Fight the Power, Damned Scribbling Women! by Guest Author Joanne Rendell

Joanne Rendell
Joanne Rendell
Joanne Rendell has been a friend of the Debs for a long time–and several of the 2008 Debs got to spend time with her in San Francisco at a conference last summer. Her much-anticipated debut novel, “The Professors’ Wives’ Club,” recently launched to wonderful reviews. We’re delighted to have her as a guest this week, and happy to have her write on our theme this week–banned books.

The Professors' Wives' Club
The Professors' Wives' Club
Banned books never go quietly into the night. Indeed, if your book gets banned for any reason, your future sales record will probably look very rosy (I hear Salman Rushdie has a very nice New York pad, thank very much). I’m secretly hoping my debut novel The Professors’ Wives’ Club might be banned for inciting groups of women to rise up and fight mean deans who threaten to bulldoze beloved faculty gardens!

Even the mere mention of banning books is enough to whip up a storm. When it was recently rumored that vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin wanted a list of books banned from her local library in Alaska, a media whirlwind ensued and now when you google “Palin and banned books” you find hundreds, if not thousands, of posts on the matter.

It’s completely understandable to me that banning a book, and thus banning our freedom to read what we wish and write what we wish, causes so much furor. But what really interests me – and enrages me – is the way so many books, while not banned, continue to be shunned, demeaned, and denigrated by the book-reviewing establishment. These books may not be barred from the shelves, but they are brushed under the rug like an unsightly dust bunny by the media literati.

I’m thinking particularly of popular fiction by women, for women, and about women which, in my opinion, is too often the butt of jokes, the butt of critique, or is flat out ignored by those with reviewing powers.

Women love books. We always have, probably always will. Of all the books that are currently bought and read, we do most of the buying and the reading. It’s a fact: we are the reading sex.

We are the writing sex too. Our foremothers, like Jane Austen and the Brontës, wrote novels which would be read by millions and live on for centuries. Today, books by JK Rowling, Nora Roberts, and Danielle Steele prop up the entire publishing industry. Women are prolific writers and we are the all time bestsellers.

Yet, in spite of this, our books are often ridiculed, demeaned, or ignored.

“America is now given over to a damned mob of scribbling women,” wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in the mid-nineteenth century just at the moment when many women like Austen had taken up their quills and were writing novels (and were finding a big hungry audience for their work).

Not much has changed since Hawthorne. Although Austen and the Brontës now get the respect they deserve, women’s fiction today still struggles to be taken seriously. Romance novels continually get stereotyped as “soft porn for desperate housewives.” Chick lit has been dismissed by the literati as throwaway “fluff” obsessed with shopping and shoes. And even women writers like Jodi Picoult who tackle more serious issues are often labeled “hysterical” and “melodramatic” by snooty reviewers. The book reviewing world even criticizes books for “pandering to female audiences,” as if that is such a terrible thing (yes, Publisher’s Weekly said this about the short story collection, This is Chick Lit).

Perhaps we shouldn’t care what the reviewers say. After all, women’s fiction is immensely popular, in spite of what the New York Times Book Review or Publisher’s Weekly says or, more often, doesn’t say about it. From Harlequins to the novels of Picoult, books by women keep on selling.

But I can’t help caring. My own novel The Professors’ Wives’ Club is popular women’s fiction and one of the book’s central themes is about standing up for what you believe in – and the power of groups of women, acting together, to stand up for what they believe.

Our books may not be banned, but they are unfairly maligned and looked over. It’s time to whip up a storm of our own. It’s time for us “damned scribbling women” – and “damned reading women,” for that matter – to fight back against the reviewing elite and stand up for the books we write and love!

Joanne Rendell was born and raised in the UK. She has a Ph.D. in literature and is married to an NYU professor. She lives in faculty housing in New York City with her family.

27 Replies to “Fight the Power, Damned Scribbling Women! by Guest Author Joanne Rendell”

  1. I’m applauding this! Brava!

    Thanks for coming to the Ball today, and I think your book sounds wonderful.

    I love that Nathaniel Hawthorne quote. I’m so proud to be a member of the “damned mob of scribbling women.” In fact, I want that on a T-shirt.

  2. A Scribbling Women t-shirt! What a fantastic idea. Let’s get Cafe Press on the case immediately. Thanks everyone and thanks Debs for inviting me here today. This was a really fun piece to write. I’ve been saying these things in bits and pieces and in different places. It was nice to put it into one piece!

  3. Hmmm…. what delicious food for thought on a dreary rainy Saturday morning. The history, the politics and the t-shirt idea – I love it all. And I’m running out to buy your book. Scribble on, damned women!

  4. Great post, Joanne! What an excellent point to bring up for this week’s theme! Jane Austen is my favorite author, and she is nothing if not chick lit. It shouldn’t matter what genre or category you write–it should matter that you write it well.

    Thanks so much for being our guest author today!

  5. Very well-put, Joanne. And I agree wholeheartedly. It is so frustrating for women writers who aren’t paid as well as male writers, who don’t command the respect of the reviewing world, etc. The glass ceiling in this business has yet to be broken.
    Thanks for joining the Debs today and HUGE luck on your book!

  6. Great post, Joanne. I want a shirt, too!! I just don’t get why if I read Nick Hornsby why it is assumed men won’t read ALL OF THE DEBS! Is it a fact or is it a cultural assumption that leads to the fact? Really enjoyed this thoughtful post!! Thanks for joining us today!

  7. Hi, Joanne. Your cover is beautiful. Who said, “Success is the best revenge?” Women’s lit SELLS! I’m happy to admit I read books primarily for entertainment. I have the Internet for news and other info. I enjoy a good book before bed. Cozy mysteries, women’s fic, chick lit (yes, I read it and I like it!) murder mysteries, memoirs – I can’t recall the last NYT glowingly reviewed literary book I purchased and read cover to cover and then recommended to a friend. Nyah…

  8. Danielle, thanks! Let’s get these t-shirts made! Gail, I hear you. It’s like the way when we were little girls we had to read almost all picture/kids books with “he” pronouns or boy characters. Right from when we were young, in other words, we’ve been trained to identify with boys in fiction and to like their stories. But the same can’t be said for guys. They rarely had to identify with girls in kids books (or movies) when they were young and there not going to do it when they’re older either. (Okay, they’re are many many men who read women’s books and I’m generalizing, but it is interesting that the gendering starts so young…). Kim, I’m the same. I read to enjoy and also (with the books i download on my ipod) to get through my gym workouts!

  9. Great post, Joanne!

    I am at a small romance writers conference in Ottawa this weekend and Jo Beverly did the keynote speech and her basic thesis was something like: when did it become a bad thing to want to read (and/or write) novels that are fun and enjoyable to read? When did something have to be difficult or tragic for it to be considered worthy? Here, here.

  10. Please consider this a PSA. There was an “alleged” list of books that Gov. Palin had wanted banned and GalleyCat posted it. A few days later, after numerous emails from readers, GalleyCat admitted they had jumped the gun for almost every book on the list had not even been published prior to the “making” of said list.

  11. Great post! I’ve been meaning to comment for a while. I just hope that bloggers (like me) can fill in some of the gaps left by newspaper reviewers.

    I want one of those t-shirts too!

    I’m looking forward to reading your book, Joanne.

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