Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Assistant Apprentice's Wife

May I respectfully inquire as to what's up with all the factota? It seems to me that the publishing industry's affair with assistants, apprentices, and wives is still going strong, and those of us who notice these things are beginning to wonder if we're seeing a creeping genrefication of literary fiction, whereby the only kind of character (predominantly female) anybody wants to read about is one who is subservient to somebody else. Rhian and I are fond of making up joke literary blockbuster titles, and over the years have come up with The Pornographer's Accountant, The Cousin's Wife, The Roommate's Psychiatrist, and The Limnologist's Analyst.

There is hope, however, as books like The Catastrophist have of late been piling up on publisher-bribed new trade tables at chain stores all over America--our protagonists (aha!) are getting some agency at last, and all of us are hunkered at our laptops, isting the night away. Here are a few titles you can have, for your literary romance, if you like: The Marriagist. The Friendist. The Pregnantist. The Boyfriendizer.

And while I'm all up in it here, can we have a moratorium on book covers that depict a photograph of an idle woman? Lying on a sofa, except with the back to the camera, or the head turned away, or cut off. Or sprawled in the grass, or lounging in a tree. And the subset of individual-body-part covers, let's jettison them too: all the shod feet (pumped feet, I guess, to be more specific) pressed modestly together, and all the hands holding flowers. Please, just once, I would like to see a cover upon which a woman is kicking somebody's ass, or injecting some insulin, or opening a bottle of beer. Instead what we get is waiting. Waiting, and looking pretty. Readers, what are you thinking when you pick these books up? "Oh, look--demure people! This one's for me."

I don't know if I get to say this, being a guy and all. But I think the publishing industry is addicted to rewarding writers who present women in a passive context, and to celebrating feminine attractiveness and good taste over intellectual ambition. Otherwise it would be Lydia Davis, Joanna Scott, Kathryn Davis, Barbara Gowdy, and Kelly Link you tripped over trying to get to the public restrooms at Borders, wouldn't it?

7 comments:

Trevor said...

Nicole and I've played the game at bookstores: Find the book cover that features an entire woman. Not just her torso or just her feet or all of her back. Head to toe (or at least shin). It's next to impossible. And once you see that it is, you see that these chopped-up bodies are everywhere.

Someone call my gastroenterologist. Or an alienist or an Egyptologist maybe.

rmellis said...

You forgot about the daughters. Everyone's someone's daughter these days.

"The Phrenologist's Daughter." Or, "The Daughter's Phrenologist." That would work!

rmellis said...

ps you stole my post

jrlennon said...

Sorry about the ripoff, man.

"The Apprentice's Daughter"?
"The Grandaughter's Daughter"?
"The Daughterist"?

Burl Veneer said...

Funny you should mention "The Catastrophist," as I saw that on the just-published table at the campus bookstore last week, picked it up, read the blurb, and thought, "This sounds like a JRL novel." Now I think maybe it really is (viral marketing and all)...

Stephanie said...

Geez, thanks. Now I have even more debut novel cover angst. Yes, I have a headless woman. Yes, she's reclining. Yes, she's reading. But the character in the book does kick ass! It's tough as a first time novelist to exert any cover control.

jrlennon said...

You're certainly right about that. It's not the writers I'm criticizing, it's the publishing orthodoxy. My friend Shauna Seliy's new book, "When We Get There," has a girl-hands-holding-a-pear cover...but it's fantastic, and isn't even about a girl...