But in response to the critical acclaim and coverage Jonathan Franzen's recent book Freedom received, commercial writers Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult did indeed complain that Franzen's work received more and better attention than did any work of theirs, and that the work of white males, generally, received more attention than did theirs as well.
Jason Pinter, in The Huffington Post (Aug 10/10) interviewed the two authors about the "feud" they have with Franzen, his critics, newspaper reveiwers, and the entire literary world.
Between them, Weiner and Picoult have been on the New York Times bestseller list for months at a time. Between them, they have written over two dozen novels, have generated millions of dollars, and have millions of books in print in several countries.
So why does the literary establishment ignore them? Picoult believes that her work is like that of Jane Austen or Shakespeare because it was popular, not literary, when written.
Because historically the books that have persevered in our culture and in our memories and our hearts were not the literary fiction of the day, but the popular fiction of the day. Think about Jane Austen. Think about Charles Dickens. Think about Shakespeare. They were popular authors. They were writing for the masses. (Huff Post)Indeed, these authors were and are popular, but the comparison only goes so far. The quickly growing capitalist, middle class bought the fiction of Austen and Dickens, fiction that was starkly apart from the literary efforts of the aristocracy that had dominated for centuries. (Shakespeare, who wrote plays, not fiction is a different case.)
Millions of readers love and buy Weiner's and Picoult's books, but from what I have read, the work of neither writer has the depth and complexity that the work of Doris Lessing has, or Austen, or Dickens, or Shakespeare, or countless others. To me, their fiction is cliched and formulaic; they work in a genre that was both expanded and refined by someone like Austen. The commercial fiction Weiner and Picoult write does neither; it takes what was done by others and repeats it endlessly with no innovation.
McDonald's doesn't complain that restaurant and food critics are not banging down the door to include it. McDonald's rakes in millions, offering its formulaic product to the millions who love it - smiling all the way to the bank. Commercial writers like Weiner and Picoult should do the same. They offer a standardized product to millions who love it and make lots of money doing so. If they want critical acclaim, they should offer the kind of fiction that commands it.
They do, though, deserve an award for generating publicity!