New York Times Reviewer Calls Jodi Kantor's "The Obamas" Chick Nonfiction

5 years ago

Stop the presses! Did you know that there's a whole new genre of nonfiction that has been heretofore unknown? It's true! New York Times reviewer Douglas Brinkley unveiled it in his recent review of Jodi Kantor's The Obamas and it's called "chick nonfiction." What does it mean? Nothing good.

From Brinkley's review:

The difference when a head of state's spouse performs an advisory role is that both the content and its consequences resonate through a lot more than one household. And that's the point of Jodi Kantor's new book, "The Obamas." Call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it's about marriage, or at least one marriage, and a notably successful one at that.

While Brinkley has mostly positive things to say about The Obamas, apparently a book about a political couple is not the same as a book about politics. And couples... well that's the stuff that women talk about, that's not a serious topic. Can't you just feel the imaginary pat on the head? I can.

I have to confess I rarely read the New York Times book section, which sounds really horrible coming from a book blogger, but it's true. I get most or my recommendations from my fellow book reviewers and the publishers I work with, and just don't personally see the need to read the Times. The books section of the NYT is big business despite the fact that I don't read it regularly, and when a term like "chick nonfiction" gets tossed around it it, people pay attention. People like Women in Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein aren't just going to let a comment like that fly by.

While most people might dismiss this term "chick nonfiction" as unimportant in a mostly positive review, I don't. I think it's very dangerous because it demeans the author as well as Michelle Obama and all that she does in their relationship and in her partnership with the President. It allows the reviewer to say: "On a couple of occasions, the tabloid scent in the book is so strong that one would be forgiven for thinking Kantor writes for Us Weekly, not The Times."

But what it really says to me, is that women just don't matter as much. Your stories and experiences are just not as important. Your stories are for US Magazine and not the NY Times. Just stay on your side of the building and let us dudes do the important stuff.

It would be easy to suggest that it's just another male author who thinks that a woman can't write about politics the same way as man can, but Jezebel's Anna North suggests it goes deeper than that:

Maybe Brinkley's thoughtlessly sending The Obamas to the pink ghetto because a lady wrote it -- but I think it goes deeper than that. I think Brinkley's whole approach speaks to the idea that marriage and relationships in general are somehow women's issues. Which makes it easy to dismiss them (to the detriment of many relationships) -- except when they affect our nation's government.

The New York Times has come under fire for its coverage of women-authored books in the past, most notably by author Jennifer Weiner. We all remember #Franzenfreude, right? Weiner's recent examination of the of NYT's books coverage in 2011 indicates that there's less inequality than there was previously. Head on over to see the numbers but note that she mentiones there is still plenty of room for improvement.

The Times showed improvement, at least in terms of fiction, in the two-review department, but the disparity between men and women who get that coveted two-reviews-plus-a-profile is still shocking.

Final thoughts? Like they say on the subways, if you see something, say something ... and if you don’t see something, say something about that, too.

Social media means that everyone gets a voice -- not just authors and publishers, but readers, too.

We do have a voice and we want to hear what you have to say. What do you think about the term "chick nonfiction"?

BlogHer Book Club Host Karen Ballum also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

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