January 29, 2003: Reading Room
Photo: Weiner records her thoughts on life and culture in her online diary, SnarkSpot. (Jerry Bauer)
Although Jennifer Weiner 91 worked for a decade as a journalist, covering everything from the Pillsbury Bake-Off to Wrestlemania, she says she never wanted to be either Woodward or Bernstein. I wanted to be Nora Ephron, writing funny things about funny places.
Over the past two years, Weiner has done just that, escaping journalism and landing instead on the bestseller lists. Her first novel, Good in Bed (2001), has sold a half-million copies, and her follow-up novel, In Her Shoes (Atria) about two sisters who share a shoe size but nothing else recently arrived in bookstores to promising reviews. People magazine proclaimed it an entertaining romp through family battles and toxic relationships, while Entertainment Weekly suggested that Weiner hasnt lost a bit of her knack for page-turning soap operatics.
To Weiner, a connoisseur of kitsch and pop culture, soap operatics is not necessarily a slur. My work tends to get written about as chick lit, and theres not much I can do about that, says Weiner, an English major at Princeton. But at least they call it smarter, funnier chick lit.
In Good in Bed, Weiner created a character modeled loosely on herself Candace Shapiro, a plus-sized Philadelphia Examiner reporter and Princeton alum who goes by Cannie so that people wont be tempted to make fun of her weight by calling her Candy. She started working on the novel when I got dumped, says Weiner, who lives in Philadelphia. I was moping around, sounding like a bad Britney Spears song. I wanted to write a novel in the voice of a girl who had been dumped like that.
In Her Shoes maps the tempestuous relationship between Rose Feller, a brainy, zaftig lawyer, and her sister Maggie, whos zany, svelte, and out-of-control; the narrative asks whether these opposites can find common ground in sorting through their complicated family life.
Weiner draws on her Princeton experience in both books. At one point, Cannie considers opening a muffin shop before fretting about her classmates reactions upon seeing the news in PAW. And in In Her Shoes, Maggie spends part of her Princeton career living in a forgotten book-repair room in Firestone Library.
Weiner revels in sarcasm. Rather than posting a basic bio on her Web site (www.jenniferweiner.com), Weiner offers a cheeky résumé that mocks herself, her mother, and Wendell, her small, spotted, anxious rat terrier. Last year, Weiner unveiled a regularly updated web-log, called SnarkSpot to record her thoughts on life, culture, and whatevers going on today everything from observations about her book tour to complaints about lame TV shows.
Now her cockeyed view of life and relationships may be headed to the screen: Fox 2000 has optioned the rights to In Her Shoes for a feature film, and negotiations to turn Good in Bed into an HBO television series are under way. Ive made them promise they wont call it No Sex in the Other City, Weiner says.
By Louis Jacobson 92
Louis Jacobson is a staff correspondent at National Journal magazine in Washington.
The success of Eric Schlosser 81s first book, Fast Food Nation a critical look at the American fast-food industry, from dangerous working conditions in meatpacking plants to relentless advertising aimed at young children took the author by surprise. A history major at Princeton, he did stints, he says, as an unsuccessful playwright and novelist before turning to investigative nonfiction, citing John McPhee 53s course, The Literature of Fact, as both an inspiration and a gold-standard for his writing. His next book, Reefer Madness, is due out this spring, and hes working on another about the nations prison system. Schlosser spoke with PAWs Kathryn Beaumont 96. Click here for the complete interview.
Why did you write Fast Food Nation?
Editors at Rolling Stone had read the piece I wrote for the Atlantic Monthly that was about illegal immigration, the history of farm labor all these complex economic issues that I told through a very simple thing: a strawberry. And Rolling Stone asked me to do the same thing for fast food. To take this commodity that we all eat without ever thinking about it and go behind the counter and show how the system operates. I really wasnt sure how interested I would be in it, to be honest with you I mean, I ate fast food.
After writing about the sometimes unsanitary production of fast food, do you eat it anymore?
I still eat the same food. I just dont eat it at the same places. I just dont want to give these companies any of my money. My kids were really not happy when I said they couldnt go to McDonalds anymore. They were younger then, but they survived it. They still get to eat all kinds of junk food, and they still get to eat French fries, but just in smaller doses. Im not a vegetarian, and my kids still eat meat, but they dont get to eat ground beef because Im concerned about the health risks.
Whats the motivation behind your investigative pieces?
A lot of what Ive been writing about whether its migrant workers or meat-packing workers or the war on drugs is taking things that I think are important and trying to get people to think about them. Behind all of my writing is the feeling that, this is important, and people should know.
How did the ideas for your next book come about?
A marijuana piece that I wrote for the Atlantic Monthly was the story of a pot-smoking hippie biker who got a sentence of life without parole in federal prison for his first marijuana crime. His case made me really think about prisons and about what we are doing with our prison system and who we are sending to prison and why. That storys part of Reefer Madness. And investigating the war on drugs led me to write about prisons.
We have two million people in prison, and most of them are illiterate, emotionally impaired drug abusers who shouldnt be in prison. No society in human history has ever imprisoned this many people for committing crimes. Because these people tend to be black or Latino, they dont get the same attention they would if they were white, so its much more of a challenge to get people to care about whats happening in our prisons than to get them to care about whats happening in our fast food restaurants.
Its Time Reginald Gibbons 69 (Louisiana). Covering a breadth of ideas and feelings, the author explores human consciousness and love, identity, and perception in this, his seventh book of poetry. Included in this collection are poems titled The Nature of Thought, Mortal Men, and Stop a mothers conversation with her child. Gibbons is a professor of English at Northwestern University and the recipient of numerous awards for his poetry and fiction.
The Deed Keith Blanchard 88 (Simon and Schuster). Blanchard has written a comic first novel about a New York City single guy named Jason, whose meaningless postcollege existence is interrupted by Amanda, a beautiful law student searching for the long-lost deed to Manhattan Island. She believes Jason is the only living heir to Manhattan, and together they search for the document but must contend with a New York crime family along the way. Blanchard is editor-in-chief of Maxim magazine.
Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification Simon A. Cole 89 (Harvard). This history reviews the development of criminal identification, from photography to fingerprinting to DNA typing. Cole explores the relationships between state power, science and technology, and issues of identity, bringing into question the accuracy of criminal science. He also addresses peoples anxiety about the role of technology in society. Cole is an assistant professor of criminology, law, and society at the University of California, Irvine.
The Spiritual Chicks Question Everything: Learn to Risk, Release, and Soar Tami Coyne and Karen Weissman *89 (Red Wheel). A guide for people looking for a more spiritual day-to-day life. The authors begin each chapter by posing a question such as Do I need to go to church (synagogue, mosque, or a mountain top)? and I have a hard time meditating; can I still be spiritual? Weissman teaches courses in metaphysics in New York City. Coyne is a spiritually oriented career and life coach. For a profile of Karen Weissman go to www.princeton.edu/paw.
Land of Enchanters: Egyptian Short Stories from the Earliest Times to the Present Day edited by Bernard Lewis and Stanley Burstein (Markus Wiener). A collection of stories spanning the cultures of the Nile valley from ancient times to today, including Greek and Roman culture, Christianity, and Islam. Among the stories are The Dream of Nectanebo, about the Persian defeat of Nectanebo II and the reconquest of Egypt, and Saint Pisentius and the Jealous Man, about Pisentius, bishop of Coptos. Lewis is Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, emeritus. Burstein is a professor of history at California State University in Los Angeles.Moy Sand and Gravel Paul Muldoon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Muldoons ninth book of verse incorporates a rich variety of subjects, from Marilyn Monroe and Oscar Wilde to a loaf of bread and beagles. The volume concludes with Muldoons re-creation of William Butler Yeatss A Prayer for My Daughter. Muldoon is Howard G. B. Clark 21 University Professor in the Humanities.
By Jeanne Alnot 04