Jonathan Franzen Loses Book Award To Some Lady

Illustration for article titled Jonathan Franzen Loses Book Award To Some Lady

Accomplished novelist Jennifer Egan won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her fascinating, innovative book A Visit From the Goon Squad. But one newspaper seemed more concerned with who didn't win: namely, Jonathan Franzen.

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So obsessed was the LA Times with Franzen's non-winning that it used a photo of him to illustrate its coverage of the award, rather than a pic of, say, the person who actually won. The caption, too, is a bit odd:

Jonathan Franzen, pictured above at a September event in Los Angeles, lost to Jennifer Egan's "A Visit From the Goon Squad." Franzen's publicized novel "Freedom" lost to Egan's innovatively structured work about characters involved in the music industry.

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Illustration for article titled Jonathan Franzen Loses Book Award To Some Lady

This makes it sound like the real news is not that Egan won, but that Franzen lost. The award is long-deserved for Egan, who has been turning out consistently stellar books since the nineties (and in case you're wondering what she looks like, that's her at left). Franzen's Freedom is a captivating novel in its own right, but as the Times's Carolyn Kellogg points out, it's already been "widely publicized" — on the day of Egan's triumph, it's a shame the LA Times couldn't focus its coverage on her.

Egan Beats Franzen In National Book Critics Circle's Fiction Prize [LA Times]

Jennifer Egan image via JenniferEgan.com

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DISCUSSION

It's particularly tone deaf when you consider that the heavy coverage of Freedom's release led to a conversation among women authors, critics, and others about whether women are under-reviewed or under-recognized in the realm of fiction, particularly literary fiction.

And as noted below, the author of the Times piece is a woman. The paper's editorial board is 40% female (though I should note that all of the top decision-making spots are occupied by men; all but one of the women on the 10-person board are writers, not editors). So this isn't just a question of getting a male perspective on the story. There is a systemic bias towards male authors in the publishing industry, that starts at the publication phase and follows through the critical review phase and into industry awards. Some might argue that men are just better writers. But how many of the people who would argue that position have read Egan and other female fiction writers? I'd be curious to know.