I was going to write about OJ, but then his book got cancelled, and I was going to write about Thanksgiving, but now it’s all over except for the as-yet-unpacked suitcases and the vat of gravy congealing in my fridge, so instead I’m going to write about how thankful I am that Caitlin Flanagan is no longer writing for The New Yorker.
The New York Observer reports that the ouster of the East Coast liberal establishment’s pet may have something to do with Flanagan’s ’05 piece on Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers, chunks of which appear to have been lifted from a Travers bio.
Flanagan’s response? Well, she didn’t exactly answer the charges, preferring to let patron/Atlantic editor Benjamin Schwarz tell the commoners that his onetime protégé is making too much money from her books to need that New Yorker gig (an argument which undoubtedly broke the hearts of Flanagan fans, who would have wished for something more along the lines of, “Since I believe that working mothers are bad mothers, and I’ve recently remembered I have children, I’ve decided to go home and take care of them full time, lest they give so much as a single hug to the nanny instead of me while I'm travelling the world for The New Yorker.”)
As an excuse, it’s a pretty poor one, especially since the Observer points out that Flanagan’s much-ballyhooed TO HELL WITH ALL THAT sold a grand total of 8.700 copies.
8,700 copies would be a disappointing performance for a literary novel that was acquired for ten thousand dollars, written by a clubfooted, mute troll, and received zero review attention or publicity. For a book that was undoubtedly acquired for much more money, that was reviewed in the New York Times and the L.A. Times and the Wall Street Journal, and practically every other newspaper of note, whose media-savvy, witty, telegenic author was profiled in Elle and appeared everywhere from “The Today Show” to “The Colbert Report,” it’s flat-out shocking.
So why didn’t the publicity and the provocative prose translate into better sales?
My theory: readers will sit through a sermon from the Church Lady if it arrives in a magazine they’re getting anyhow.
I read Flanagan’s anti-nanny tirade in The Atlantic right after I’d hired a sitter to care for my daughter so that I could write a few afternoons a week, which was a terrible mistake (the reading, not the writing – coming across Flanagan’s screed was like winding up a familiar jack-in-the-box and having the devil pop out and punch you). I encountered her My Mother Left Me For a Job, That Bitch lament in The New Yorker. We subscribe to both magazines, so I didn’t even have to leave the comfort of my living room to learn that I was a BAD MOTHER who was selfishly short-changing her child.
It’s one thing to read that sort of assessment in a magazine you get anyhow. But how many women are going to shell out $24.95 for a book telling them they’re horrible mothers when they’ve already read chunks of the book in magazines? (Answer: 8,700 – especially given that Flanagan couldn’t even preach to the choir. Her own life story – raised in Berkeley, divorced, herself the employer of a nanny before she came to her senses, in a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment that seems to have coincided nicely with her children starting school – wasn’t likely to win her any fans on the right).
Ah, well. Happy trails to Caitlin.
And, in other news, because I don’t suck at motherhood all the time (just twenty hours a week), I was parent of the day at my daughter’s preschool this morning.
The letter of the day was "C". Book of the day: The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, Monday the caterpillar eats one apple. Tuesday, two plums. Things go on from there, until, by Saturday, the titular insect chows down on an entire picnic’s worth of food, giving him a stomach-ache, so on Sunday he just nibbles a leaf. “That’s what you’d do, too, if you ate all that food and your tummy hurt,” the teacher told the class.
One of the little girls (not mine) considered this thoughtfully. “Well, I’d just poop it out,” she said.