Welcome to the blog of the Consulting Editors Alliance. This is our forum for sharing views on the wonderful, bizarre, enormously frustrating and satisfying (depends on the day) world of book publishing and our roles in it as freelance editors, writing collaborators, and ghostwriters. Please join the conversation!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Schadenfreude-Women's Books?

I am reading the new translation of Madame Bovary, this one by Lydia Davis. The introduction tells us that the book is based on two actual stories, one woman a shopaholic and the other an adultress. The novel was really "faction" for Flaubert's time.

Certainly it is this book as well as Camille, Anna Karenina, The Bell Jar, novels and memoirs of women with big trouble that shaped my early career as an editor of women's fiction. Also these suffering women's stories that sold over time for lots of money formed my overarching theory of commercial publishing. Other people's problems make for great escape. And top sellers.

Over the summer I walked into the local Barnes & Noble and there in front was a table labeled Books of Affliction. Substance abusers practically back from the dead; eating disorder horror tales; victims of sexual and physical abuse; survivors of horrible incidents and illnesses. And all of them were women.

I am not sure when memoirs overtook the tales of fictional women in trouble. Perhaps it was the publication of Barbara Gordon's I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can, the story of the high powered TV exec's descent into valium addiction so terrible she had to be tied to a chair by her lover to constrain her anxiety, but it seems to me that was when other people's real problems began to be the winners in the melodrama competition. Or maybe that is just my marker. Anyway the point is they are all women.

So why women? Is it still true that men don't like to share their feelings? Or am I missing something? Enlighten me.


  1. Just to add a twist to your intereseting blog, Sandi, Flaubert has been quoted as saying, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi."

  2. Probably men are more reluctant, still, but then there's Bill Clegg's addiction memoir.
    Does Christopher Buckley count? I guess not. There was that book a few years ago by a
    James Merrill. I thought that was awfully good...pretty painful.

    I know some men, closest of friends, all terrifically smart and successful,
    who have had a weekly lunch group for about 30 years.
    When one of them was going through a bad patch in his marriage and had cancer, one of the
    other wives asked her husband what he was saying and how he was feeling. Her husband instantly
    exclaimed: "Oh, we never talk about anything like that!"
    Just jokes, sports, politics, please, we're men.

    Carole Lalli

  3. My apologies. The Merrill book I mentioned was about him and David Jackson: Familiar Spirits by Alison Lurie. It was a memoir however.

  4. Of course it is dangerous to generalize about people, and especially about a group as big as an entire gender. But it does seem that we American men are relatively uninterested in reading about the realities of our daily lives, at least as compared with women. Women's magazines are filled with articles about real-life issues--relationships, parenting, health and fitness, clothes, careers, etc.--all of which play a more peripheral role in most men's magazines.

    The question is why. Without claiming to have an answer, I'll observe that I would find it very boring to read about the problems I face in daily life. For practically all of them, I long ago figured out a basic coping strategy that works reasonably well for me, and I am not in the habit of constantly re-thinking it.

    Whereas it seems to me that, on the evidence of magazines, women are engaged in endless debates over issues like work-life balance, generational conflict, intra-gender competition versus friendship, etc. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that women's roles in our society are more unsettled than men's. I wonder.

  5. Echoing Karl's caution about generalizations, but intrigued as well, I might add that it seems to me that women tend to "think aloud" - in that they develop ideas by talking them through with people. It could be cultural but it could also be something primordial in the neurochemistry that's pleasurable to women when they connect and build bonds with others, which would have helped keep pair-bonds, families, and communities together. Many exceptions on both sides, of course.