As a reward for myself after I graduated from library school in June, and because I got one of those irresistible, deeply discounted subscription offers in the mail, I subscribed to the New York Review of Books. My first issue was the July 14th issue. It seemed like I had had that issue so long and hadn’t gotten a second one that I mentioned to my Bookman that I was going to have to contact them about where my next issue was, “not that I’m in a hurry for it,” I said, “since I haven’t finished the first one yet.” He got a good chuckle over that. When I went online and checked what issue was current, I found that the new one hadn’t come out yet. I was a bit relieved because it meant they weren’t going to be piling up. At least not yet.
The new issue came a week and a half ago and today I finished reading the July 14th issue so I am not too terribly far behind. Yet. It is kind of stressful getting a lengthy magazine every few weeks that can’t simply be skimmed through. I mean, the New York Review of Books isn’t exactly House Beautiful or something where the whole point is to look at the pretty photos and feel inadequate because I don’t wear fashionable clothes or have a house that looks show-worthy, or an acre of garden professionally designed. The NYRB takes time. And it doesn’t make me feel inadequate. The review essays are so long and thorough that I can read about Manet or pharmaceutical companies and not feel like I have to read all those books mentioned because I manage to come away with a sense of the whole and so feel a little bit smarter.
Now, I know I have only read one issue so I can’t really know if what I am about to say is true in general or not. However, I suspect it is.
After reading this issue, if I didn’t know better, I would say that:
- Women don’t write books. There are only three essays that are about books written by women and one of those three, the book is included with four other books written by men. Therefore, women writers received only two reviews of their very own. But since we know there are lots of women who write, it must be that
- women don’t write books worth reviewing in a literary magazine. There are plenty of women who contributed essays about the books under review, however, and even the fiction short story in the issue is by a woman (Deborah Eisenberg). But it appears that while women can write a short story or a lengthy literary essay, they can’t sustain such intellectual endeavors long enough to create an entire book worthy of a lengthy essay.
- Along the same lines, women don’t write books that are good enough to be written about in other books. For instance, in the essay on Kundera’s new book, Encounter, a collection of essays about the novel, not one book or author mentioned in the review as being discussed by Kundera is by a woman.
Another thing of note, the three books by women that are reviewed are all reviewed by women. So apparently women can review books by men and women but men only review books by men. Go figure.
I don’t know why I am so surprised. It isn’t like this disparity didn’t exist before I started library school. And it is rather naive of me to assume that during the 3 1/2 years I was in school and not paying attention to book review magazines that the disparity would have, by now, been corrected.
Every year when the Orange Prize long list is announced there is a little buzz from various quarters about whether the Orange Prize is still relevant and necessary. Given the dearth of books by women reviewed in the NYRB, and I doubt they are the only ones with a lack of coverage, I’d say the Orange Prize is still extremely important. So next year when those questions about the Orange Prize start buzzing around, I apologize in advance in case I make any grumpy comments on someone’s blog post.
If, after I finish the current NYRB issue it turns out that there are gobs of books by women reviewed and this last issue was only a fluke, I will be sure to say so. Stay tuned…