Saturday, November 26, 2005

Scornful Critique

Since no one has posted today, I thought I'd bring up an article I saw in today's Wall Street Journal. In the article ("Chick Lit Revisted," Nov. 26, 2005), Joanne Kaufman takes a scornful crack at the world of women’s fiction. She begins by mentioning the recent movie deal by the “unfathomably prolific” Danielle Steele, calling her work “contrived,” “cliched,” and filled with “Hallmark prose,” not to mention “plodding and dull-witted.” But instead of limiting her opinion to Ms. Steele’s work, she goes on to comment on the genre of women’s fiction as a whole. According to Ms. Kaufman, although the genre has evolved in recent times, “intelligent design isn’t a factor.” Judith Krantz? Barbara Taylor Bradford? According to Ms. Kaufman, “one does not discuss their books in terms of literary merit. They have very little of it.” (Although she does admit that their work ends with the reader being “uplifted by the protagonist’s successful struggle against the odds”). And the entire chick lit movement is discounted as filled with “brisk frothy reads”.
Now, Ms. Kaufman is certainly entitled to her opinion but I have to wonder where this scorn is coming from. Any guesses? And I'd think that rather than deriding women's fiction, Ms. Kaufman could write a far more interesting article about why this fiction is so popular.

10 comments:

Stephanie Feagan said...

Whenever I read columns like that, I wonder how many of the books they're so heartily dissing they've actually read.

I also think it's kind of amusing how the media always includes Ms. Steele's novels in the broad category of romance, and she's shunned us from the get-go.

It's Saturday and I'm putting up Christmas decorations, which requires a jolly mood, so I won't get into my other pet peeve - which is my absolute certainty that if chick lit was written by and about guys, the books would be hailed as literary masterpieces of brilliant prose and thoughtful commentary. Yes, there is lad lit - but it's not the phenomenon that is chick lit. It's almost as though, because it's successful, it must be garbage.

Therefore - if you want to be hailed as a brilliant literary mind, write vague, depressing, plotless stories with no clear protagonist, get it published by a high-brow house, sell a maximum of 3,000 copies and you're there.

Okay, I'm kidding - sort of.

ramblings said...

i have 2 say, obviously this Ms.Kaufman hasn't read 2 many of these types of books. mind U, i am not a BIG danielle steele fan, but i do enjoy reading her books.she has no concept of wat intelligent design is if she doesn't think these woman do research 4 their books.i enjoy the mystery and intrique that these wonderful authors put in2 their books. Ms. Kaufman has not read these books, 4 if she had, she would know that alot of time, thought, effort, and their hearts go in2 each and every book that authors write. i realize evry one is allowed 2 have their own opinion, but if she is going 2 comment on the lack of intelligent design in a book, then i suggest that she read it first b4 making such an incredibly stupid statement. i enjoy many different authors, and i am an avid reader, so 2 hear sum one massacre an authors style of writing, really makes me mad. i will be checking further on this topic so if u have ne more info on this Ms. Kaufman, that would b great if u would post more of it. i am very happy 4 u and ur new book, i will be checking it out 4 sure.

Alfie said...

Sounds to me like Ms. Kaufman is a sexist. What? She only considers a book 'literature' if it's by a man? (But I guess I shouldn't say that since I haven't read the article.)

Candice Gilmer said...

Just irritates me...

That's all I have to say.

Candice Gilmer said...

Okay so I said more.

Allison Brennan said...

ROFLOL, Stephanie, you are so right on the money *g*

I think some of the literary types get frustrated that commercial fiction sells and commercial authors tend to do better financially than literary authors, who are often up for literary awards where cash is the prize (our prize is royalties). I'm proud to write what I write and entertain people in the process. I don't need to unearth a deep, dark secret or hidden truth or leave the reader feeling depressed about themselves or the world.

When I'm confronted by these people, I tend to remind them that some of the big commercial authors 100 years ago are the "classics" of today.

gailbarrett said...

Yes, my reaction is the same as all of yours. First, I have to wonder how many romance novels this journalist has actually read. It seems that those who despise romance the most either have never read romance, have read one book decades ago, or at most have read one or two current ones. My other reaction is to wonder if she is actually a frustrated novelist who can't sell her own work. After all, it isn't easy to sell fiction. And just because a work sells doesn't preclude it from having literary merit!

Nancy Morse said...

I once had a reviewer write of one of my books, "this book should never have been copywrited." She then went on to blast my book in a lengthy review that was full of meanness and vitriol. I realize that not everyone loves what I write, but to denigrate a book, mine or anyone else's, in such a meanspirited manner, says more about the reviewer than it does about the book she is reviewing.It reeks of envy and screams frustrated writer to me.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Gail, I won't directly speculate on where the scorn comes from - leastways, not in a public forum. But I will share an anecdote from my life-before-writing, back when I was working for the airlines. It might shed some light on what 'might' drive the venom. When I was still flying, an airline career was still considered 'glamorous and exciting' by many. In those days, a flying career was also the dream of quite a few young girls. On one flight, a young female passenger was extraordinarily difficult and rude. Not just to me, but to all of us. In fact, her behavior was so outrageous that near the end of the flight, her companion (also a young girl) came back to the galley to apologize for her friend's nastiness. She told us that her friend's most fervent dream was to fly - but every imaginable airline had turned her down. So now, whenever this young girl had to fly, she went out of her way to be rude to the cabin crew. Needless to say, that incident sometimes crosses my mind when I see someone attack a book with extreme venom. Or, likewise, spew snide comments about the genre. Human nature can be very transparent at times ....

Gail Dayton said...

Well, and it makes me wonder whether these scornful people have ever experienced happiness. Happy endings DO happen. Not always, and maybe not often, but they do happen. Of course, it's tough to know when an ending is happy when you have to go through 50-plus years to have someone admit that's what it was...

(coming up on 30 years myself--I'd consider that happy...)