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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Franzen controversy--how does the NYT review books?

Well, I have had one novel reviewed by the NY Times and it was my second book and if I wade into the controversy, I was male and it was mainstream and literary. Hmmm. Well, it was, so they say. A book published by a small press brought out by Bantam in mass market format. Tobacco Sticks was my only nod from the NY Times book review and I was glad to get it. My first and my third book did not make the cut and I was never sure why. We will see with the fourth.

But if we are going to wade into the Franzen controversy over whether big foot white male writers are literary darlings...I have to say I have wished I was a woman for the last ten years. It seemed to me that women read most of the fiction published in this country and women are the editors and a lot of the books reviewed by NY Times are by women! Just goes to show you what side of the fence you are on colors your view. I must say I have found myself frustrated by the amount of history and well, glitz books that sneak into the book review. The worst was the substantial coverage of Alec Baldwins book on divorce. Please.

But I have always pushed for that review every time my books came out. I must confess I never really thought the decision was gender based, more popularity based. My books just didn't make a big enough splash or someone from above didn't give them the obscure but literary nod. I fell into the well written, but not a mega-seller category--the upshot being for whatever reason they didn't catch the eye of the NYT review staff.

We like to think there is a great logic to these decisions, but I have found a lot of reviewers pick out books that appeal to them. Period. No grand judgement, just an individual making a decision. Obviously there are exceptions as in the case of Freedom. But I would ask the question how much does mass media play in these decisions? When the title wave comes from our collective literati, who alone can ask the question---but is this book any good? Now that is something to ponder.

William Hazelgrove's latest novel Rocket Man will be due out in the fall.

Books by William Hazelgrove