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.

 

David Foster Wallace/Benny Andersson

Similarities:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Egan/Agnetha Fältskog

Similarities:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Almond/Björn Ulvaeus

Similarities:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zoe Zolbrod/Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad

Similarities:

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.

Spooky.

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.

 

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ART EDWARDS's third novel, Badge (2014), was named a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's Literary Contest for 2011. His second novel, Ghost Notes, released on his own imprint Defunct Press in 2008, won the 2009 PODBRAM Award for best work of contemporary fiction. His first novel, Stuck Outside of Phoenix, has been made into a feature film. His writing has or will appear in The Writer, Writers' Journal and Pear Noir!, and online at Salon, The Los Angeles Review, Word Riot, The Collagist, PANK, JMWW, Bartleby Snopes, The Rumpus and The Weeklings. In the 1990s he was co-founder, co-songwriter and bass player with the Refreshments.

54 responses to “My Complete Lack of Book Reviewing Sexism…and ABBA”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    Fun stuff, Art. Wacky timing, too. I just finished reading Chuck Klosterman’s engrossing consideration of ABBA this past weekend. Perhaps the stars are aligning for them to take their billion dollar payday? Probably not, but still, it’s fun to dream.

    • Art Edwards says:

      I’d love to read the Klosterman thing, Joe. Where did you find that?

      What does one do with a billion dollar payday? What does a billion dollars buy you that, say, 100 million doesn’t? I really hope they don’t reunite. They’re the fourth largest selling band in the history of music, and even in this day and age, they still sell 2 to 3 million units a year. They won the game. Go home.

      Thanks for reading.

      • Joe Daly says:

        It’s from Eating the Dinosaur. Ironically, in his ABBA essay, he notes the similarity between himself and Benny, both tending to sport beards and weird pants.

        You’re so right about the subtle difference between 100 million and 1 billion. Either way, I’d still be talking to my dogs and drinking too much coffee. Although truth be told, I might have a hundred dogs and my own coffee plantation, but I’d say those are negligible differences.

        • Art Edwards says:

          A dog farm and coffee plantation sound great, and perhaps I’m showing too much of my roots, but to me, anything over 60k a years sounds like a headache. Money becomes its own problem at a certain point. The need to have a billion dollars instead of, say, half a billion is the primary undiagnosed disease of our world, because the things these people do to get their extra half-bill affect all of us.

          Okay. Back to happy, ABBA thoughts.

  2. dwoz says:

    Maybe it’s time to put this sexism in literature behind us. I’ll do my part. I’ll start writing a column, “Women Authors I’d love to boink.”

    I’ll even do a once-a-quarter GLBT version, maybe get a guest reviewer in to help with that.

    oh, and I’ll just go on record as saying that NOBODY sings vocal harmony like Swedish women. NOBODY. Not anyone else on this planet can sing vocal harmony better than a female swede.

    • Art Edwards says:

      The effect is magical, dwoz.

      Sometimes I think all the Middle East needs is iPods loaded with ABBA tunes dropped on them from above. It would give “Waterloo” a whole new meaning.

  3. Seth Pollins says:

    I am SO happy I missed the entire ABBA experience. But hey, have you heard of New Kids on the Block? As for your other point, the talk seems legitimate to me. And it might not just be gender bias, but age bias too. Robin Black’s wonderful recent collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, has been ignored by the major literary mags as well as the Times, and yet I must have read ten reviews of Wells Towers’ collection. I’m telling you, Wells has nothing on Robin. This is just one example, I know, but this one continues to irk me.

    • Art Edwards says:

      The stats are pretty unbelievable, Seth. “Serious” lit is still a man’s world, and this 200 years after Jane Austen. Whatever.

      I’m far more attracted to women pop singers than I used to be. My teen years were dominated by men rockers, and now all of a sudden I’m going back and listening to all the women singers I missed the first time around. Again, whatever.

      Art

  4. sheree says:

    HA! Good stuff! Have a great weekend.

  5. Greg Olear says:

    Well played, Art. Very well played. My knowledge of ABBA is limited to the music and the fact that one of the band’s more rabid fans purchased a dried-up sample of the lead singer’s fecal matter in a jar on whatever you bought shit on before eBay. I’m not even making that up.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Ha! “One of the band’s more rabid fans”?!? What are the really rabid fans into?

      Well played, yourself, Mr. Olear. If you don’t have the ABBA disease, there’s no need to go out and contract it. You’re probably better off.

      For me, it’s a malaise that’s kind of deep and dumb, and that’s why I love it. It shouldn’t make me as happy as it does, but we don’t choose these things.

  6. Ooh, I love that final zinger. Good man, Art! Spooky how ABBA has secretly informed your whole life. Maybe there’s an alternate reality in which the Bee Gees have informed your whole life. And you write for the New Yorker already. Hmm ….

  7. Gloria says:

    The comparisons are downright creepy, Art. Are you some sort of mad genius? Also, I can’t help but notice that you have hair in your childhood-picture gravatar – and I had hair when I was a kid, too! Gives me the heebies.

    Confession: I couldn’t name one single ABBA song if money depended on it. Not without Googling it. I know so little about ABBA that I’m not entirely sure why they’re a joke. Except this one: Did that munchkin from the Land of Oz really marry Sandy from Grease?

    • Art Edwards says:

      Yes, I had hair too! Thank you, Gloria. See, now we’re getting a fuller picture of what really is going on.

      You must’ve missed the ABBA window. I take it you’re younger than 40. There are certain acts that one is just the right age for, and ABBA hit me squarely and completely as an eight year old. I can still lose an hour or so here and there when I type things like “ABBA live” into YouTube’s search engine. You know what I’m talking about.

      • Gloria says:

        I am younger than 40. But I’ve met you live in person – you don’t seem that much older than me. Is it actually possible that our slight age difference is just enough for me to have missed a seminal pop culture phenomenon? Also “ABBA Window” sounds a lot like worm hole to me. Like it’s a portal to another dimension.

        • Art Edwards says:

          Maybe we are quite close in age, G, but the difference of two years when you’re talking about pop acts is night and day. You were probably deep into your Sesame Street phase when I was pretending to know the words to “Waterloo.”

        • Art Edwards says:

          Okay, nobody asked, but try to imagine hearing this chorus as a seven year old.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvChjHcABPA

          This is aural crystal meth for me.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Okay, well, I clicked, damn you.

          I always thought of Agnetha and Frida as affectless, to the point where I made a joke about them in “Banned for Life,” something about a German girl having a fixed expression that reminds the narrator of Raggedy Ann or “one of those girls in ABBA.” I remember seeing them on TV when I was a kid, barely moving while lip-syncing their latest chart-buster, as if they were battery-operated mannequins; yet they don’t come across that way to me now. On the contrary, I see emotion flickering in their faces, Agnetha in particular.

          But I’m still far from being an ABBA fan, though I have to admit they had some killer hooks.

        • Art Edwards says:

          Duke, I think that is an excellent insight, one I’ve sensed as recently as yesterday. Yes, they seem rather lively and interesting now, and they seemed like ice queens back then.

          If I had to guess, I think it has to do with what we’re and they’re surrounded by. In other words, the music world and the world in general has changed so dramatically, ABBA now seem like real people with genuine personalities and feelings. Compare them to the music of the seventies, say, disco or punk, and they seem frigid. Compare them to Coldplay, and they seem soulful.

          Thanks for clicking.

        • I don’t know if you guys remember, but Frida had a brief solo hit at the dawn of MTV…no clue what the song was called, but it’s some repetitive melancholy break up thing where this guy cheats on her, and there’s tons of close ups of her aggrieved face being all angrily (in a Swedish way) self-righteous. I fell in love with her a bit then, watching that video a thousand times at least. She was like a spoon of sherbet after all the Pat Benatar. Who actually was pretty hard not to pine after as well.

        • Art Edwards says:

          I somehow missed the solo excursion, Sean, There was definitely a period where my ABBA love was not a cool thing, and I kept it hidden under good old-fashioned repression and a stack of Van Halen records. Frida probably surfaced at this time, and I was too busy trying peppermint Schnapp’s to notice. Sounds wonderful, though. In retrospect, crushin’ on Frida would’ve been more fun.

        • Gloria says:

          Bwuuuu…peppermint Schnapp’s…

          **retches**

        • Jim says:

          Sean, I remember that song and video: “I know there’s something going on…on…on…[echo].” And yes, it was repetitive; if I’m not mistaken, Phil Collins (the ubiquitous Phill Collins at that time) sat in on drums.

          Glittering post, Art.

        • Art Edwards says:

          Oh my goodness. I had no idea until this moment that that is the Frida.

          Thanks, Jim!

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Neither did I. Wow. What a shock.

          Here, if you haven’t looked already, Art, is the clip:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz5DkTF2RW8

        • Art Edwards says:

          I get the feeling Frida wasn’t playing up her ABBA roots during this era. Sure, people knew, but how could this not be billed as “Former ABBA Chick’s Solo Career.” I was hardly dialed in to these details at this point in my life, but wouldn’t Martha Quin have told me?

  8. Quenby Moone says:

    Damn. ZING! I love that last line, too, á la Cynthia.

    I love that you are seeing the world through Abba-colored glasses, although I might claw my eyes out after a while. However, I think you’re on to something here: as humans, our great gift is to find patterns even when everything is truly random. But I think you just discovered that there is no such thing as truly random.

    You might have just torn open an epistemological argument which philosophers will have to chew on for decades.

    Thanks, Abba!

    • Art Edwards says:

      Thanks, Q. The connections are so obvious once you plummet the depths, as I have above.

      Someone on my Facebook page said that ABBA’s music made her insane. I thought, “she has to be lying,” which is the truest sign of devotion to a music act. If you think an act’s music must be awesome to everyone, you are not only a fan in the purest sense, you’ll probably be a danger to yourself at some point.

      So, there’s that to look forward to.

      ABBA forever and ever amen.

      Art

  9. dwoz says:

    Make no mistake, when I was young, ABBA was a joke to me. COMPLETELY irrelevant. It’s only now, as a more mature musician and music producer, that I come to appreciate their craft.

    No, it’s not music with message with a Capital “M”, no life epiphanies here…but it is impeccable craft.

    Not to mention, ABBA was at some point something like 1/5 of the economy of Sweden.

    • Art Edwards says:

      If your records make millions of people freak out, you are a master, or someone has a great deal of control over who hears what. ABBA had both, but the pristine nature of some of those recordings is undeniable.

      There at least 10% joke to me today, but the joke doesn’t take away from the brilliance for me. It’s the human side of it, maybe.

  10. Simon Smithson says:

    Ha! Eerie, dude. I especially liked ‘Ulvaeus is kind of tall and may have dark hair somewhere on his body.’ and ‘Despite any real evidence that this is true, I can definitely say that yes, this is true.’

    With evidence like that, I’m sold.

    • Art Edwards says:

      I think of myself as a scientist in this instances, Simon. I just take what’s given to me and, with a little deduction, the truth just sort of reveals itself.

      Thanks for reading.

  11. Judy Prince says:

    Art, you are soooo self-aware! You compel me to make my own comparisons, and I appreciate that. It turns out that, yes, a similarity I have with *every single member of ABBA” is that I wear clothes!!!!

  12. Sometimes TNB just makes me so happy. This is one of those moments, Art.

    (Especially love my author, Zoe Zolbrod, getting her ABBA compare/contrast due. About time!)

    • Art Edwards says:

      Thanks, Gina. I have a gift for keen insight, and it’s my duty to share it with the world.

      You’re not really a writer until you’ve been likened to a member of ABBA, and now Zoe can check that off her bucket list.

  13. I like how your brain-strings stretch.

  14. Great stuff, Art! Good on you for reviewing books by women–whether or not they were members of ABBA.

    Speaking of Klosterman, didn’t he invent that game where you say “band X is the television series X of music”? I think I heard that on NPR…Anyways, I can picture a monthly column that compares authors to musicians in the same manner. I’d read that.

    • Art Edwards says:

      It’s a great idea, Tyler. I bet some other folks would like to chip in too. This could be a regular TNB happening, like the self-interview.

      Anyone want to do one for next month?

      • Gloria says:

        Sort of like: Stephanie Meyer is to authors as Debbie Gibson is to music?

        Like that?

        • Gloria says:

          Excuse me – she has no As in her name. Stephenie.

          Are there prizes?

        • Art Edwards says:

          I have no vision for how prizes work, but YES DEFINITELY PRIZES! I’d happily donate a copy of my novel Ghost Notes for the winner.

        • Gloria says:

          How do you envision this thing shaking down, Art?

        • Art Edwards says:

          I have no vision, G. I just snap on my bow tie every morning and hope for the best.

          I guess I thought it would be TNB folks doing their best and funniest to compare writers with musicians, using whatever criteria makes the most sense to them. The only prize would be the humor doled out, which is sure to be in ample supply.

          But I’m open.

        • Gloria says:

          I have no vision, G. I just snap on my bow tie every morning and hope for the best.

          I guess I thought it would be TNB folks doing their best and funniest to compare writers with musicians, using whatever criteria made the most sense to them. The only prize would be the humor doled out, which I’m sure would be in ample supply.

          But I’m open. It sounds like fun. I’d love to read them.

        • Gloria says:

          Smart ass replies aside…

          Um – thanks, Art. Since last night, I’ve been playing this game in my head nonstop – despite my efforts not to. Like a song that gets stuck in your head. The problem is that I can only come up with half a metaphor in either direction.

          E.g.:

          X is to authors as Weird Al Yankovic is to music

          Christopher Moore is to authors as X is to music

          I did come up with: Clive Barker is to authors as Rob Zombie is to music, though I’m not ready to commit to that one.

        • Art Edwards says:

          “Clive Barker is to authors as Rob Zombie is to music, though I’m not ready to commit to that one.”

          Well, I’m ready to commit to that one.

          How about:

          The Onion is to writing what Weird AL is to music. Both aspire to nothing more than parody.

          Christopher Moore is to authors as Bright Eyes is to music. Something vampire-y about both.

        • Gloria says:

          The Onion/Weird Al thing is genius. But I have to reject the Bright Eyes one. I love CM so much. Lamb is the funniest thing I’ve ever read in my life. Bright Eyes, on the other hand, has The Grateful Dead Affect on me – he/they make me want to punch kittens. I’ll think of something…

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