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Arts and Letters


Upon the publication of Lucky Girls, author-to-be Curtis Sittenfeld evaluates the Nell Freudenberger backlash for Salon. I knew Nell decently well in college and, although I haven’t read her full book yet (I just ordered it, and expect to attend the reading tonight), I suspect Sittenfeld is right in noting (however snarkily) that the literary grousing in certain circles has more to do with frightful envy than with Nell’s ostensible luck. Whether or not she fell into good fortune with the New Yorker story, it’s pretty clear to all who meet her that Nell is not only smart and talented but also remarkably down-to-earth, and I very sincerely doubt she would have escaped notice for long. In sum, she earned her big break, and most of those who’d think otherwise are just trafficking in sour grapes.

Update: The Complete Review, cited in the Sittenfeld piece (and this entry) as backlash central (and an otherwise compelling source of literary info, as far as I can tell), responds to the Freudenberger furor, in part by complaining about my “typically American sense of entitlement.” (Continentals, it seems, appreciate much better the formative value of laboring away in penury and obscurity for years – no silver platters for them!) I don’t particularly want to get in a flame war with another site about something as unoffending as Nell’s success — why begrudge her this moment? Nevertheless, two points:

1) The Saloon claims they must continue to harp on Freudenberger because the hits and search-requests demand it, which anyone who keeps a weblog knows is disingenuous. If site content was dictated by search requests, I’d be posting essays on “Sex Machines” and “WTC Ghosts” every week.

2) I think the Saloon does clarify their position to where there’s an inkling of point to be had: “The big issue we’ve had, from the first, with Freudenberger, and the reason we’ve harped on her case so is that she got a fat contract (two, actually, one from Ecco/HarperCollins and one from Picador UK) without having written practically anything.” The doling out of literary contracts is clearly an important state-of-the-industry issue that deserves coverage and note by journals like the Saloon. But, again, arguing that Nell isn’t receiving undue condemnation from the Saloon and other outlets because she’s “pretty and went to Harvard” is also disingenuous. After all, I don’t see the Saloon publishing fake dialogues entitled, “Whoa Jon Foer!,” and critiquing his back-of-the-book sartorial sense. (Full Disclosure: Jon’s brother Frank is a friend and former colleague of mine, and I personally wouldn’t hold Foer’s success against him either – there’s that sense of entitlement again.) In sum, the Saloon can argue good intentions all the live-long day, but it’s pretty clear from the levels of snark exhibited in their Freudenberger posts that the site’s opprobium for her reflects less wholesome motives than dispassionate, just-the-facts-ma’am coverage of the literary scene. Schadenfreudenberger, perhaps?


2 Responses to “Schadenfreudenberger.”

  1. re: #1 – here are the top CR search referrals. They are being perfectly reasonable.

    548 3.36% review
    543 3.33% literary
    541 3.32% freudenberger
    538 3.30% nell
    492 3.02% saloon
    484 2.97% the
    222 1.36% and
    195 1.19% book
    132 0.81% new
    113 0.69% amis
    112 0.68% figes
    106 0.65% dog
    104 0.63% yellow
    94 0.57% summary
    84 0.51% literarysaloon
    83 0.51% james
    82 0.50% polonsky
    76 0.46% quicksilver
    73 0.44% stephenson
    72 0.44% 2003
    71 0.43% times
    69 0.42% houellebecq

    Posted by Baloney | October 6, 2003, 6:39 pm
  2. Um, no, not really. The Saloon is under no obligation to report on their top referrers, for the same reasons that I don’t much discuss apparitions or sexual aids on this blog. Besides, referrer stats are more often than not reflections of arcane google procedures, not the actual readership.

    Posted by Kevin | April 20, 2004, 10:18 pm

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