Tuesday, February 24, 2009

$2 million for celebrity memoir, as male novelists grow limp

Glum observers of the publishing scene who want to reinforce their view that the industry is as broken as an over-extended mortgage lender need look no farther than the $2 million deal for Kathy Griffin's memoir. How many copies of a doorstop like that will Ballantine have to sell just to break even? And for what? (And no, the deal wasn't done by Molly Jong-Fast.)

At Salon, Laura Miller suggests that women are ready to dethrone men as the primary writers of American novels, saying "in my (admittedly limited and anecdotal) experience, literary men under 45 are as likely to idolize Joan Didion or Flannery O'Connor as Norman Mailer or John Updike." (I'm not under 45, but for the record, I do idolize Flannery O'Connor [but not Joan Didion].)

A related clue might be found in my interview with YiYun Li last month. When she wanted to think of an American novelist critical of American society, the first name that came to her mind was Toni Morrison.

Whatever the achievements of women novelists, it's definitely true that women buy more books than men, especially novels. This 2007 NPR story quotes British novelist Ian McEwan as saying "When women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

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