Can't women write 'large'?

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Never one to shy away from controversy, veteran feminist warrior Germaine Greer has kicked off a new controversy in the blogosphere. In writing about Malcolm Gladwell's new book "The Outliers," Greer asked why women don't write "big idea" books.

Then she answered her own question.

Of Gladwell's book, she said, (which tries to explain why certain people achieve success above and beyond the boundaries of the norm), "His maleness resounds from every monomaniacal sentence. There is no answer to everything, and only a deluded male would spend his life trying to find it."

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Women, she added, have too much good sense to try to offer unified answers to such sprawling questions. "They are more interested in understanding than explaining, in describing rather than accounting for," she said.

It seems she managed to rile both sexes with this one.

While men did not come off very well in her comments (she included writers Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and AC Grayling in her scorn for males who go for overarching explanations), women writers and their advocates did not necessarily like the idea that they are less likely to tackle big themes.

"We're not entirely convinced," says a post on mediabistro's GalleyCat. "Right off the top of our head we thought of Susan Faludi and Naomi Klein [American and Canadian] in the 'explain it all' category."

"The world is awash with fantastic young women [writing about important subjects]," Lisa Jardine, director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at Queen Mary, University of London, told the Independent, "but the men are too busy looking at themselves in the mirror to notice."

The piece in the Independent went on to name a few more women writers of broad scope, including A.S. Byatt and Ruth Padel.

Of course there also were those who agreed with Greer that women writers are less likely to go for the big books – but for different reasons. Karen Armstrong (who, as the author of books like "A History of God," can't be accused of writing "small"), says she thinks such books are simply out of style, at least in the academic realm.

"I think the current trend in academe is actually against the 'Big Book,' " she told the Independent. "The fashion in academia is, as I see it, to polish a small area of expertise and become an expert in that."

Maybe. But that's probably not going to prevent "Outlier" from a nice long run on the bestseller lists.

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