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I didn't write about the Jodi Picoult/Jennifer Weiner feud against Jonathan Franzen because it started from a false premise. Picoult claimed that she doesn't get the attention that Franzen gets in the book press because she is a woman. Weiner quickly backed up Picoult's claims. But I've read books by both Picoult and Weiner, and they are forgettable commercial fiction.

There's nothing wrong with commercial fiction, but you should understand that when you're writing formulaic novels, you're not going to get the attention from the press that other, more ambitious authors get. Both authors produce work that is disposable but immensely comforting to a huge number of readers. Food reviewers don't review McDonald's because every McDonald's is exactly the same; Picoult and Weiner are the McDonald's of fiction. You can expect lovable characters, obvious moral dilemmas, Important Lessons Learned, and a happy ending every time. They are very good at writing commercial fiction, but they don't stretch the boundaries of commercial fiction.

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I think you can obviously make the case that the media is way too Franzen-friendly these days. And I do believe without a doubt that there is a gender bias in the book reviewing press. But if, say, Lorrie Moore was leveling these kinds of charges against the coverage of Jonathan Franzen, I'd be much more likely to care, because Lorrie Moore is writing novels that are roughly equivalent to Franzen's novels in terms of aim, subject matter, and ambition. (For the record, I think Moore is a much better writer than Franzen.) But for Picoult and Weiner to make the claim that their brand of commercial fiction isn't getting coverage because they are women seems really disingenuous to me.

I bring this all up because Usedbuyer 2.0 has just published a ridiculously clever imaginary interview with long-forgotten commercial author Ethel M. Dell, and it addresses all these points much more artfully than I can:

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Why do you feel that commercial fiction, or more specifically popular fiction written by women, tends to be critically overlooked?

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Ethel M. Dell: One has only to really look at the facts. One doesn't feel one's efforts to be overlooked in all venues. I do think the Times tends to overlook popular fiction, whether one is man, woman, white, black, or hottentot. Many of one's dearest readers tell one how very much they should like to see one reviewed more respectfully in the popular press, but what can one do? The prejudice against lady novelists is not however, I'm very glad to say, universal among the reviewers. The Monkton Combe Post for example, back when they had their book review section, used to say the kindest things about one's little books. Ah, but there's the rub! When in today's market one has only limited review space for books, one does wonder why the Times must review the same foreign sorts of books twice over, sometimes in the same week! That's rather hard. I want to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against this Proust fellow. One does still hope to read his little books, as I understand they are just lovely. I should like to make perfectly clear that none of this fuss in the more serious reviews that one seems to have inadvertently kicked up was motivated as a critique against him or his work, just that he is someone the Times has chosen to review twice in seven days — now really! One has to say something, doesn't one?

You should read it all.