I have no idea how the New York Times editors decide what to cover in the INSIDE THE LIST column...but I like to imagine the discussion going something like this.
Editor one: Looks like Jodi Picoult’s new book is going to debut at number one.
Editor two: (Blank look): Jodi Who?
One: You know. Jodi Picoult. The lady who writes books about real people facing ethical dilemmas?
Two: Real what?
One: Never mind. Look, it’s a huge best-seller, and we really should say something. I mean, her readers, Times readers…lots of overlap there.
Two: Didn’t we just write about some lady-book bestseller? That mommy-porn thing? Shouldn’t that buy us, like, a month? And at least two more profiles of Nicholson Baker?
One: (Placating). Look, it’s not like I’m saying we have to review the book or anything crazy. But this column’s called Inside the List. Which means that maybe we should actually mention the books that are on the bestseller list. Every once in a while.
Two (Sulking): I don’t like writing about popular fiction, unless I get to make fun of it. That’s why I’m an editor at a mainstream newspaper with a diverse readership which nevertheless permits – nay, encourages – its publishing reporters to ignore most of the books people actually enjoy, especially if they’re written and enjoyed by women.
Two: Oops. Sorry. (Whispering) Forgot I’m not supposed to talk about that in public. (Then) Look, can’t we just write about Chad Harbach some more? He was on the list!
One: He doesn’t have a book on the bestseller list right now.
Two: Yeah, but he did. Remember?
One: I do. But, given that it took him nine years to write the first one, we might not get to talk about him for a bit. Now, this Picoult book. It deals with organ donation, end-of-life decisions, complex family dramas. Oh, and it’s got a protagonist who lived with a wolf pack. She did a lot of research. Maybe we can talk about that?
Two (brightening): Hey, wait a minute! Wasn’t she one of those lady writers who hates Jonathan Franzen?
One: Well, technically, those lady writers weren’t complaining about Franzen, per se, but, rather, the disparate amounts of attention given to men versus women, and literary versus commercial fiction in mainstream...
Two: Yeah, yeah. Probably Josie was just jealous of Franzen. Can we write about Franzen?
One (Slowly): So, instead of writing about Jodi Picoult and her number-one bestselling book, you want to write about Jonathan Franzen.
Two: Well, we can mention Joanie’s book. Throw her a bone. And then we can talk about she doesn’t like Franzen, and then we can talk about Franzen! (Happily). I like talking about Franzen. You know he hates Twitter, right?
One: Okay, but given the number of people who read Jodi’s…
One: Yes, but did you happen to see those VIDA statistics about how the Times has been reviewing more books by men than by...
One: Look, it’s getting a little embarrassing with all of the…
Two: FRANZEN FRANZEN FRANZEN!
In non-Franzen news, Liz Moore, author of HEFT, and I are going to be reading and talking on Thursday night at Headhouse Books in Philadelphia at 7 p.m.. Join us for lively conversation and dessert!