Review: In the Land of Men by Adrienne Miller
I first heard about In the Land of Men in The New Yorker. It sounded like the perfect memoir for me: covering feminism, sexism, and publishing - some of my favourite topics! After scouring the internet, I'd given up hope until I found a copy in my favourite independent book shop in London; another good sign (as they seem to only sell books that I enjoy and want to buy). Unfortunately, I feel like I've been slightly misled with this one...
Adrienne Miller got her lucky break when she was hired as an editorial assistant at GQ magazine in the mid-nineties. Even if its sensibilities were manifestly mid-century—the martinis, powerful male egos, and unquestioned authority of kings—GQ still seemed the red-hot centre of the literary world. It was there that Miller began learning how to survive in a man’s world. Three years later, she forged her own path, becoming the first woman to take on the role of literary editor of Esquire, home to the male writers who had defined manhood itself.
This book wasn't terrible. But ultimately, I think it was grossly misled! Even the front cover says 'a memoir' which seems a push when the book follows one storyline, never discusses 'a bigger picture' and the author ends the book at the age of 30. Is this an acceptable age to write a memoir? Miller discusses one thing at length: her relationship with a writer called David, the author of Infinite Jest. I have never read this book, but she consistently talks about how she idolised this man and his book, even stating that it changed an entire literary landscape. Not only did she continually talk about this man (who frankly read as a highly unpleasant person and extremely egotistical) but I felt exceeding uncomfortable that in the 9 years of her life that the book covers, she mentions her current husband a small handful of times, but this David character is consistently the focus of her attention and praise. I wonder how he felt when he read the manuscript...
David is talked about as much as she talks about herself - another unusual trait for a memoir. I have to stress again, it literally says 'a memoir' on the cover. This could be his memoir as much as it could be hers. I also found this bothersome, seeing as she has clearly achieved a huge amount by the time she is 30 - excelling in her job, breaking boundaries in her industry and being promoted to high positions at such a young age - therefore I was irritated that she spent half of her own story, talking about a man she dated and how she fell for him.
Seeing as she is working at a men's magazine such as GQ, and consequently spending much of her time with male colleagues, I was expecting there to be a conversation on 'the bigger picture' of sexism in the workplace. This conversation never came to fruition and ultimately she touched on some of her unpleasantries that she encountered, but I was expecting more. There was a couple of pages that discussed how she was being paid half what another male editor was being paid, being sexually assaulted by a famous writer, and consistently being pestered by people asking her who she had to sleep with to get the role. I wanted more of this throughout the book as opposed to just being very briefly touched on. It felt like an opportunity missed, and ultimately, felt like the downfall of the book.
Overall, I did somewhat enjoy my time reading In the Land of Men. However, besides there being some interesting extracts on blatant publishings of sexism within the magazine, the book never tackled feminism and sexism in any real or purposeful way. I learned a valuable lesson though: book parties sound like the most entertaining night of your life, and simultaneously sound like absolute hell. If you can go into this book not expecting the feminist masterpiece I was hoping for, you may not be disappointed. Unfortunately, I was expecting something very different.
Initial Prediction: 4.5 stars
Final Rating: 3 stars
Publication Date: 11 February 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir
# of Pages: 340