paper trail

May 31, 2011 @ 4:00:00 am

Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul at the 2011 Hay Festival, Photo by Daniel Mordzinski from The Telegraph.

In a weekend op-ed adapted from Jonathan Franzen's recent commencement speech at Kenyon college, the novelist and bird-watching enthusiast Franzen suggests that we should put down our BlackBerries and pick up some binoculars.

A good woman is hard to find, at least if you’re one of the Esquire staff putting together the “75 books every man should read: An unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published.” The 2008 list (re-posted for the holiday weekend) includes only one book by a woman novelist, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find. In the original preface to the piece, Anya Yurchyshyn wrote “I’m sure everyone’s gonna find something to freak out about . . . not enough women writers . . . oh well. Like we gleefully admit, it’s biased.” But glee or no, the stakes for readers are higher than a dismissive “oh well” merits: As Roxane Gay at HTML Giant writes, “Women writers are being done a disservice [by the list,] but the far greater disservice here is to men. This list not only perpetuates the erasure of great writing by women, it cultivates the erroneous and myopic notion that men only want to read a certain kind of book;” at Joyland, readers have contributed a counter-list of 250 books by women that all men should read. Jacket Copy's Carolyn Kellogg writes that the problem isn’t just that the list's authors are nearly all men, but there’s also a particular type of masculinity that is sorely over-represented: "A kind of constructed male identity of soldiering and confronting nature and, well, dude-itude. Any man who learns about relationships from Carver, Cheever, and Roth is going to need a list of marriage counselors, too."

At the Hay literary Festival, V. S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux have ended a long-standing feud.