March 03, 2011
There’s been a great deal of talk lately about women writers not getting their due in important literary magazines like The New Yorker, Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly. In this survey by VIDA, it’s pretty clear that women get short shrift in the high-brow literary world.
All this talk prompted me to count the number of book reviews I’ve written lately, and the gender of those books’ authors. I’ve reviewed four books in the past year, two by men, two by women.
To celebrate my perfect Brady Bunch symmetry, I put in my Netflix choice for the evening, ABBA: The Movie. Yes, back in ’76, Summer of Love (and Pocket Combs), someone thought it was a good idea to make a movie about ABBA. I wrote a review of this movie a couple of weeks ago, but suffice it to say your first, dumbest thought about the premise of this movie would be better than its actual premise. The clips from ABBA’s live shows save the movie from being a complete waste of bandwidth. I have fond ABBA memories from this era, and I never got to see them live, so watching the band perform was a treat for me.
As I basked in the glow of ABBA (and it is indeed a glow), I couldn’t help but notice a strange similarity between the Fab (Swedish) Four and the four writers whose books I’ve reviewed in the past year. Sure, two men and two women, but the similarities go way beyond that. At points it’s downright spooky. Hence, here are each of my reviewees teamed with their ABBA doppleganger.
Wallace sometimes sported a beard. Andersson always sports a beard.
Wallace was a leader and maestro of contemporary literature. Andersson was a leader and maestro of ABBA.
Wallace is the mastermind behind Infinite Jest. Anderson is the mastermind behind an infinite number of ABBA’s hits.
Faltskog has long blonde hair. Egan has kind of long, kind of blonde hair.
Faltskog had a #1 record in Sweden when she was only 17 years old. Egan is the current #1 of the rock lit heap with her A Visit form the Goon Squad, which was nominated for both a National Book Critics Circle Award and a PEN/Faulkner Award for 2010.
Faltskog is a notorious recluse. Egan is a notorious realist.
Almond is tall and dark haired. Ulvaeus is kind of tall and may have dark hair somewhere on his body.
Almond’s rock lit classic Rock and Roll will save your Life explores his life as a drooling fanatic. Ulvaeus had to endure ABBA fanatics drooling over his wife Faltskog.
Almond has bonked around for about decade writing books, short stories and essays. Ulvaeus bonked Faltskog for about a decade.
Zolbrod has dark hair. Lyngstad has multicolored hair, depending on the picture, but it is often dark.
Despite it not getting the attention of A Visit from the Goon Squad, Zolbrod’s debut novel Currency seriously rocks. Lyngstad was always in the shadow of Faltskog, even though Lyngstad seriously rocked too. (This gets into a Ginger/Mary Ann thing, from a show that did not have perfect gender symmetry, which means it should be excluded from this and all other conversations.)
Zolbrod traveled to Southeast Asia to explore the world she lives in. Lyngstad traveled the world to make gobs and gobs of money in ABBA.
So, what do all these uncanny similarities mean? Is there something unconscious at work here? Am I operating from a severe ABBA prejudice I’ve carried with me from childhood? Despite any real evidence that this is true, I can definitely say that yes, this is true. I’m doomed to see life through ABBA lenses. Even my recently finished novel, Badge, has two main characters, Badge and Betty, male and female.
To combat this ingrained tendency to view the world with ABBA eyes, I’m going to have to do something severe. I’m going to have to be wholly and completely sexist in my reviewing choices from here on out. That’s it. No more reviews of books by women. I see no other way.
The downside is I’ll miss out on some of the best literature of the day. The upside is it might get me a job at The New Yorker.