Cou nter poi nts bias against women reviewers. As one woman writer recently remarked, “Literary commentary is like a party one hasn’t been invited to.”
In my own speciality of crime fiction, about one third of the books published in any year are by women. The percentage reviewed is far smaller however hard the reviewer tries—and I do try. A disproportionate number of women crimewriters are published by firms which have ceased to send books out for review. Of the 53 crime novels I received last month, only 13 are by women. As for science fiction and fantasy, from comment published about those genres you would think women never read them at all.
Does it matter? Yes, it matters, because if buyers have never heard of a book they won’t search out the electronic version or go into a bookshop to buy a printed copy. So it sells less well, so it makes less money, so the publishers drop the author from their lists. It also matters because editors who commission comment and criticism inevitably select contributors whose names they know. These more ephemeral extras, journalism and broadcasting, are not only PR opportunities but can bring in a sizeable percentage of a writer’s income.
The imbalance may be due to commercial decisions based on a curious fact, as Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins of Queen Mary, University of London point out: “While women read the works of both sexes, men stick to books written by men.”
We liberated women must also blame ourselves. When a journalism commission or a radio or TV appearance is arranged, the chosen contributor is often invited because he has made contact previously, selling himself, offering his services or “pitching” for a commission.
All literary editors agree that many more men offer themselves to review books than women, and most women writers are too thin-skinned to risk repeated rebuffs. Female colleagues admit, and so do I, that we take “no” as an answer because we take rejection personally. We don’t tell ourselves “they hate my idea” but “they hate me.”
It is editors and producers who can change things; it is readers and audiences that can make them realise they need to. In the end commissioning more female contributors could be a purely commercial imperative. But women must change too. We have to toughen up. After nearly 40 years of equal rights, the shrinking violet’s day is surely over.
Gehry’s folly: The proposed Eisenhower Memorial
An insult to Ike
BY BRUCE COLE
think it’s going to be very modest,” remarked the architect Frank Gehry.
Modest? Gehry’s plans for his proposed Dwight Eisenhower Memorial in Washington DC are anything but. This enormous “thing”—there really is no word to describe it—will have ten 80ft “towers” (each about the height of an eight-storey building) supporting a series of massive metal screens, which the architect calls “tapestries” of the same dimension, depicting leafless trees.
Costing $100 million of taxpayers’ money, this confection will cover four acres of land just off the Mall (Ike might have liked this part because it looks like a golf course).
There are so many things wrong with Gehry’s plan that it’s hard to know where to start. That his gargantuan folly is a premeditated offence to the Mall’s great neoclassical monuments to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln may be the least of them.
The classical tradition that inspired the planners of the White House, the Capitol, and most of the buildings flanking the Mall, embodies order, tradition, and stability, the exact opposites of Gehry’s malicious deconstruction of a thousand years of meaningful architecture.
Of course, his desire to épater les bourgeois is exactly what makes him so attractive to some. After his Bilbao museum rocketed him to international stardom, he become the architect of the elite establishment, much in demand by cities and institutions eager to demonstrate their hipness.
To date Gehry has nothing in Washington, although he was commissioned to build an addition to the Corcoran Gallery which would have looked like the wreckage of a jumbo jet crashed into the building’s elegant neoclassical structure. Fortunately, the gallery ran out of money and steam.
But now he’s back with a vengeance to have a crack at the Eisenhower Memorial, which if built (it’s on the verge of approval even though Ike’s grandson David Eisenhower has resigned from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and the entire Eisenhower family made their opposition to the plan public) would turn Ike into a footnote to Gehry’s ego. As a proper postmodernist Gehry doesn’t believe in heroes or, as he has said,
in the quaint notion of right or wrong.
So it’s not surprising that his monument to the two-time president and commander of the Allied forces that stormed the Normandy beaches to defeat an evil empire, will consist of metal tapestries, leafless trees and meaningless towers partially enclosing an incoherent space. And in the middle of it all, “the barefoot boy from Kansas”, as Gehry calls him, may well wonder what happened to his, and our, history. e
March 2012 Old Italian Art (detail, 1890/91) by Gustav Klimt is part of an exhibition in Vienna celebrating Klimt’s 150th birthday, and dedicated to the artist’s middle period (1886-1897). Gustav Klimt in the Kunsthistorisches Museum focuses on 13 murals and their preparatory drawings—the above image is painted on a staircase at the museum—demonstrating the growing influence of Symbolism and Art Nouveau on Klimt’s style. The exhibition runs until May 6.