Friday, April 29, 2005

Criminal tendencies

The Book Standard features an article by Gerald Bartell in which he reports the views of Otto Penzler, a well known crime fiction editor and publisher.

Penzler's view, apparently, is that female authors of crime fiction are not worthy of being given the Edgar Award for Best Novel of the Year. The Edgars, by the way, are awarded annually by the Mystery Writers of America organisation, which is a club drawing its membership from published crime writers. Each year they give a series of Edgars (named after the alleged founder of the crime story, Edgar Allan Poe) in various categories, such as Best Novel, Best Young Adult, et cetera. Naturally, only crime fiction books are eligible.

Penzler's argument, if he is correctly quoted, is that women write only 'cozies' -- crime books of an old-fashioned, non-threatening, domestic kind. In these cozy novels, murders get done without much blood, and the butler often dunnit. Such books, according to Penzler, 'are not serious literature. They don't deserve to win.' They tend to contain recipes too, he adds. And references to cats. And they just don't cut the mustard, not with ole Otto.

OK, so if women don't deserve to win the Best Novel award, who does? Men, naturally. 'Men take [writing] more seriously as art. Men labor over a book to make it literature.' And it only seems to count if it's hardboiled. That's the stuff for best book. At least according to Penzler.

Dear me. I haven't read such a load of old bollocks since I don't know when. Well, since the last time I read anything by a professor of English Literature, actually.

Even if I thought Penzler was right, which I certainly don't, I would still make the forecast that several tons of bricks are about to fall on his head. Offending all those readers of cozies, and offending every woman in America as well? What's he up to? Trying to find a quick way to commit suicide?

In any case, this whole hardboiled = art = literature = good, and cozies = non-art = entertainment = bad, is clearly complete drivel from start to finish. For a more detailed explanation of why, see chapter 5 of The Truth about Writing.

14 comments:

Sarah N said...

Well said. I 'really' dislike it when people start talking like that. It makes me rant in ways that no one but me will understand. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

"Cosies"?
I hope Ms. Rendell, Ms. McDermid and all the others respond to this. Mr. Penzler should know better after all his years in publishing!

Susan Abraham said...

What an exceptionally interesting subject to write about, Michael, although of course, I don't believe Penzler for a minute.
And he may taste eventually a real slice of hellish fury with such fabulous female authors scorned. And I don't think the venom that comes his way may be anywhere in the line of domesticity...
enjoy your bank holiday by the way, cheers

Debra Hamel said...

How absurd! Thanks for drawing our attention to it. I should think, actually, that cozies are more likely to be "literary" than hardboiled novels because they are, I should think, generally more character driven. But I hesitate to say anything, really, because it doesn't make sense to claim that any type of book is inherently "not serious literature."

Anonymous said...

It's time that all of his prejudices were exposed. OP is a very bigoted man and this is just one more example of it.

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