Best-selling novelist James Patterson — yes, the one who has published ten books in 2022 alone — has apologized for saying that white male writers are being discriminated against. Sarah Polus reports in the Hill:
In an interview with the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times published this week, Patterson said the phenomenon of white men not being able to get writing gigs represented “just another form of racism.”
“What’s that all about?” Patterson added, according to The New York Times. “Can you get a job? Yes. Is it harder? Yes. It’s even harder for older writers. You don’t meet many 52-year-old white males.”
The 75-year-old later backtracked his comments in a Facebook post, saying he supports diversity in the writing industry. “I apologize for saying white male writers having trouble finding work is a form of racism,” he wrote.
Patterson added, “I absolutely do not believe that racism is practiced against white writers. Please know that I strongly support a diversity of voices being heard—in literature, in Hollywood, everywhere.”
I don’t know if white male writers are being discriminated against or not, but if they are, Patterson is not the person to be making the claim unless he has concrete examples. Straight white male writers are not winning any literary awards, as I report here, but my take on this is a bit of a shrug: “Literary prizes are a bit of a racket, and it’s odd to see critic after critic write about women dominating the fiction prizes — prizes that were presumed to be terribly flawed when men were winning — as if this change in affairs marks the beginning of a new era of transparency, where the best writers are always lauded and the absence of prize-winning novels by white men is taken as evidence that white men are no longer doing ‘interesting’ work.”
A 2020 diversity survey found that women made up 78 per cent of editorial, 83 per cent of marketing and 92 per cent of publicity roles (the report confirmed suspicions that the industry remains overwhelmingly white and middle-class). This inevitably feeds not only into subject matter but promotional campaigns and cover designs. “There are Deborah Levy and Elena Ferrante books I’ve enjoyed, but covers with high heels and bikinis do nothing to suggest how interesting these authors are,” says a male writer friend. Women who work in publishing publicly deny that demographics leads to imbalanced commissioning but privately concede that they are getting fed up of having to compare each new novelist to Rooney to lure female millennial readers . . . I’m depressed by how gendered and predictable the reading landscape has become.
“My feeling,” she concludes, “is that less eat-your-greens hectoring and more playfulness in literature would do us all a lot of good. Instead of making contemporary fiction yet another arena for virtue-signalling, sanctimony and bad-faith assumptions about the contents of each others’ souls, let’s make room for genuine mischief and mess, experimentation and individuality. Otherwise, there will soon come a time when neither men nor women feel much like picking up a novel.”
In other news
How palm oil ended up in everything:
Palm oil is the most widely consumed fat on the planet, far ahead of other vegetable oils such as soy, sunflower, peanut, coconut or rapeseed (not to mention animal fats such as lard and butter). But in its early days as an industrial product in the 19th century, it was uncertain whether palm oil would gain wide currency as a food in the West (it had long been produced and used in Africa). The closest the average Victorian came to palm oil as a foodstuff was its use as a coating to stop the tin used for canned food oxidising.
Anthony Domestico reviews Marina Warner’s Esmond and Ilia: An Unreliable Memoir:
A prolific cultural critic and sometime novelist, Warner calls her book an “unreliable memoir.” It’s a memoir because it obliquely considers how Warner’s sensibility—her cultural leanings, her thinking about books and God and class—have been shaped by the lives of her parents, Ilia and Esmond. It’s unreliable because, Warner writes, it’s “not possible to know your parents or their lives and yours before the age of six” and much of Esmond and Ilia attempts to map this terra ignota: the whirlwind wartime courtship; the family’s relocation, shortly after Warner’s birth, from England to Cairo, where they opened a bookstore; the years in Egypt during which Esmond and Ilia realized they were not just an unlikely pair but “profoundly unsuited to each other.”
The Jewishness of Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter: “If finding a playwright’s ‘voice’ is a key to realizing their work onstage, a crucial aspect of both Pinter’s and Stoppard’s life histories is that both are Jewish.”
Haley Strack reviews Richard White’s Who Killed Jane Stanford?, which starts with a line I don’t think I’ve ever read in a review: “Jane Stanford could have been saved by a fart.” More:
That, at least, is what her doctors, friends, and community accepted in 1905 when the cofounder of Stanford University spoke her last words: “This is a horrible death to die.” A physician claimed that Mrs. Stanford overate at lunch and had considerable gas, which prompted a heart attack. The president of Stanford University refused to accept that Jane’s death was unnatural. Members of the Stanford family repeated the lie that Jane died of heart failure. Historian, Stanford University professor, and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Richard White rejects this relayed account and swaps it for one more interesting: murder. As White explores in his new book Who Killed Jane Stanford?, the philanthropist had powerful enemies. Many of them were involved in an elaborate plot to kill the heiress and seize her estate for themselves. In his detailed account of the Gilded Age mystery, White dives into the century-old cold case and at last names a killer.
Country life isn’t dull, Nicholas Lezard writes, as long as you are surrounded by wine and books: “I wasn’t bored for a second, once I’d opened the first bottle of wine. And even before then A— has an excellent library so there’s no excuse. I even found a copy of my 2012 book The Nolympics, which puts her in, shall we say, a highly select group of individuals . . . It was surprisingly rich in incident. I stepped into a pond. A dog came in and scoffed all of Tybalt’s food (without being sick). I tried to rescue a bee but it managed to fly out unaided. It was all go.”
Ralph C. Wood writes about the “moral critique of society” in P.D. James’s detective fiction:
Unlike typical detective novelists, James fleshes out her characters with complex motives and particular features, and she fills in her settings with wondrous detail. In A Taste for Death, for example, she recreates the urban atmosphere of contemporary London much as Dickens evoked the odors and fogs of the Victorian city. So are the barren fens of Norfolk and East Anglia powerfully rendered in Devices and Desires. James came increasingly, in fact, to resemble the great social novelists of nineteenth-century England, perhaps George Eliot most especially. Like the eminent Victorian with a masculine pen name, James used her initials lest she not be taken seriously if she revealed herself to be Phyllis Dorothy James. Like Eliot, James is concerned to offer a moral critique of society. Abortion, euthanasia, nuclear power, environmental disaster, terrorism, racism—all the vexing issues of our time simmer beneath the surface of her murder mysteries.
Is an Australian novelist guilty of plagiarizing The Great Gatsby and Anna Karenina?
The Australian novelist John Hughes, who last week admitted to “unintentionally” plagiarising parts of a Nobel laureate’s novel, appears to have also copied without acknowledgment parts of The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina and other classic texts in his new book The Dogs. The revelation of new similarities follows an investigation by Guardian Australia which resulted in Hughes’ 2021 novel being withdrawn from the longlist of the $60,000 Miles Franklin literary award. That investigation uncovered 58 similarities and identical instances of text between parts of The Dogs and the 2017 English translation of Belarusian Nobel prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s nonfiction work The Unwomanly Face of War.