’t affect much else besides writing.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques: This is a part of the reason why some fields of academic research are so white-affluent, too: it’s hard to make money in these fields and you’re only going to put up with it if you’re in a situation where you don’t expect to starve if you have a bad patch, are not expecting to send money home, etc.
14 year old Tina S. drinks their milkshake (1:33)
@Frankensteinbeck: Stranger is definitely one of the, uh, stranger books Heinlein wrote. We can thank him for “grok” at least. It started off decently enough, but went well off the rails midway through. I’ve read a lot of sci-fi that “gets weird at the end”, but nothing quite compared to how scattered and feeble the story got once Smith started to “ungrok” things…
@Frankensteinbeck: Didn’t Heinlein have some kind of stroke-like event?
I think a large part of the problem, too, was that he got so famous and revered that nobody would really edit him, and if he was writing one-handed, so to speak, all that would end up on the printed page.
@JanieM: Try Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March.
Dog Dawg Damn
@geg6: the Hemingway documentary is amazing and if you haven’t watched it, you wouldn’t know that it contends with his relationship to women.
Hem, for the troubled life he led, is an important American figure and iconic writer. I’m disinterested in the facile erasure project and prefer to understand people as people, in their time, and learn about their work with that context discussed.
It’s bizarre that we can’t read historical literature anymore if the writers personal life isn’t held up to some contemporary standard.
@JCJ: That was hilarious!
FWIW, I remember I absolutely loved The Sound and the Fury. But I don’t know if I’d enjoy the re-read. Like I said, this professor was really good at getting us as excited about the books as he was. And it just dawned on me that I have absolutely no memory of what the book was about. So more props to my (woman) high school senior year English teacher, as I remember As I Lay Dying much more. My mother is a fish.
Half of the Dynamic Grifting Duo with the surname Conway got a Simon & Schuster book deal this week. I’m sure Kellykellykelly will pen a ripping yarn of both owning libs and somehow standing athwart of TFG’s ‘worst instincts’.
It’s a vain hope, but it should go to the remainder bin instantly. Better yet, just not get printed by a proper publishing house (Regenery can always pony up some wingnut welfare).
I don’t think Scalzi is even very left. He’s a center-liberal Democrat who still insists he’s really an independent. I think what happened is that, if you just read Old Man’s War, you’d probably assume he was a right-winger in the Heinlein/Pournelle vein, and a bunch of reactionaries became fans of his through that and were then astonished to find him expressing all these liberal political views.
Even his endless fight with Theodore Beale, who is basically a Nazi, started out with Scalzi making the huge mistake of giving Beale a guest spot on his blog, which was his “reach across the aisle” centrist instincts at work.
@schrodingers_cat: I’m so sorry. I was thinking about you this morning and wondering how your family was doing. Sending sympathies to you and your husband.
Okay, now that the thread has gone far enough I don’t feel like I’m shouting ME ME ME…
This is one of those times when I feel weird as a straight cis white (SO WHITE) male novelist writing scifi novels for and starring teenage girls. I haven’t gotten any complaints about representation yet, but sometimes it feels like I’m edging out on a long, long plank over a deep pit filled with trash writers.
Don’t I know it. I’m pretty pleased with my mature prose style, a lot less self-consciously gorgeous than the stuff I was attempting forty years ago, but it’s increasingly obvious to me, as I watch the components of my work-in-progress falling out of alignment with one another, that I can’t plot my way out of a Glad bag.
Just spoke to MIL she has not yet gotten her second dose. She was particularly close to her sister who passed away. She is putting up a brave minister but I could tell she is distraught.
A couple of years ago I picked up a book somewhat randomly that was an ‘alternate-timeline’ present day novel with a black male protagonist. Vaguely science fiction, definitely present-dystopia sort of thing (not posting the title because…).
About six chapters in, I bothered to actually look up the author. White guy.
I read about two more chapters, and bogged down. I realized I was just like WTF. Now, reading this thread, it strikes me as, if this is a thing, ‘white male gaze’. And, geez, the chutzpa of that novelist. And publisher.
Dorothy A. Winsor
I remember a young, white male prof in grad school declaring that the woman character in something we were reading was “a man’s woman.” It stopped me cold. WTF did that mean?
Literary judgements are not made neutrally. They’re made from the position of the person rendering the judgement. If all the gatekeepers and award givers share the same position, then that’s what the rest of us will have to read too. It’s what will be imposed on students who then have to match the judgement or be judged as mistaken.
YA has been increasingly diverse for years, probably because it’s often seen as fit for women and children. A little OT but relevant, I’m reading Aiden Thomas’s CEMETERY BOYS about a trans character set in a fantasy latino world. It’s really well done.
@Amir Khalid: I’m the opposite – if an author can’t write well, being a good storyteller is a big help in getting to the end of a book, but I don’t enjoy the reading that much, and I’m less likely to pick up another book of theirs. If an author can write well, but is poor at storytelling (or simply uninterested in it), I will read whatever they write gladly because the reading is a pleasure. “Writing well” for me means both having something to say and saying it in a way that it is beautiful, striking, or funny.
“OT News out of India continues to be horrific. And husband kitteh’s aunt was cremated yesterday without most of the family present.”
I’ sorry to hear that. Given the poverty of many people there and the way that the government works, I imagine that it’s far worse than – well, I can imagine.
I’ve been intentionally reading books *not* by cis white males as much as possible for about a decade now (since the last GoT book actually made it to print) and I think it’s been a good decision. I’ve certainly enjoyed the books.
I once had occasion to squire a young woman back to her native Wisconsin for her brother’s wedding. At this point she had lived in the Bay Area for about five years, during which she had not revisited her old stomping grounds. I recall her whispering to me during the reception “My god…everybody’s so white!”
I am on the opposite end. A lot of my books are lighthearted and funny, but I see people quoting individual lines of their favorite books, and… my writing doesn’t work like that. It’s only funny in context.
And people love witty writing, even without much story. Hitchhiker’s Guide was incredibly popular, and there’s barely any story, but hoo boy is it witty.
@schrodingers_cat: * brave face. I have no where minister snuck in from.
@Barry: While India is nowhere as wealthy as India, its not poverty that has made things worse but absolutely horrific mismanagement and malevolence from the right wing government in power.
“@Enhanced Voting Techniques: This is a part of the reason why some fields of academic research are so white-affluent, too: it’s hard to make money in these fields and you’re only going to put up with it if you’re in a situation where you don’t expect to starve if you have a bad patch, are not expecting to send money home, etc.”
And errors – I imagine that white males were given far more leeway in screwups being grounds for correction, rather than for firing.
Dorothy A. Winsor
@Rand Careaga: When we moved from Detroit to Iowa, I was similarly stunned.
@schrodingers_cat: my heartful condolences to you. I read all news reports about India…so heartbreaking…Also watching “Indian Summers” on video Prime…..set in the 1930’s..The British & Indian interactions are so educating for me about hat era..
@PJ: Come sit six feet from me, as someone here said recently.
Having recently gone through the process of finding an agent and then a publisher, I can confidently state that things are changing…very slowly. My first book comes out in fall 2022 through a traditionally African American imprint of Harper Collins (Amistad) as well as a different publisher in the United Kingdom.
Many of my rejections before I found my agent and my publishers stemmed from the fact that the reader/gatekeeper had no earthly idea of what to do with linked short stories set in Nigeria and the US, with characters going back and forth between the two by choice. It wasn’t a traditional US immigrant narrative – the main characters were middle class already in Nigeria and there were things in the US that were a step backwards for them financially or psychologically and other things that brought great improvements to their lives. Then the short story part – almost every agent that rejected me over a two year period said, “you write well, come back when you have a novel, short story collections don’t sell.” My current US editor saw that because it was a linked collection, it could be transformed into a novel in stories. I am glad he took that chance on me.
Most of the gatekeepers in the publishing world still favor what they already know, have already seen and are comfortable with. That is human nature and means that we have to diversify the gatekeepers to have wonderful new voices emerge. The African American chief editor at Amistad left a different publisher because she grew tired of her colleagues not seeing the value of work by authors she thought were brilliant (NYT has a great article on this) and missing a chance to grow their market. Jacqueline Woodson, the National Book Award winner and MacArthur Fellow is published by Amistad. I wonder what would have happened if they didn’t exist.
I remember reading that when Toni Morrison stopped being an editor at Doubleday because of her success as a writer, the number of black authors they published steadily dwindled to almost nothing. It didn’t matter that her stable of writers had won many awards – the tastes of the remaining editors did not lean to books by African-Americans. Kind of shocking.
@Matt McIrvin: I thought it was a narrowing, rather than a full-bore ischemic stroke. Once they cleared it out, his last couple of books were okay, not great. Not as bad as Number of the Beast or To Sail Beyond the Sunset.
THANK YOU, Cheryl.
Everything you said. I have long felt that way, but oh how good it is to find it all laid out there in your excellent words.
The stupid privileged male point of view, so limited, so obviously limited, to any thinking person who reads it.
I just want to add the three of the stupidest books that way are The Great Gatsby, All the King’s Men, and anything by Pat Conroy.
@Felanius Kootea: Now you’ve got me intrigued. Is this book(s) published yet?
@funlady75: edit time ran out….”about that era”….sorry
That would describe many immigrants from India, myself included.
@mali muso: That was the other thing that stopped me from reading like I’d used to: having a child just made it impossible. But, then, as she got older and was no longer this all-consuming baby or toddler, I still didn’t do it.
I’d ask for all these interesting-sounding books for Christmas and birthdays and they’d just pile up, unread, and I’d feel ashamed of having all these books and not reading them, and it somehow made it harder.
I never got into audiobooks, but what actually spurred me to get back into reading a lot, somehow, was getting an e-book reader and starting over that way. I could have done this on my phone all along, but I didn’t, really–but the e-reader with a bigger reflective screen made it just that much more pleasant, and that was the trigger. An interesting thing that’s happened with e-books is that it seems like the medium makes shorter formats like novellas easier to market, and I’ve always loved those–it seems like it’s an ideal format for science fiction in some ways. Some writers like Nnedi Okorafor and Martha Wells work heavily in the intermediate lengths.
I briefly argued with a couple of people in comments on the Post site last night over this piece: some people were saying this is censorship. But it’s not suppression or prohibition of the book. Norton is just one publisher. Bailey could self-publish or give his book away online for free. (Oh, but what about the profit?) I was a little peeved, I guess, at what I thought was a poor framing of the situation.
@schrodingers_cat: So sorry about the loss of your aunt.
@schrodingers_cat: Frightened for India and thinking of you and yours.
I am here for this entire post! Like Hannah Gadsby on the subject of Picasso here.
“I gave up reading fiction a long time ago. It was all men’s viewpoints.”
Are you aware that women write fiction? Some of it is good.
@funlady75: I couldn’t get into Indian Summers, it had far too many historical inaccuracies.
@MisterForkbeard: If I recall correctly, these “sad puppies” started their own award (which is cool…do your own things is what POCs always did).
But I was amused when Scalzi won one of their awards with one of his novels…
A lot of people are blaming a lot of large, undistanced/unmasked in-person political rallies during the most recent elections for the spike. Until then, India had actually done fairly well in controlling the virus. Is that what you’re hearing?
Doris Piserchia! Oh man she’s my favorite West Virginia neighborhood mom sci fi genius! She created these kick ass female “cosmic gamins.” As a queer kid growing up in 70s/80s Ohio, I adored her weird dreamy novels when I could get my hands on them!
@mali muso: It comes out fall 2022 – partly because of COVID-19. I finished writing it in early 2020 and some of the stories were already published in literary magazines. Pre-pandemic, I was hoping it would be out this year, but have been told and can see that this is a tough time to debut new writers and really get them a decent amount of attention.
Publishing isn’t zero sum. Since there’s always room for more then open the door wider*.
FWIW I love Updike. Cheever has his moments, Roth and Mailer–meh. But, the serialization of “The Plot Against America” was supremely on point in the midst of Trump’s presidency.
*And stop already with lazily relying on publishing this and that series.
@Frankensteinbeck: I’ll give you an example, if you’re not familiar with—uh, him—already, of a mediocre prose stylist who was an absolutely masterful storyteller: Nevil Shute (1899-1960). He was widely-read in the forties and fifties, but is largely forgotten today apart from his post-apocalyptic tale On the Beach. He was, as I say, no great shakes as a wordsmith, and his characters tended to be flat, the men virile and brave, the women plucky and virtuous. When he introduced an American, Shute apparently felt that by having the character begin every third sentence with “Say,” he had done all that artistic conscience required. His politics were mainly reactionary, although on points of race and culture he was enlightened (in an unconsciously condescending kind of way) for a man of his era and background. He had some odd metaphysical ideas as well.
None of this makes him sound appealing, does it? Nevertheless, as one admirer has put it, “no one gets you from beginning to middle to end like Nevil.” I’ve always found his yarns altogether compelling. Two I recommend more than others are the posthumously-published Trustee from the Toolroom, in which an unassuming technical writer who has scarcely ever ventured far from London takes himself to the other side of the world to secure her future for his orphaned niece, and Round the Bend (1951), set largely in the Middle East and Southeast Asia after the war, in which a supervisory mechanic sets forth an ethical system of aircraft maintenance that becomes a benign mass quasi-religious movement.
I am sorry to hear of the death of your husband’s aunt. My condolences to you both and your family in India. ?
@Fair Economist: There was a really good series by Ann Leckie which really demonstrated the problem or opportunity, depending on how you see it.
Ancillary Justice has a main character who basically cannot tell the difference between genders and refers to everyone as ‘she’. The sci-fi plot is very good, the characters are excellent, and so on but it caused an enormous amount of pushback from people who saw it as ‘woke’ and got super angry about it.
The sad thing is that the approach is fantastic, because you CAN tell what sex/gender each character is, just not through direct dialogue or narration. And you generally have to care enough to try and figure it out. But if it’s important to you, you can find out – but it’s not important to the story or to the characters, which is just a stupendous way of treating gender and broke my brain for a chapter or so until you adjust to it. Just lovely.
But this book touched off some of the big Huge fights I was talking about earlier because some people were really offended by it.
Dorothy A. Winsor
It all makes more sense when you remind yourself that publishing is a business that first aims to make money
Cheryl, I think you might enjoy Richard Powers’s novel _Gain_
I agree with you about Roth, Mailer, Updike, and Cheever, none whose work I found interesting, despite being a cis white male. They always seemed morally empty to me.
So, better than Agatha Christie’s characterization of Americans. As one critic said (paraphrased), “You always got the sense that they wore buckskin, chewed tobacco, and had a bear following them around.”
@Felanius Kootea: Thanks, and I hope you will let us all know when it does come out. :)
@Matt McIrvin: I was a pretty early adopter of a stand alone e-reader (have an OG Kindle!) but even the focus necessary to read in that format has eluded me in the past four years since kiddo arrived. You’re right though, e-readers do lend themselves to shorter format stories.
@schrodingers_cat: Such terribly sad news. Sending all my warm thoughts and condolences to you, your husband, and family.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes: too true, but since the process of writing can make you see things that aren’t there, it’s not too surprising that there’s a lot of overlap with drug & alcohol use.
My two cents: 20th post-war writing, controlled by a publishing industry that sold “culture” to the new middle class, is very different from 18th & 19th century writing, where books were just written to be read — whether by dilettantes (Hugh Wapole, Lord Byron, Stendahl), moralizers with a message (Harriet Beecher Stowe) or the ambitious who found a way to make money (Dickens, Dumas) with, of course, a lot of overlap between these categories. The modern publishing industry could still produce great writers (John le Carre, Terry Pratchett) but it also produced hacks who just wanted to be “writers” and this is where the misogynists took over.
And while we’re on the top of Dumas (whom I love), I would just like to point out that in the novel the Count of Monte Cristo is not, in fact, “fka Edmund Dantes.” He keeps his name, he just conceals it from his enemies — his friends and Mercedes know it and use it throughout the book. Maybe it should be “aka Edmund Dantes”?
Having endured — and enjoyed — many semesters of art history and criticism and viscult/theory over too many years in college, one thing that was really liberating for me was distinguishing between appreciating/understanding and liking/enjoying something. I can grok something and understand why it’s judged as good or meaningful or insightful or revolutionary or problematic or whatever, and I can simultaneously not like it. The converse is that I can like and enjoy things that may have some significant deficiencies. And there is enough excellent quality work out there that I can swim around in what I enjoy and avoid what I don’t, and that doesn’t mean that I’m lowbrow or uncultured. Being able to be really clear about that distinction has been very helpful to me in these separating-art-from-the-artist discussions.
Very interesting thread. I look forward to going back and reading through the comments.
I remember a time when critics would ask whether an author had written what might be The Great American novel. No one cares much anymore. The novel is no longer the pinnacle of literature, except in certain quaint circles. Similarly poetry, classical music and jazz have been dethroned as representing the best of American culture, although some critics and practitioners have not got the message yet.
I suppose that there are a number of white male writers who should be toppled from their perches. I would say the same for some white women writers, who ultimately come from or aspire to the same narrow, grubby literary culture and who do all they can to keep out anyone who does not belong to their crowd.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques:
As the editor of the Dangerous Visions anthologies, Ellison was responsible for publishing both Kate Wilhelm’s magnificent “When It Changed” and Ursula LeGuin’s blistering “The Word For World Is Forest”
Not saying that Ellison was not a monumental shithead; he was. But he wasn’t a blinkered chauvinist in the way that the authors that Cheryl lists were.
Hmm. Remember when “male chauvinist pig” was the term of art?
Once again, I learn from the internet that I am no one.
Likewise, although I’ve tended to enjoy his stories more than his novels. He was twenty-six when he wrote “The Happiest I’ve Been,” which I still regard, half a century after I first read it, as one of the most nearly perfect short stories ever written. Hell, even Nabokov, who was notably sparing in his praise of living writers, spoke well of it.
He was no slouch when it came to light verse, either:
@mali muso: One thing that annoys me about the recent model I got is that, as with so many recent devices, it doesn’t have a headphone jack and the only way it can read audiobooks is over Bluetooth, which for some reason I have a difficult time getting to work with my headphones. But I suppose for that I can always use my phone instead.
I love Updike
Hmm. I found Rabbit Angstrom a repellent, empty character. Maybe I was supposed to, but Lermontov beat him to it by more than a century.
OTOH, a student year spent in truly scabrous housing made this poem of his resonate:
A house has rotten places: cellar walls
where mud replaces mortar every rain,
the loosening board that begged for nails in vain,
the sawed-off stairs, and smelly nether halls
the rare repairman never looks behind
and if he did, would, disconcerted, find
long spaces, lathed, where dead air grows a scum
of fuzz and rubble deepens crumb by crumb.
Here they live. Hear them on their boulevards
beneath the attic flooring tread the shards
of panes from long ago, and Fiberglas
fallen to dust, and droppings, and dry clues
to crimes no longer news. The villians pass
with scrabbly traffic-noise; their avenues
run parallel to chambers of our own
where we pretend we’re clean and all alone.
John Updike 10/22/76
@schrodingers_cat: Exactly! But that’s not the immigrant narrative many are comfortable with or want to publish, unfortunately.
I laughed out loud the first time I had a story reviewer tell me a character was unbelievable because she was a 14 year old who snuck out driving her parents’ car in Nigeria. He couldn’t get past the fact that the family owned a car. There are many who understand that even developing countries have a wide variety of people and experiences and those who think they are simply an undifferentiated mass of poverty and suffering. Luckily I’ve encountered more of the former than the latter but it has been shocking to try to counter that level of ignorance when it pops up.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop:
Part of this was because novels were not considered to be “serious” literature. Literary and arts culture was narrow and bigoted at the top.
But this has long been the case especially in Anglo-American culture. Popular art of an earlier generation becomes the high art of a later generation.
Plays during the Renaissance era were not high culture. Proto-novels were not considered to be much of anything at all.
The exclusion of women and women’s voices is much older than this and is endemic to Western arts. Probably the arts of other cultures as well.
@germy: The provenance of that quote is uncertain. Tallulah Bankhead has also been credited with saying it. In fact, it may not have been said at all but, as my grandfather would say, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
For what it’s worth, reading through all the comments on this thread has reinforced the unconscious choice I made a long time ago to pretty much stick with non-fiction.
@Brachiator: I would say that even within novels, whether one is The Great American Novel is no longer considered a pertinent question. It assumes a kind of monoculture. What the heck is the America that the Great American Novel is supposed to uniquely represent? That’s really what got exploded.
I’d nominate Gravity’s Rainbow, which I read in 1978 and again three years ago (along with the rest of Pynchon’s œuvre). It’s American, it’s great, and it’s a novel—and, once you catch the wave of it, nowhere as daunting as it looks.
I never read “literary fiction.” I read genre fiction, mostly romance and mystery. Voraciously. I never analyzed why but my explanation to academic colleagues who questioned my taste was, “I do history for a living. I need happy endings in my leisure reading.” But I think another reason is that romances are female-centered and most of the mysteries I read are by women authors. With the latter, even when the protagonist is male (i.e. Christie or James or Marsh), there is such a difference in the treatment of female characters.
I was trained in writing at a newspaper; news editors are strictly utilitarian about prose, and indifferent at best to pretty writing. It inculcates in reporters a discipline that’s useful for writing news and feature stories, but maybe not so much for an aspiring writer of fiction.
Stephen King wrote in Danse Macabre that an exquisitely written novel with no plot was like a Rolls-Royce with no engine, and I feel that way too. If all I get from a book is pretty, self-indulgent writing, I feel cheated: where’s the story? I tend to need a plot so I can feel like I’m getting somewhere as I read on.
That said, H2G2 grew out of a radio show that was basically a situation comedy. It worked best without much of a plot. The fifth book, that some other guy wrote after Adams passed away, didn’t work for me at all — that guy put in some tedious plot about Arthur and his rebellious teenage daughter.
@Betsy: Well, I think that The Great Gatsby is not overrated, but I think it is receding in cultural relevance, although Tom and Daisy Buchanan are probably more relevant now than they were when FSF wrote the book. I disagree profoundly about All the King’s Men. It tells the history of a very specific period and region, and packs a punch for anyone who has ever wondered about what it’s like to try to be good when everyone around them has embraced corruption.
A book that examines regional class in a similar way by a female author is Boston Adventure (Jean Stafford). It annoys me that Stafford doesn’t have a bigger following, but part of it is that she became pigeon holed after she began writing about western themes. I always recommend this book.
@schrodingers_cat: This was a theme that briefly made its way into The God of Small Things, the protagonist’s precarious existence as a low wage worker in the U.S., in comparison to her relative privilege growing up in India.
It’s not a novel, or about novelists, but it may be germane. It even mentions Phillip Roth. I’m about 2/3 of the way through it.
@Rand Careaga: Gravity’s Rainbow is also one of the most intensely dudely of dude books, though, to get back to the original subject… though the diseased racial complexes of American white guys is one subject Pynchon skewers at length there.
@Matt McIrvin: I am still hanging onto my old(ish) iPhone because it’s the last model that has a headphone jack. I’m not a fan of Bluetooth for headphones at all. I listen to all my audiobooks via my phone, whether via the Audible or Scribd apps.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques:
I dispute this. Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Joan D. Vinge, Ursula K. LeGuin, Suzanne Collins have challenged that genre for decades. N. K. Jemisin has done something no other sci-fi author has ever done, win the Hugo Award three years in a row, and won for each book in a trilogy. While sadly in the minority, these women write stories that have influenced so many authors and readers across generations, and handily put to rest the myth that sci-fi is exclusive to your depiction.
Great story. There are still too many people, including some who prattle about “diversity” who deeply believe in stereotypes and false assumptions.
One of the most enduring stereotypes is that of nonwhite people as The Eternally Oppressed Other. Anything that does not fulfill this expectation is rejected.
I have been in a kind of pandemic intensified slump and don’t watch a lot of movies or read a lot of books, but I recently ran across an article which discussed the best “Nollywood” films, movies from Nigeria. There was a delightful range of themes in the descriptions of films, and quite a few comedies. I want to track some of these movies down.
There wasn’t enough about fishing in Hemingway and they really shorted him transgender son.
@Rand Careaga: I will take your word for it and maybe give it another go.
@Dorothy A. Winsor:
This. That is why the 50 Shades of Grey “writer” is more dear to a publisher’s heart than any number of authors who can actually write.
@Barbara: Arundhati Roy was an inspiration for me. There are many in the publishing world who have never read her, even though she won the Booker.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@Brachiator: yes, and here’s the elephant in the room: the industrial revolution happened in very white countries — so white that Max Weber theorized that it could only happen in Protestant countries.
Before the industrial revolution, nobody except the idle rich even knew how to read and write. Voltaire actually wrote a letter to some French churchman explaining that the church need not fret about scientific studies undermining religion because most people would never learn to read.
I recently finished Octavia Butler’s amazing 1995 The Parable Of The Sower and am now in The Parable Of The Talents
@Brachiator: Netflix has many of them, if you subscribe to that service. The quality varies but most are fun.
@Brachiator: It’s unsurprising that a woman wrote the first/oldest extant novel, but old white European/American men tried to take credit for being masters of the craft.
It’s what they do.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@BruceFromOhio: remember Mary Shelley invented the genre with Frankenstein
I stick pretty closely to awards lists/winners, and my default reading list has greatly diversified automatically over the past few years. Amazon recommendations have picked up on it as well.
The white male novelist I read the most is Brandon Sanderson, who goes out of his way to research and make all of his characters diverse, interesting, and accurate. And when he doesn’t, he apologizes and the improvement is evident in the next release. It’s never anything “offensive” but maybe a missed detail or something inconsistent that he learns about between releases.
I think he’s a very interesting case. Reading his works, you can find things that can be portrayed as misogynist, what with so much of his work portraying women and sexuality in different ways than most novelists of his time and place. They are very physical, sexual and he often portrays women of this sort as being out of tune with the morality of the others around them. And that could be read as sexist on his part. But unlike so many “great white male writers,” what could be considered and would be written as some sort of moral flaw in the character turns out to be what makes that character the most moral of all the characters. The male characters dominate the females for sure, but he portrays it more as their acting out their own fears of losing security and power on the bodies of the females than acting out of strength and righteousness.
He’s an interesting author and, IMHO, had a better idea of what women are about than almost any other male who depicts women in their works.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop: Well, this might be a bit extreme. I read that in Western Europe at the beginning of the 18th century, only 20% of people could read and by the end of the 18th century, only 20% of people could not read. These two trends — literacy, industrialization — happened alongside each other.
O. Felix Culpa
@raven: Thanks for posting this! You reminded me that I have that book on hold at the public library and need to go pick it up before the hold expires.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop:
And how she was treated says it all.
J R in WV
Faulkner might be a great author if he used a normal sentence/paragraph structure. He did not.
He wrote about interesting situations and people, and made them boring and unintelligible. That makes him a terrible author — there’s a reason English has structures for reading comprehension.
Cheryl, I would recommend looking up the recent Hugo/Nebula Award winners, which include many great women writers. The RWNJ crowd attempted to take over the Hugo awards via a voting conspiracy, and failed utterly, thanks for the non-RWNJ members of the SF-Fantasy community.
@O. Felix Culpa: I’m glad I had something of value to add to this thread!
@Chacal Charles Calthrop:
Awesome stuff, thanks!
This is on my hold list. What do you think of the book so far?
James E Powell
I read Stranger in a Strange Land when I was in 8th grade. Thought it was awesome. I read it again when I was in my 30s and wondered why I liked it so much. Then it occurred to me. I was in the 8th grade.
@Barbara: I just re-read Gatsby recently and I think the key to enjoying it is to realize that Nick Carraway, the first-person narrator, is as blinkered as anyone else in the novel. He has all sorts of prejudices of his own and thinks Gatsby is a better guy than the narrative can really support. But they do come off a lot better than the Buchanans, who are just classic portrayals of horrible people who are horrible in familiar ways.
@BruceFromOhio: I really like it. I read “Fire in the Lake” years ago but didn’t know anything about Fitzgerald’s background. Catherine Leroy’s story is even more remarkable. She weighed 80 lbs and jumped with 173rd Airborne in the only parachute assault of the war. Her photo’s of the “Hill Fights” are astonishing .. I’ve seen them many times but I didn’t know she took them.
Me too. I grew up on a diet of trashy science fiction (the modifier was kind of implied in the fifties and sixties), and All the King’s Men was the first “serious” literature I ever read (apart from, I think, Great Expectations in the ninth grade), when I was about fifteen. I was astonished at how good it was. I’ve returned to it a few times over the years, most recently reading it aloud to the spousal unit at bedtime over the course of a month.
When I was a teen, I would devour Andre Norton stories. And using the library card catalog system, I knew that this was Alice Mary Norton, which did not matter to me at all. And although many of the protagonists of her stories were male, they were not standard issue white guys, which I appreciated.
Didn’t read Joan Vinge until later, but enjoyed her work.
James E Powell
It’s not like I intentionally avoided those four, but I can’t recall reading anything by any of them. Did I miss anything important?
J R in WV
Have finished a couple of your “Please Don’t Tell My Parents…” novels and enjoyed them very much.
I have paused to pick up the last couple of Murderbot novels by Martha Wells.
I will start the newest Murderbot novel real soon as I just finished rereading her last novel. For those not following SciFi, the Murderbot series is about a security ‘bot with a heart learning how to be more like a human in a universe pretty hostile to regular people.
She has won a lot of awards with the work so far.
@James E Powell: The Naked and the Dead is good.
@Matt McIrvin: Sounds strangely like classic Trek’s Mirror, Mirror where good-guy crew could pass as bad guys, but not vice-versa.
I remember this! What a farce that whole thing was.
Scalzi is a fun read, and his “Zoe’s Tale” was an unexpected turn in a long, engaging arc. And he’s a quality human to boot.
@MisterForkbeard: Oh, I really really liked that trilogy! It was so much fun, but also kinda deep (e.g., in re: consciousness/being “alive”). And Scalzi wrote a two-book series (“Lock-In” is the first one) where the main character’s gender is never revealed.
A friend recently was reading Faulkner for her Women’s Reading Group. She caused a lot of turmoil because she would not give him a break for his racism. She is one of the few black women in the group.
Faulkner tries hard, and writes dense, complicated novels, and tries to be sympathetic, but he cannot overcome a deeply paternalistic and wrongheaded view of race. You can at least see him trying, I suppose. Some of his depictions of women characters is also deeply flawed.
@raven: I read Fire in the Lake when I was still in high school. This sounds interesting and I’ve been looking around for good nonfiction, which makes up most of my serious reading. Otherwise, mysteries. I still like novels, but I don’t like fantasy or sci-fi (sorry, I’ve tried) and I have had a harder and harder time immersing myself into fiction.
That’s what I like about Norton’s writing, her characters have nuance.
Catspaw has been on my list of “books you want with you when marooned in space” for many years.
@J R in WV: The Murderbot stories do fall quickly into a pretty consistent formula, but it’s a fun formula and I ate them up. Haven’t read the new one yet.
I think that Gatsby movies are a bit like Hamlet. If you are a blonde male actor and want to do a serious work, you must attempt a Gatsby. So far we have had Alan Ladd, Robert Redford and Leonardo Di Caprio take on the role.
There was a 1926 silent film starring Warner Baxter which stirred outrage from the Better Films Board of the Women’s Council because of its suggestions of sex and extramarital affairs.
I guess I have been a longstanding member of the “morally weak” crowd.
Wow, what a great thread!
I’ve been away most of the morning, and this was a delight to come back to.
Now I’ve got even more things I could say, but no time. Maybe I’ll write another post later.
Thanks to everyone who contributed!
@MisterForkbeard: I thought the fight over the Ancillary Justice series was fascinating just because the gender-pronoun issue was so incidental to the series. It wasn’t The Left Hand of Darkness–this was just a worldbuilding detail in a series that was mostly about colonial violence, free will and rebellion. Yet that one thing got people so upset.
The Dark Avenger
@germy: Also attributed to Tallulah Bankhead, so I think it’s more apocryphal than anything else.
It’s a good point–his black characters are these endlessly-suffering people who are seen through the condescending eyes of whites and aren’t really allowed a lot of depth.
@Matt McIrvin: Nick Carraway is a case study in how we absolve wealthy people of moral responsibility. Lying, cheating, even killing, somehow finds an excuse when they are committed by people who supposedly embody success and the American dream. It’s too bad no movie version seems to have gotten it right. Maybe because movies themselves are made by the same kind of people who in their hearts are much closer to the Buchanans than than they are to Fitzgerald.
If you like Gatsby, you might like a short non-fiction account of an American couple who gathered Fitzgerald and others around them in Europe, and funded and helped them when they could. It’s called “Everybody Was So Young,” by Amanda Vaill.
@Brachiator: Yeah, lots of the pre-Code stuff had adultery, drug use, and drinking — during Prohibition! Also nudity, to a degree that would be shocking in a modern R picture, or even prevent it from getting the R.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@Cheryl Rofer: A fresh thread would be appreciated!
One last word: if anyone’s interested in John Updike, he grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, which became the model for the town in which Rabbit Angstrom lived his life. I’ve always been convinced that Rabbit is who Updike thought that he would have been if he’d just stayed home, and in Rabbit’s stories he chronicled the life he would have lived. Rabbit is not a great person, but he’s not from a great world either.
In real life Updike himself, like many other American writers, decamped for Harvard and more urbane pastures at the first opportunity.
I don’t know enough about Japanese literary culture to place The Tale of The Genji into context. Since it was not translated into English until 1925, what white European and American men thought about it is really kind of marginal. The work did not have much impact on Western literature.
A work for the 11th century Japanese court, a small, hidden world, it doesn’t appear to have been accessible to most Japanese readers.
The ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho appears to have been greatly admired for centuries, but much of her work was lost.
And it has been only recently that some very good translations of her work by women scholars and poets have appeared, which may redress another kind of erasure.
I loves me some pre-Code films. TCM (Turner Classic Movies) regularly programs them.
@Brachiator: I think what separates the western novel from, say, The Tale of Genji, Dream of the Red Chamber (aka Red House of Dreams) as well as western antecedents like Beowulf or even the Odyssey and the Iliad is that novels are built around the kind of people we recognize as living in our own time — people who inhabit a world we know. So if that’s our guide, you can make the case that Dante’s Inferno is an early prototype — albeit in verse and notionally a morality tale.
Gin & Tonic
Not fiction, but to the underlying theme, although in some ways an awkward story. My DIL got a job a few weeks ago, in what they call “creative” (I don’t want to give a lot of details.) She was tasked with working alongside a guy who’d been there for a while – although not that long, since it’s basically a startup. After two weeks her boss, the founder, said “you’ve given us more in two weeks than ‘Tom’ has in three months, so we’re going to let him go and have you take over 100%.” As she is a Hispanic woman, that’s interesting to see, even though it’s weird for her.
@Gin & Tonic: You know, that was probably the plan all along if they thought she would work out.
@Brachiator: Have tweets now surpassed blog posts as the pinnacle of American literature?
J R in WV
Less than a minute of Google tells me there are over 11 million licensed autos in Nigeria — no doubt that many more not legally licensed, esp away from Lagos.
Little excuse for ignorance on that scale.
Gin & Tonic
@Barbara: I hadn’t looked at it that way, thanks.
It’s interesting that you classify writing without interest in a plot as “pretty” and “self-indulgent”; for you, I’m guessing, the purpose of writing is to tell a story, to get characters from a beginning, through a middle, to an end. For me, that alone is not enjoyable – the characters may go somewhere, but I do not; it’s like sitting down for a three course meal without caring how anything tastes. I’d much rather savor the thoughts and sentences of the author – that’s where the meat is (forgive the self-indulgence of the metaphor.)
And for that matter, anyone who sits down to write a book, whether it’s well or poorly written, is being self-indulgent.
@Matt McIrvin: Right. The gender-pronoun issue was really incidental to everything else and didn’t affect the story almost at all (at one point, the main character is ‘discovered’ partially because they can’t determine pronouns and that’s a known characteristic of a certain group of people).
But that’s it. It had very little to do with the rest of the book and was ancillary (ha) to enjoyment of the book. But it triggered a lot of people.
There are college courses, which I endorse, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Perhaps one day professors will require that students read the collected Tweets of Kim Kardassian.
God help us all.
@Frankensteinbeck: One Hundred Years of Solitude didn’t have much of a plot either, but wow the characters and setting…
ETA: I guess the banana plantation plot was woven throughout since it keeps snapping back to Aureliano, but all those backstory vignettes were most of the book.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop:
That’s not true. It may be that the majority of peasants were still illiterate prior to the Industrial Revolution (though I doubt it, at least in Protestant countries, where even poor people were expected to read the Bible on their own), but the middle class which emerged out of the late middle ages and Renaissance had to read and write to be able to conduct business. Don Quixote was a best-seller at the end of the 16th century, and Shakespeare was a nobody educated at a grammar school.
The Greeks were writing novels in the Hellenistic period.
J R in WV
No, not at all.
Balloon-Juice comments are the peak of creativity!!! ;~)
Again, the Greeks and Romans wrote these kinds of novels – they weren’t novels of manners (at least none that are extent are), but the novel of manners, which became our “literary novel”, didn’t really develop until the 19th century.
@Suzanne: This. I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ Country Music and while I find most country to be godawful corny crap, I can definitely appreciate the artistry.
I do dig me some bluegrass though…
ummm, like rap music appealing to most everybody? Maybe people in power have an excessive influence on….?
@schrodingers_cat: My condolences to you, your husband and his family.
@PJ: I think that storytelling is probably as old as language. Narrative focus on the interior life of characters is what strikes me as definably different about what we think of as the modern novel. I am not familiar with all literature in the history of written or recorded language, but even looking only at the west, that is what strikes me most. And I might even say that plays preceded the novel in this regard.
Definitely see your point. I also have several translations of The Odyssey lying around and used to read it maybe once a year. It is much more domestic than The Iliad, and ultimately about a guy trying to get home and reunite with his family.
Congratulations, look forward to reading your book when it’s out. Two fun books I read last year were set in Africa-My Sister, the serial killer-, and -The Missing American-.
@Dog Dawg Damn:
My problem with Hemingway is not because of his personal life, which was horrific when it came to women. It’s his entire point of view and style. I read his stupid crap plenty. When I was able to make my own choices about what to read is when I cancelled him. Long, long, long, long before (over forty years ago, in fact) any sort of cancel culture or erasure of him has ever been discussed.
I simply don’t agree on the basis of literary merit. I find him and his characters boring, boring, boring. That’s fine that you like him and find merit in his works and life. I feel the exact opposite way.
I’ll probably be virtually hung by the rest of BJ, but I despised that book. Read it on the recommendation of a friend and I never took her book recommendations seriously afterward.
@Bex: Thanks, will do!
(Thread is probably dead but I’ve been out…)
@M31: Sorry, Julia Child hadn’t even published a book yet.
Via wikipedia, and it matches with up with what I knew.
@James E Powell:
No, you did not.
I dunno, I haven’t read any fiction for years as I get bored with the writers’ stories nowadays. I find a lack of imagination and can predict what will happen with most fiction I have read. I look back to the times when I read more fiction, when all writers were cis white males (I myself am cis white male) and no one batted an eye because many of us were ignorant and didn’t demand more. I’ve read many of the authors described here and while they interested me some 45 years ago, I’ve found I’ve evolved into seeing the likes of Roth, Kerouac and Hemingway as those who took their sexual frustrations out on women and the children they abandoned. They could almost be referred to as incels in their thinking. We were required to read The Old Man and the Sea in school as well as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s book has left a much longer impression on me than the stories about how proper British schoolboys would turn into little homicidal monsters without Law and Order and how a village would no longer look down their noses at an old fisher. When it comes to the NYT bestsellers, it always seemed to be an incestuous group from the NE part of the USA who were being trotted out as the “great American writers.” The one who does still resonate with me to this day is the late Kurt Vonnegut and I’m sure he was no picnic to be around either.
@louc: That was the book that did me in as well. The female characters existed solely as momentary entertainment for the men, at least in the first chapter. I didn’t make it past that.
A great source of new writing/writers is Granta.com.
Granta magazine and Granta Books share a remit to discover and publish the best in new literary fiction, memoir, reportage and poetry from around the world.
yes! I read Granta for many years in the 90s/early aughts – they published early interesting work of many writers that went on to fame and acclaim.
It’s not that I disdain the idea of beauty in prose. (Or, for that matter, that Stephen King does.) But King was making the point that plot is the engine without which narrative fiction doesn’t go anywhere. Prose in narrative fiction is indeed obliged to serve the narrative. Beautiful prose gives a story context and enriches its telling. Pretty prose, written for its own sake, that distracts from the story is what Chekhov had in mind when he said to murder your darlings.
That said, there’s a lot of great writing where the point is the scenery along the wayrather than getting to the destination. Like H2G2.
@geg6: What bothers me about you is that I never quite know how you feel about a topic.
Of course, there was never a time when all writers were cis white males. This was just the writers you paid attention to.
@Gin & Tonic: I suppose congratulations are in order, but that can also be read as “We’re going to have you do the work of two people with no change in pay.”
“Honey, I’m home! Sorry I’m late, Penny, but you wouldn’t believe all the stuff I ran into on the commute. Say, what’s wrong with the dog?”
The Odyssey…is much more domestic than The Iliad, and ultimately about a guy trying to get home and reunite with his family.
Not too far off. Odysseus is a guy who got waylaid on the way home from Troy. He either had incredible adventures or told a bunch of whopping lies to get a hot meal and gain favor from his various hosts.
Then he has to explain to his wife what kept him so long.
I liked that one because it seemed to be the only book that accurately depicted my PE classes.
If you are focusing on the inner life of characters, Greek tragedy was exploring that 2500 years ago. And, of course, there’s much modern fiction that has no interest in the inner life of characters (some because all they are interested in is action and/or dialogue, some because they are more concerned with the inner life of the author or the reader).
But if I had to pick one work that signifies the birth of the modern novel, it would be Don Quixote. It’s baggy, and is in some ways a collection of picaresque tales, but Sancho Panza and Don Q. are indelible characters with inner lives.
In many authors, the extraneous material is what makes their books theirs – it’s the fat that gives the story its flavor. Orwell has a good essay about Dickens in this respect.
@PJ: Most of Greek literature is lost to us, but it would be hard to argue that the Greek dramatic works that have come down to us don’t explore inner life.
@PJ: P.S. I don’t mean that one is better or more interesting. The most moved I have been by art was standing in the cave at Les Eyzies and recognizing how much we had in common with people who lived thousands of years ago. It’s much more interesting to find commonalities.
@BruceFromOhio: Campbellian SF didn’t monopolize the field (or even its “quality” leg) for very long but there were always a lot of people who considered it the true core of the genre, especially in the US. The whole New Wave was to some extent a reaction to it. The “Sad Puppies” were to some extent complaining that they wanted more of that stuff and not any of this newfangled post-1960 crap. We’re always reacting to it somehow.
A particularly sly bit was that the presented gender (not revealed for while IIRC) of the main character was essentially irrelevant. (The lack of clarity about characters’ genders and the setting in a generally matriarchal empire (with distributed empress) also papered over minor mistakes by the female author with male characters. :-)
Fun Slate piece that mentions Ancillary Justice/Ann Leckie:
What Does “She” in Science Fiction Tell Us About Language on Earth? (Gretchen McCulloch, May 22, 2014)
(From Ancillary Justice: “She was probably male, to judge from the angular mazelike patterns quilting her shirt. I wasn’t entirely certain.”</em )
a thousand flouncing lurkers was fidelio
@schrodingers_cat: I’m so sorry. So many have had to part with their loved ones without the usual ceremonies to help them through the process—it’s another blow added to those they have already endured.
@Rand Careaga: what the hell does that even mean, in the context of this conversation? That graceful writing outweighs the damage done by sexist, misogynist, racist, and otherwise non-cis-het-able-white males? Please
@catclub: How long did it take for “rap” to become “mainstream”? The first rap Grammy was in 1989.
Yeah, every generalization is false, but the gatekeepers have a lot of power – still.
One generations rebel is the next generations gatekeeper.
@schrodingers_cat: I’m so sorry. I hope your families can make it through without losing anyone else.
Apparently, I’m a minority of one. I hated the first Roth I read (Portnoy’s Complaint; I was in high school and quit it after the multiple masturbation scenes in just the first 25 pages), but I gave him another try after The Plot to Change America came out around 2000. I’ve read everything he wrote after that, and I even went back and read most of the Zuckerman.
Much is meh, forgettable; in fact, the only reason I liked Zuckerman is because I worked in publishing. His American Trilogy books, however, are as good as anything I’ve ever read, especially The Human Stain and American Pastoral. His sentences are as complex and uncumbersome as any I’ve ever read.
Sure, he was a dick, but how many male writers aren’t?
Cheryl, if you see this, try reading A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. It’s the Trojan War, told from the perspective of the women connected to it. It’s one of two books I’ve been able to finish since the pandemic beset us.
I listened to a two-part interview on BBC yesterday with a representative of the BJP. I don’t remember his name, other than I think it began with an “N.” I swear, this guy was the reincarnation of Baghdad Bob. “People are not dying in the streets. That is an exaggeration.”
His problem is that he was too wily.
Great art is timeless.
I think it is interesting, though, that given similar circumstances (writing, literacy, plenty of paper, plenty of scribes and/or printing), different cultures created “the novel” independently (I don’t know, but doubt that Cervantes, say, had read any of the surviving Hellenistic novels, and definitely not The Tale of Genji). We humans like reading long stories (well, some of us, anyway).
Now there’s a book I love. With characters I love.
@Rand Careaga: The last one sounds interesting to me, only because I’ve thought that the only way to solve the problem of long-term storage of large amounts of toxic and highly radioactive waste through the viscissitudes of social organization would be to build a religion around it and make the tending of it a sacrament to be performed only by a priesthood of high status. Sort of a Nuclear Catholic or Orthodox Church.
@prostratedragon: I had a high school friend who, in the late seventies/early eighties was part of a government project aimed at devising a means of communicating to some far-distant human culture that nuclear waste sites were very bad juju indeed, and worth staying well away from. It was assumed that our remote progeny might not understand any of today’s written languages, and also that they might have reverted to a hunter-gatherer level of social and cultural organization, so there was a heavy emphasis on conveying the message with imagery.
One of the suggestions, she related, involved a comic-like sequence of panels: steel drum with radiation trifoil; human figure opens drum; human skeleton next to drum. One of the reviewers reasonably objected “So they’ll think, cool, let’s roll this downhill and kill the bastards who live in the village there.”
@Nutmeg again: I suppose you’d have to appreciate “graceful writing” before I’d bother to enlarge upon it. For the rest, I’m quite passive-aggressively sorry if you were offended.
“… Norman Mailer and John Cheever and John Updike and Philip Roth”: I didn’t care for any of them either. I need to have something to like, admire, or at least identify with in the characters and they didn’t supply that.
Let’s face it, blindfold me in a library and I wouldn’t enjoy about 99 out of 100 random fiction books–but somebody must like all of the others (not the same somebody), so to each her own. That 100th book though, I enjoy more than anything else in my life: movies, TV, music, good food, games–I’d give up all of them first.
I mostly find more to identify with in male authors: Michael Connolly, Dan Abnett, Iain Banks, to name just a few. But C.J. Cherryh and Martha Wells and some others are great also.
Here’s Iain Banks in “The Algebraist” (edited slightly so I don’t have to type as much):
I suspected from the rhythm of her running steps it was the girl Zab. Zab is still at the age where she runs from place to place as a matter of course unless directed not to by an adult. She came skidding to a stop and took a deep breath to say,
“Uncle Fassin! Grandpa says you’re in a commun-i-cardo again and if I see you I’m to tell you you’ve to come and see him right now immediately!”
“Does he now?”, Seer Taak said laughing. “Well,” he said, hoisting the child up and turning and lowering her so she sat on his shoulders, we’d better go and see what he wants, hadn’t we?” “Are you okay up there?”
She put her hands over his forehead and said, “Yup.”
“Well, this time, you mind out for branches.”
“You mind out for branches!” Zab said.
“No, you mind out for branches, young lady.”
“No, you mind out for branches!”
–“The Algebraist”, Iain Banks
What’s not to love?
@WhatsMyNym: Had to focus on work, so I’ve come back to a dead thread but yes this. Granta is great! I subscribe to Granta and Ploughshares (I’ve been published in Ploughshares so I feel some kind of loyalty). I used to subscribe to One Story (which is exactly as it sounds – you get one new short story each month). So many wonderful new writers out there!
yes you are right, the Child book was about 10 years after Anne Frank in English, but it was the same editor, and Julia relayed that story in a memoir
a thousand flouncing lurkers was fidelio
@Chacal Charles Calthrop: Margaret Cavendish just wants to say she’s used to being overlooked by now, and is not at all angry.
@Brachiator: I suppose I could have paid more attention to the Nancy Drew books or read Little Women. But no, when you are raised in small lumber towns in Western Canada during the ’60s and ’70s, often with one TV station and one radio station the local library and the school libraries stock books from pretty well only white male authors.
“I gave up reading fiction a long time ago. It was all men’s viewpoints.” — CR
More than forty years ago, I realized that I had read virtually no fiction of quality written by a woman. I sat down with a friend and we discussed fine, even great, literature by women. It turned out that everything wasn’t from the male point of view and there were wonderful female novelists. No, they didn’t get the recognition that men had gotten, but that didn’t mean they didn’t exist.
Eventually, my reading turned almost entirely to non-fiction, but I’ve always been grateful for the exposure to female novelists who may have had a different viewpoint from that of the men, but their writing was just as worthy of being read. Cheryl’s statement is only true in the sense that the vast majority of highly visible and widely read literature was by men.
Having spent ~20 years in the publishing biz, I can say that the socio-ethnic makeup of the industry workforce is indeed diverse, but also very homogeneous socioeconomically. It’s like the GW Bush presidential cabinet: diverse-looking, but rich.
Book publishing in particular always paid shitty wages, meaning that the only young people who could afford to work there (and live in NYC, where it’s based) came from money and graduated from about a dozen or so colleges (ivies, potted-ivies, etc).
Politically, the biz skews lefty, which explains pushback against some projects [Simon, for distributing Josh Hawley’s opus]. But there’s also a tendency for publishing’s “inclusive” culture to celebrate contrarians, like a former colleague of mine who acquired/edited books by both Pope Francis and David Brooks (this editor didn’t know about the salad bar at Applebee’s till I told him).
And while women and non-cis-het people go far in the business, most go furthest by “manning up” to defend bastions of male dominance/privilege… (Trump’s return to the bestseller lists in 2003 was basically a joke played by a prominent gay editor who’s now the head of a major publisher that’s being taken over by an even bigger publisher.) .
Not to be a bummer, but the great diversity and celebration of all points of view is largely a Potemkin village. Publishing is a business with razor-thin margins; too often people are scared of losing their jobs over one underperforming book. Great work happens, but more by happenstance than by design,
Publishers didn’t want to disrupt the euphoria everyone felt after the war ended.
When they first attempted to turn it into a play, the financiers argued there would be better box office if they rewrote it for a happy ending.
There’s a book on the history of Anne’s diary after the war, but I can’t remember the author’s name.
ETA: Found it: Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose.