I enjoyed Adam Gopnik, the New Yorker writer, last night on Charlie Rose to eulogize J. D. Salinger, even though Gopnik is sometimes so articulate as to be glib; he churns out those complete-sentence responses like an eager-to-please student. I like him okay, but I’m not a huge fan.
I enjoy his talking about writers, however, because he expresses his admiration without envy or back-handed compliments. He really loves Salinger’s work and reminded me how good the stories are. I’d forgotten how much I liked the Glass family.
Then today, I saw online that Gopnik had made a similar appearance when John Updike died, and I watched it. Again, he was articulate, generous, and smart in his assessment of Updike’s brilliance.
Here’s my complaint, though. In both appearances, two hours of high-falutin’ talk about “American literature” or even just “literature,” Gopnik and Mr. Rose made mention of only one woman: Virginia Woolf. Also, in passing, Jane Austen, but only because Woolf herself referred to Austen in A Room of One’s Own.
I wasn’t even noticing all this white-maleness at first. (See “Ten Bests” post, below, in a similar vein.) But when Gopnik praised Salinger’s pitch-perfect ear for the American idiom (more acute, he said, than any other writer), I thought, “What about Eudora Welty?” and realized that she’s always left out of these conversations.
Not so Sinclair Lewis, Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald, William Dean Howells, Twain, James Joyce, Phillip Roth…Dozens of writers’ names tripped off Gopnik’s tongue, lots of references to tradition and style and language and the rest, but nary a reference to Toni Morrison, Edith Wharton, Joyce Carol Oates, Willa Cather, Alice Munro (okay, she’s Canadian, but still), or my beloved Welty. And no mention, while we’re at it, of James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison or Richard Wright.
Like so many “bests” lists, like so many such discussions, this conversation proceeded as though only white men write books. Gopnik and Rose are, I’m sure, well-intentioned men who realize the significance of the women’s movement and the civil-rights movement. They just forget, sometimes, that women and black people exist.