If Jonathan Franzen had been available for an interview, you’d be reading a feature on his new book, “Freedom.” But considering President Obama was spotted toting an advance copy and Time magazine dubbed Franzen the “Great American Novelist” on a cover last month, the guy is busy. We understand, but still feel compelled to talk about his book — something Philly-based author Jennifer Weiner finds curious.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Weiner — herself a best-selling author of seven novels — admitted (perhaps a little bitterly) that she thinks gender plays a role in media coverage of commercial fiction. “Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan ‘Genius’ Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely,” she said, later adding: “All of them would be considered chick lit writers if they were girls.”
While Franzen is definitely having his moment, Kabi Hartman, assistant professor of English at Franklin and Marshall College, isn’t convinced there’s a bias. “My guess is that Franzen fulfills an archetypal image we still have of the ‘Great Writer’ — aloof, tousled, tortured — and that archetype remains largely, perhaps essentially, masculine,” she says. “However, I take comfort from the fact that 10 of the ‘20 Under 40’ writers named by The New Yorker this summer are women.”
Although no one is arguing that “The Devil Wears Prada” deserves a place on the shelf next to “The Corrections,” Crystal Patriarche, contributing books editor at SheKnows.com and a publicist for many women novelists, does think the chick lit genre deserves more respect — and maybe even a new name. “In many cases, it’s an overused term — these authors write books about motherhood and insecurities and families and real issues,” she says. “That said, I don’t think Jennifer Weiner’s publicist is having any trouble getting press.”