A Moment of Jen
THE NEXT BEST THING — In Stores July 3rd!

Monday, September 13, 2004
posted by Jen at 9/13/2004 01:28:00 PM

A while back, I had to do a Q and A where they asked what the worst thing about being a novelist was. I think I made up some bullshit about character economy and how hard it is to make choices about what stays and what goes in the final draft.

I lied. If I’d been honest, I would have said that the worst thing, hands down, is the bad reviews.
Last week, however, I learned that I was wrong. The bad reviews are not the worst thing.

The worst thing is when your mother calls you on the phone to read you your bad reviews out loud.

“Did you see today’s New York Times?” my Mom demanded.

“Um, yeah. I was kind of hoping you hadn’t.” (For those of you who missed it, LITTLE EARTHQUAKES was part of Janet Maslin’s semi-regular Big Dumb Book Roundup. Yup, there I was, between the porn star and the celebrity politician, being called “formulaic,” which, all things considered and given the company, wasn’t actually all that bad.)

“Isn’t it great?” said Mom.

“No, great would have been if she’d actually liked the book.”

“Jenny,” said my mother sternly. “Your book got mentioned in The New York Times! That’s terrific!”

Honestly, I am truly grateful for the mention. I know I got off easy, given that the Times mostly ignores chick lit, unless it’s been produced by a Vice President’s daughter, or it’s goring an insufficiently veiled ox.

The one line that really frosts my cupcake – and you’ll forgive me if I’m paraphrasing, because I can’t bring myself to actually read the damn article – wasn’t about my book, but about my readers.

According to Ms. Maslin, LITTLE EARTHQUAKES has narrow appeal and will only be enjoyed by readers curious about the details of breast-feeding, anesthesia and delivery.

Which is like saying that MADAME BOVARY will be of interest only to adulteresses. Or that THE DA VINCI CODE will be enjoyed best by code-breakers. (Not that I’m necessarily comparing my work to either Flaubert or Dan Brown who, I’m betting, have never before found themselves in the same paragraph.).

Granted, I am biased. But I think that LITTLE EARTHQUAKES will appeal to readers interested in smart, funny, well-developed characters and the struggles they go through, whether those readers young mothers, older mothers, mothers-to-be, women who could care less about having kids themselves and – brace yourselves – men.

Will LITTLE EARTHAQUAKES be of especial interest and poignancy to new mothers? Probably. Will it be of interest to those readers exclusively? For my sake, and my publishers’, I sincerely hope not.

But that’s the typical reflexive, simplistic, sexist take on chick-lit for you: produced by women writers who aren’t smart or creative enough to see past their own eyelashes and create vivid imaginary worlds; consumed by women readers too stupid or silly or self-involved to even want to read about something that hasn’t already, or might someday, happen to them.

If you’re Tom Perrotta or Benjamin Cheever writing about the joys and frustrations of family living, universal appeal is a given, and it’s Literature with a capital L, worthy of everyone’s attention, not to mention a full review.

If you’re me, well, if it’s by a new mommy, it’s only going to be for new mommies, so get to the back of the bus with the politicians and the porn star.

(And did I mention that it’s T minus twenty-four hours until the book comes out?)

Meanwhile, on to better things. I did an interview with my friend Elizabeth, the coolest literary mama I know, over here. Topics include a hint about what happens in the sequel to GOOD IN BED.

And there’s a great review of the new book here, and a wonderful profile -- including some very smart points about the critical establishment's misreading or non-reading of chick lit -- here.
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