Friday, November 06, 2009

No women?

From Galleycat:

By Jason Boog on Nov 06, 2009 09:23 AM

When Publishers Weekly released a series of Best Books of 2009 lists this week, the "Top Ten" list did not include any books by women authors. GalleyCat wrote about the ensuing controversy on Wednesday, as the founders of Women In Letters And Literary Arts (WILLA) passionately rejected the list.

The story generated a stream of Twitter posts and plenty of literary debate. Since that story, a number of other news outlets reported on the story, including the Guardian, NY Times, Salon, and Publishers Weekly.

Ed here:

You know, it's entirely possible that the group voting on the Top Ten best books arrived at their decision honestly. Truly felt that these were the most deserving choices. Of course then you have to look at the composition of the group itself. All lists, awards, kudos, plaques are the result of completely subjective judgements.

The problem here is the kind of importance we vest in top ten lists of any kind except sales. My top ten'll probably be a lot different from yours and yours'll be a lot different from the guy next door's. I mean they're fun to read, top ten lists are, but in the long run who gives a rat's ass? They're most useful to individual winners for promotion--and that's a fair use--but beyond that, not much.

Look at awards.

Look at all the enduring movies that didn't even get an Academy Award nomination. Look at all the enduring novels The National Book Awards seem never to have heard of. The Grammy Awards have long been a joke. Even the lauded Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a commingling of favors and foolishness.

I've won a fair share of awards and lost many, many more. The only time losing bothered me was when a friend told me that I'd lost by one vote and that the vote had been his. I didn't care about so much about losing--in fact the book I lost to was better than mine--but I wish he'd hadn't given me the background.

Awards come, awards go. Every once in awhile they're even deserved. I like to win awards and so do you. But sometimes we lose all perspective about them. And the same with Top Ten lists.

All this said, I have to find it strange that with so many female writers at the peak of their game that all the slots went to men. Not even one woman?


Anonymous said...

None of my sixty-some novels ever made a top ten or top twenty or top fifty list, and I doubt that any deserved to.

I do feel there are underlying objective criteria that point toward excellence. Economy of language or movement of the story, for example. But what seems to affect judges the most is simply fashion. Whatever is in fashion gets the nod. Fashion is mysterious but powerful.

Deb said...

Jeez, that was some "friend"!

Todd Mason said...

And, indeed, economy of language can be attractive (hello, Sr. Borges)...but someone dancing around with the language, such as Avram Davidson or Margaret Atwood in certain moods or that Joyce character, can also be great fun. To say the least. I'm not too sure we can be sure of objectivity in this, so much as a shared subjectivity that makes certain things feel right, at least for a good portion of us. And I believe there are those who would indeed put certain Wheeler works in select company...I was pleased that my first published story was cited among a hundred or so Pretty Darned Good in one of the annuals.

And I'll echo both you and Deb on that Fine Buddy of yours. Favors we can live w/o.

PW's folks were simply haunted by the shade of Noram Mailer or something. Mens does writes goods, though.

Unknown said...

I'm always happy to see a friend get a nomination and/or an award but I put as much stock in the validity of the entire process of any award as I do in the government, the Easter Bunny and/or the management of my beloved new york state buffalo bills (or the Patriots' several championships prior to coach cheaterface getting caught in spygate). Even statisical awards have to be looked at twice (i.e., baseball vs. juice) ... I just finished reading the last of the Highsmith Ripley novels (and was slightly disappointed at the end) but it was nice to see she had won an Edgar at some point-not sure which book, but I suspect The Talented Mr. Ripley). I can understand women being pissed at the political incorrectness of zero nominations but then again how valid would a nomination be if it were based on such correctness?

About as valid as the all male selections and/or the entire process anyway ... so forgetaboutit.

Mike Dennis said...

I agree with you 100% Ed, when you say "who gives a rat's ass" about Top 10 lists. One pitfall of deliberately adding women authors to the list simply to placate the PC police is that then every supposed "victim" group will clamor for inclusion.

And of course, since there are more than ten officially-sanctioned victim groups, the list will have to be expanded to twenty or even thirty, in order to include transgender Pacific Islanders, physically challenged left-handed Muslims, vegetarian veterinarian Siamese twins,, no, I can't go on!

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

There was a HUGE flamewar in the SF/Fantasy field recently when a major anthology was released without including any women writers.

Speaking for myself I think in that case the outrage was justified. But I agree Top Ten lists are often SO subjective they can't be taken seriously...or literally.