To the editor:
I write to add to what I suspect is a pile of letters complaining of the sexism in Michael Solot’s review of Nicholson Baker’s latest novel, The Fermata, “Reading: A Man and His Hand,” in the April 15 issue of the Reader. Although Baker’s self-indulgent obsession with quality masturbating is worth at least one good and disparaging review, Solot’s attack on Baker’s career meanders from dead end to dead end (including a particularly antiquated equation of masturbation with “self-abuse”) until it finds an apparent target in the following ugly passage:
“It may be another clue to his success that the insights in a book like The Fermata, for all its whacking priapism, are really quite feminine. I don’t mean just that Baker spends a lot of time on hair, clothes, and the minutiae of female bodies–those are his raw materials, after all. It’s that his observational beam, though intense, is also intensely myopic: it can see only what happens to cross right before his eyes–or pass through his mind–at any moment. . . . What [Baker’s books] all have in common is that their gaze is directed inside to feeling, memories, and anxieties–not outward in the masculine way.”
Suddenly, it all falls into place. Baker is not most to blame for not dealing with weightier issues than masturbation or for delighting in tasteless and predictable objectifications of women; rather, the problem is that he’s not man enough. It’s for the frailer sex to lie around and dwell on the trivia of their sexual makeup. As for men, let’s have some manly stuff about sexual conquest. I mean, seriously, what rock did you find this guy under?