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Chauvinist’s Weekly?

Publisher’s Weekly has created a stir this week upon releasing their list of 2009’s top books. None of their top ten were written by women, and only 29 of the full 100 on the list were by female authors. I find this ludicrous for many reasons. But a big indicator, in my mind, as to how ass-backward PW’s list is by comparing it to the list of National Book Awards finalists, nearly half of which are books by women.

In the Huffington Post PW admitted they didn’t make choices that were “politically correct,” seemingly to try and shift the argument away from where it’s at, almost as if they’re trying to congratulate themselves for compiling a list that didn’t worry about public opinion, but instead strove for merit. But is that really an argument PW wants to make? I mean, really? And not just in light of NBA finalists.

It was only back in late July when PW gave starred reviews to Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood, Joyce Carol Oates’ Little Bird of Heaven, Rebecca Stott’s The Coral Thief, Sharon Pott’s In Their Blood, and Brenda Hillman’s Practical Water. By no means would I argue that all starred reviewed books should then be considered books of the year, but if a starred review isn’t an indicator of merit in PW’s book, what is?  Not to mention the starred reviews seem like the likely first place to go to compile an early list, and this is just one issue’s starred reviews for female writers.

WILLA (Women in Letters and Literary Arts) is actively pursuing the matter and released a statement via Facebook today, in which co-founder Erin Belieu said, “When PW’s editors tell us they’re not worried about ‘political correctness,’ that’s code for ‘your concerns as a feminist aren’t legitimate.’ They know they’re being blatantly sexist, but it looks like they feel good about that.” WILLA is also compiling a list of “Great Books Published by Women in 2009” to counter PW’s. In the meantime they’ve created a wiki for people to add their opinions on which titles should be included. (You can check out the wiki HERE)

I’ve already gone on record on Big Other about my love for Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage (one of the aforementioned NBA finalists, and about which PW recently ran THIS article). It’s definitely one of my top 5 of the year.

Hey, Publisher’s Weekly, this isn’t your grandfather’s century.

  • Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic's shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children's bookstore. He now works in marketing. His latest book is Nothing but the Dead and Dying, a collection of stories set in Alaska. He lives in southern Oregon with his wife and two sons.

10 thoughts on “Chauvinist’s Weekly?

  1. Right on, Ryan.

    I’m a member of WILLA and have added a couple of titles to the Great Books by Women wiki . . . I encourage everyone to check out the list, and add whatever books you think are missing!

    1. Leni, even though I read your post yesterday on the Goncourt, I somehow missed the bit about PW’s list. My apologies for not mentioning your post here!

      Also, I added Bonnie Jo’s title to the wiki, and can’t wait to see how massive that thing gets!

    2. I just added Mary Caponegro, Tina May Hall, Joanna Howard, Joanna Ruocco, and Eileen Myles to the wiki page. All of their books were/are great books by any measure.

  2. When Leni Zumas addressed PW’s sexism here (http://bigother.com/2009/11/02/ndiaye-wins-goncourt/) at Big Other. My first reaction was, Well, I’ve never cared for what PW thought to begin with, and this only puts another nail in their coffin.

    One danger of putting holes in coffins though is that if put enough of them in, you may make a hole that just lets the dead thing out again. What I mean by that is that it’s important for me to keep in mind that PW’s self-aware sexism may have been a calculated move to generate controversy. This can only boost their revenue from all the attention, examination, etc. This is not to say that criticism should not occur on every level. But there also needs to be more direct, long lasting moves. What should happen are calls for boycott of PW, not calls for improvement. People who are on the list should ask to be taken off the list. Calls should be made to have people fired.

    Responding to Zumas’s post I wrote:
    “Off the top of my head for the best books of 2009, I’d have to include Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault, Mary Caponegro’s All Fall Down, Joanna Ruocco’s The Mothering Coven, Joanna Howard’s On the Winding Stair, John Haskell’s Out of My Skin, both Fugue State and Baby Leg by Brian Evenson, and Norman Lock’s Shadowplay.”

    I forgot to add Tina May Hall’s All the Day’s Sad Stories and Eileen Myles’s The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art in my best of the year (so far!) list that you can find in the comments here: http://bigother.com/2009/11/02/ndiaye-wins-goncourt/#comments

    1. I agree completely, John. I read PW here at work for the children’s book reviews, and leaf through the rest hoping to see a review for a new book from an author I like, mostly in case I’ve somehow missed hearing one was coming out. But this is a pretty ridiculous rock-hard place for them to have gotten into, even if it was a calculated move.

      And I can understand their not including the great work that has come out from smaller presses, that’s just the nature of their business, but that’s why just using the one issue I did as an example that their list grows even more imbecilic.

      1. My guess is that this whole controversy will result in a boost in PW’s circulation, a boost in website hits, etc. Imagine if every library and bookstore said, We’re not buying this sexist (not to mention conventional, predictable, out-of-touch) rag anymore, or at least threatened this. We’d see some real change then. Immediately.

        1. I think it’ll boost their website hits, maybe. But doubt it will effect their circulation, they’ve got a pretty set niche. However, if people were to boycott it would definitely create some change. I would like to see that happen.

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