A Moment of Jen
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Wednesday, September 05, 2007
posted by Jen at 9/05/2007 04:29:00 PM

Before I got married, I spent a lot of time wishing I'd been one of those girls who spent a lot of time thinking about her wedding, who knew, from kindergarten on, what kind of dress she'd wear and what kind of party she'd want.

These days? I'm spending a lot of time wishing I was one of those girls who's known since
puberty that her kids were going to be Josh and Shoshanna…or Ruby and Max…or whatever. Because we're approaching the seven-month mark with Baby the Second, and, name-wise, we are having the same problem we had with the Number One Niblet.

Back in '03, it took us all of ten seconds to arrive at the absolutely perfect boy’s name. For the record, had the Lu been, as they say, a masculine one, she would have been Henry Lewis: Henry after my grandfather, Herman; Lewis after Adam’s grandfather Lewis, and we would’ve called him Skip, after Henry Louis Gates, because we are nerdy like that.

I don’t think we came up with a girl’s name that we both liked until shortly before Lucy’s arrival. If I’m remembering right, the stumbling block was the character in GOOD IN BED who’s named Lucy, and whose name I had to subsequently change in the work-in-progress, CERTAIN GIRLS, because there is no way I want real-life Lucy believing that she was in any way named after book-Lucy (you may remember that book-Lucy gets a gig modeling rubber gloves, and her sister asks, “Fetish magazine?”)

We can’t use Henry Lewis this time because our friends have a boy named Henry, and Henry's gotten huge in the last four years, and when you are a 1970-era Jennifer you have a pathological fear of giving your kid That Name.

So this time around, again, it took us all of ten seconds to come up with an absolutely perfect boy’s name, a name that would honor members of both families and that we both like.

Girl’s names? Not so much. The ones I love are too popular, or have been used by good friends or relatives or celebrities, or have been rejected by my husband as too unisex, too cutesy, or too weird. He likes the same names I rejected last time as being too old-fashioned. We got nothing.


In other news, Chelsea Handler's new talk show sounds funny...and it turns out that The New Yorker doesn't think ladies are funny at all.

According to blogger Benjamin Cohen, only 17 of the 133 authors who have appeared in “Shouts & Murmurs” since 1992 have been women. That's a woeful 13 percent.

Color me unsurprised that The New Yorker, notoriously poor at publishing women's fiction, isn't doing a great job at running their humor, either.

Faithful readers might remember my own experience pitching a story to The New Yorker. For those who don't, basically, I emailed the appropriate editor with my idea, and heard nothing. Two weeks later, I sent the same editor a polite follow-up. And heard nothing.

One week after that, I asked my agent to take over. She emailed editor-in-chief David Remnick a letter that mentioned our shared alma mater six times and the titles of my books not even once...and heard back from him in approximately ten seconds.

About ten seconds after that, the original editor I'd queried magically located my email address, and wrote back to turn down the pitch. She did not do it by saying, "This isn't quite right, but thanks for thinking of us, and maybe try again." She did it in a manner suggesting that The New Yorker, as an institution was not at all interested in having me as a contributor and may, in fact, have been slightly affrighted to learn that I was a subscriber.

My guess is that if someone with an agent and a bunch of published books, had that much trouble even getting past the gatekeepers -- even just far enough past them to get them to say 'no' -- it's at least as hard for ladies who aren't supremely well-connected or working there already.

Finally, I am delighted to see Amy Bloom’s new novel ascending the bestseller lists, in spite of what seemed to me a pair of pretty serious handicaps: namely, its title and its cover.

Let’s start with the title. Amy Bloom is one of my all-time favorite short story writers, and her titles are genius. A BLIND MAN CAN SEE HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU gets my vote for greatest title ever.

Her new novel, a tale of an immigrant’s journey across America in search of her daughter, is called AWAY. The title falls neatly into the one-word-wonder genre of literary novels, also populated by Elizabeth Benedict’s ALMOST and Carol Shields’ UNLESS. What does AWAY tell you about the story, the character, the themes? Not much, that’s what. Why not just call the thingI GIVE UP?

Then there’s that cover.

I don’t get the cover. You write a sweeping, stirring tale about a mother’s indomitable will, and your publisher gives you wax apples? What does a bowl of fruit have to do with the novel? (Allegedly, that’s Yosemite Valley behind the bowl of fruit. I haven’t gotten to the point in the book where the heroine leaves New York and journeys to Alaska, so maybe she actually goes through Yosemite Valley, while eating plums. We’ll see).

You know what cover I like? Ann Hood’s 1988 WAITING TO VANISH, which I am re-reading. It’s a book about a beautiful woman whose family falls apart in the wake of her brother’s accidental death. Here is the cover:

See, there’s the beautiful woman! And the ghost of her brother who is haunting her! And he’s vanishing, see? Get it?

Ah, for the eighties, when the girls were Jennifers and you could, occasionally, judge a book by its cover.
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