Maureen Dowd trashed women’s fiction in the Times the other day. I’m pretty sure she did it to get letters because she’s fairly bright and that was the most illogical, poorly presented argument I’ve seen in a long time. My son-in-law who is professional blogger tells me that the blogs that get the most response are the ones that thrive, so many bloggers are posting deliberately incendiary posts to stir indignation and get those readers writing. Ann Coulter did much the same thing in public appearances when she criticized the 911 widows. This has the same feeling. It’s not that Dowd’s ideas are outrageous or insulting that gets to me on this one, it’s that they’re so DUMB. And she’s not a dumb woman. So I’m thinking she’s generating mail on this, not serious about her argument. Nobody could be serious about that argument. I managed to not respond to the Coulter insanity because I thought her fifteen minutes should have been up a long time ago, but on this one I tripped: I wrote the Times. They probably got six thousand letters on this article so I keep telling myself that mine didn’t make any difference, but I still feel stupid for letting her get to me and swelling her response numbers. She played me. I’m betting she played all of us. I shoulda known better.
Dear Miss Dowd, A few things: If The Bell Jar has pink on the cover, perhaps that’s a sign that making mock of all books with pink on the cover is not a legitimate approach for honest literary criticism. The “log-rolling blurbs” by other authors who write women-centered books is prompted by the fact that a blurb from Tom Clancy rarely spurs readers of women’s fiction to think, “That’s my kind of book.” This happens in other genres, too. It’s not a plot by women’s fiction writers to take over the bookstore. Even the male writers do it. Your worry that people will confuse the heroines of twenty-first century women’s fiction with the heroines of eighteenth and nineteenth century is unfounded. Readers, I have found, are generally pretty bright about things like that. I think it’s thoughtful of Leon to think that women should read The Red Badge of Courage instead of women’s fiction. I also think Leon should stop projecting his reading taste on all women in general, but I think it’s nice that he cares. I’m puzzled when you say, “The novel was once said to be a mirror of its times,” and then go on to recommend novels that are more than a hundred years old (except for that youngster, 1984). It makes it difficult to discern the actual distress behind this article. Is it that no author today is writing what you want them to? That readers aren’t reading what you want them to? That fiction is “undergoing a certain re-feminization” and that’s upsetting Leon? Or are you against “feminization” in general and you’re seeing this as the thin end of the wedge? Because I think you’re right on that one. Whatever it is, I hope your day is better today. Read a little Austen, she is wonderful, and you can probably find her books without pink covers. Oh, and my compliments on a great article for generating outraged letters. I remember the good old days when columnists were informed, logical, and incisive, but I know times change and the pink cover of commentary is now The Rant. Does the Times evaluate you on how much feedback you provoke? Because this is going to make you look so popular. Best of luck, Jennifer Crusie
And then I hit send and made her look more popular. Sigh. You know what would have been wonderful? If everybody had looked at that and said, “Sweet Jesus, this woman is dumb as a rock,” and ignored it. And then she’d have sat in her office waiting for the mail that never came. THAT would have been a great response.