I just happened to be on twitter yesterday evening when tweets came through about the articles in the weekend's Daily Telegraph and The Observer. Needless to say, so were a few others and a debate ensued. What surprised me then was how this was suddenly news. It had been debated before, on a couple of blogs, at the time Jessica Mann's original article was published in Standpoint Magazine. But what appalled me yesterday was the inaccuracy in the reporting and it has now spread across the net today.
First the DT. The headline was "Book reviewer quits over 'increasing sexist violence'". Well, no, she hasn't actually. In Standpoint Mann concluded "So however many more outpourings of sadistic misogyny are crammed on to the bandwagon, no more of them will be reviewed by me."
The Observer. The headline was accurate, but oh no, the standfirst then said "Leading novelist says graphic depictions of sadistic misogyny have become so extreme she refuses to review any more fiction". Again, no, Mann did not say she wasn't going to review any more fiction. See above.
Today, this piece of news has been picked up across the Alantic. Canada's Quill & Quire carries the heading: "Novelist stops reviewing because of rampant misogyny in crime fiction". The first paragraph ends "…that she’s giving up reviewing any more fiction". (Again see above.) The New York Times kept it short and snappy and accurate. The New Yorker also managed to maintain accuracy on Mann's words but shunted off into the big feminist debate.
Now for some perspective. Jessica Mann is declining to read crime novels of a certain type. These are the ones she sees as:
"Each psychopath is more sadistic than the last and his victims' sufferings are described in detail that becomes ever more explicit, as young women are imprisoned, bound, gagged, strung up or tied down, raped, sliced, burned, blinded, beaten, eaten, starved, suffocated, stabbed, boiled or buried alive."
On this morning's Today programme, she was given just over five minutes to debate her thoughts, along with Selina Walker, Publishing Director at Transworld with responsibility for their crime list. You can listen to that section here. But for the perspective, do note that Mann said this type of novel for her was "a very small proportion" and probably less than one tenth of the 600 crime novels published annually in the UK.
She added that this "small proportion of books will not be in my review list any more".
So she's not giving up, she's merely passing on a few that don't suit her tastes and she's had the courage to say so. I'd guess that others have already been doing this for a while, but in silence.