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July 18, 2013

Jennifer Weiner Vs. the World

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Photo Credit: Peter Yang

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In the 12 years since, as chick lit has fallen out of favor, her genre now elicits sneering (if it elicits anything at all) from reviewers, Weiner grouses. Not so for lighter works by men. "The New York Times does a regular column about thrillers and mysteries. Some of them are by women, most of them are by men," she explains. "I think the idea is that this is a genre that men are consuming and thus has become worthy of notice. What I'm saying is that genres of fiction that women consume are also worthy of notice." 

Weiner isn't the lone critic of these inequities—writers Jodi Picoult and Meg Wolitzer have also spoken out about the issue. But what makes Weiner so much more polarizing is her willingness to name names. And name them she does. She dissed National Book Award winner Jonathan Franzen, whom she said was lavished attention by the publishing establishment at the expense of other worthy authors when his 2010 novel, Freedom, came out. (While Franzen declined to comment for this story, his agent, Susan Golomb, e-mailed, "There isn't anything wrong with prominently reviewing the first novel in nine years from a writer whose previous novel was short-listed for every major prize in the country.") When Pulitzer Prize winner Weiner, who told a reporter, "I'm sure she has just no clue that these books she's reviled may have in some teeny, tiny way made her show possible."

Of Paris Review editor Lorin Stein, who called demands to review more chick lit as "fake populism," Weiner said, "I think it's hilarious that a guy who went to Sidwell Friends, Yale, and Johns Hopkins; favors made-to-measure Lord Willys shirts; and snacks on charcuterie...is presuming to lecture anyone on what constitutes true populism." Last summer, she shelled out about $10,000 out of her own pocket to run an online ad mocking a Times Square billboard for Jeffrey Eugenides' latest novel. Weiner's ad read, "Jeffrey Eugenides doesn't have a book this summer, but Jennifer Weiner has...The Next Best Thing." And then there was last year's epic dustup with New York Times Magazine scribe Andrew Goldman, whom Weiner ripped for asking actress Tippi Hedren if she had ever considered sleeping with director Alfred Hitchcock. Goldman, on Twitter, replied, "Little Freud in me thinks you would have liked at least the opportunity to sleep [your] way to the top." (That barb cost Goldman a four-week suspension.) 

"You do get labeled jealous, bitter, strident, angry, as if angry's the worst thing they can say," Weiner declares. "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention." Worth noting is that she's a relentless cheerleader for emerging female writers—she frequently promotes up-and-comers on her book tours and liberally offers to blurb their books. Jami Attenberg, author of last year's critically acclaimed The Middlesteins, says that even before her novel was published, Weiner heavily promoted it to her 68,000 Twitter followers, though the pair didn't even know each other. "I've also heard from other authors that if Jennifer decides to throw her weight behind a book, she can really help launch it," says Attenberg. "Her support of other female authors has always been extremely valuable. Her readers love her and pay attention to what she says." 

Like earlier this summer, when she drew a packed house to a reading in New York City with writers Sarah Pekkanen and Elizabeth LaBan. After all these years, Weiner easily commands a room like this and regaled the crowd with funny anecdotes, including one amusing bit about how, at Disney World recently, her daughter announced that she wanted to be a Jewish princess. The cavernous room echoed with laughter. Afterward, Weiner was quickly flanked by crowds of smiling, chatty fans, many carrying a copy of their favorite Weiner novel and angling for some face time. @jenniferweiner


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