Recently, a writer-friend, Robyn Bradley, shared an article titled, The 10 Grumpiest Living Writers. Being not much of a grumpy writer myself (if anything, I veer the other way), I was compelled to take a look.
It was an interesting list (headed by Jonathan Franzen), but what I found most intriguing was a comment made by V.S. Naipaul, who apparently didn’t consider any female writer his equal: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
My first thought was not utter shock and disgust, as one might think (or maybe it was). Instead, it was, I think I know what he’s talking about.
Not about women writers being unequal to men, of course. Let’s not get crazy. But I understand the idea of reading a piece of writing and being able to tell, just by the language used, whether it was written by a man or woman. This happens particularly with thrillers, where I’ll start to read and think to myself, “This was SO written by a man.” What’s the tip off? Usually, something feels inauthentic or contrived about the presentation of a woman’s thoughts or motivations. I don’t sense it all the time. Just now and then. It might be one sentence in an entire novel that gives it away.
And I do think that can be problematic, mostly because writing, if it’s done right, should be invisible to the reader. I’m not saying we shouldn’t know if a book was written by a man or woman — we know that going in unless the author uses a pen name. But I guess I feel like I shouldn’t be REMINDED of that fact while I read.
Actually, part of the reason I wanted to become a thriller writer was so that I could try to produce a novel where the reader is, as Naipaul suggests, unable to tell if the author is male or female. It was important for me that Baby Grand appeal to the sensibilities of both men and women and that I create objective (perhaps it’s the journalist in me…) portraits for characters of both sexes. Having read Naipaul’s comment, now I’ll wonder if those reading Baby Grand will exclaim after just a few paragraphs: “This was SO written by a woman.”
But my hope is that they’ll be unsure and have to recheck the book cover.
What do you think? Do you write like a girl? Or a guy? And does it matter?