Thursday, October 18, 2007

She Writes Like a Woman

There was an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times recently. Written by Verlyn Klinkenborg, the viewpoint was not merely about "politeness and authority" that the title references. Rather, it speaks to attitudes that are apparently held by women in Minnesota -- and probably in much of the United States. Specifically, the author suggests that women writers –- at least those Ms. Klinkenborg has taught -– tend to practice "self negation … a self-deprecatory way of talking that is meant … to help create a sense of shared space."

In other words, many women authors don’t write with confidence; their narrative voice is timid. While I’m sure there are many men who emasculate themselves in their writing, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. That’s probably because I think of writers –- male or female –- who impress me with their voice; I don't usually think about the ones whose voices are soft and uninspired.

I had a conversation with one of my sisters-in-law recently. She's a voracious and strong reader who can discern quickly whether she'll like something or not. She's also not a snob; I learned about Christopher Moore's delightful B-film novels from her. And she can explain why she likes something beyond the typical "I love the characters he creates" answer. Anyway, she described a conversation she'd had where she told a woman "I generally don't read women authors." She gave her reasoning, which I won't display here, except to say that Klinkenborg would have understood it.

Personally, I'm not bothered by women writers in general, though as I look at what I've been reading the past couple years since I started working in New York again, I've found that most of what I've read have been by men. Notable exceptions N.M. Kelby's Whale Season, which is kind of like Chris Moore only without vampires or demons, and Book Doctor by Esther Cohen, which I enjoyed (Ironically, it feels like it needs a book doctor; the ending was rushed and included a deus ex machina character to hasten things along. However, there were also a couple works that I started recently and didn't finish because they were treacly crap.

I found Klinkenborg's comments interesting coming as they did soon after Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Without having read a drop of her work, I can tell she's got a unique voice just by reading the interview she gave from her doorstep. The woman has confidence and pride, opinions and perspective. I hope more writers -- regardless of gender -- recognize the value of developing such an honest voice. Readers and other writers appreciate it.

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