I am obsessed with the ongoing Jennifer Weiner “quality” culture wars. This issue goes way beyond books right now (see the weird second-class seating arrangements for tv people at the Golden Globes on Sunday), but books have a particularly interesting role in the debate because reading has a strange aura of quality in and of itself. When you talk about reading a lot of books, people say “good for you.” They never say that about listening to a lot of radio, or watching epic amounts of tv.
I have a pretty strong position on this. I think that there is a bounty of highly sophisticated, subversive, and just plain good middlebrow media right now (see ABC Family’s entire set of programming, US Weekly’s copy, the genius of Buzzfeed, the strange performance art of youtube stars etc). I think critics should review more of it for two reasons:
1. These are dense texts overflowing with both subversive queerness AND the normative being formed right before our eyes. In other words, Weiner’s books are more complicated, weird and sensitive to issues of class, race, disability, and gender than most fancy people (who haven’t read them) think they are. And sometimes they are boring. We should talk about the difference.
2. Actual criticism, not just comical recaps, is a discipline that critics model for normal people so they can replicate it in their own lives and have A) more fun conversations about things outside themselves B) sharper brains (good for lots of things including democracy–yes I went there). More people have consumed middle brow culture than high brow culture, so the probability of actually understanding the criticism being modeled by critics would rise. For example, many many people have read Weiner and they deserve smart criticism of those books in order to become better cultural critics themselves. That’s why the New York Times should review her books.