Monday, April 04, 2005

I still think chick-lit is chewing gum

Since it's common for people to be cranky on Monday mornings, I figure we'd better start out with a disclaimer: This blog entry presents a highly biased view against a Certain Type of Book. If you enjoy reading (or writing) That Type of Book, I will not think less of you. Just as I don't think less of people who refuse to acknowledge the clear superiority of Godiva chocolates over any other confection. It takes all kinds of people to make an interesting world, after all.

If you're a chick-lit fan, please leave a comment below. You won't change my mind, but I'd love to see you try.

I keep hearing chick-lit lovers say the books are, like, so real. Okay, that scares me. Aren't they supposed to be satire? How many of the readers are getting that?

How many of the authors get that? Not a lot, from where I sit. Which is why I wasn't surprised to learn today that part of the genre that has always taken itself too seriously is trying to edge into the realm of "serious" self-help.

Hey, I was young once. I remember life back then, when everything was always about me. (With maturity you learn not be so painfully obvious about that.) If somebody wrote a novel poking fun at that kind of navel-gazing I would probably like it. But chick-lit authors have failed to arouse my interest because they try too hard to make their stories not just funny and smart, but "real". It's that pretention that turns me off.

Now it's getting even worse. Now there's a new generation of chick-lit, one that's taking itself even more seriously, because it's seriously offering lifestyle advice.
...female empowerment is about as meaningful in these books as it is in Jane and Cosmo. The Bridget-Sex [chick-lit] genre traffics in fiction while claiming to represent real life, and its greatest invention is that being a woman today is about incompetence and humiliation. Wacky anecdotes about dates with anal-obsessives and men who refuse to touch their lovers are supposed to be funny; beach-bag diversion for the emotionally traumatized. It’s fantasy packaged as self-improvement.

Remember Sex and the City? Women didn't laugh at that TV show, they bought the City girls' clothes, copied their hairstyles, started drinking Manhattans and "taking charge" of their lives. What was offered as entertainment was eagerly accepted as lifestyle advice. We've been seeing the same thing happen with the chick-lit novels; perhaps it was only a matter of time before chick-litty fluff was actually marketed as self-help books.

Back to chick-lit novels and why I don't like them. I've read Marian Keyes. Three of her books, as a matter of fact. While they were entertaining, that was because of Keyes's intelligence and wit and her wonderful way with words, not the subject matter. I prefer to think that most real-life people are a whole lot less shallow and self-absorbed than the ones in her books.

I didn't think Bridget Jones was all that cute or clever. Different, yes, but absolutely not worth the long ride it's had and all the imitations it has spawned. I realize I'm in the minority here. It's a fact that women are buying chick-lit as fast as publishers can ship the books. But I just don't get it.

And what I really don't get is why, when I saw yet another article on chick-lit, I clicked through and started reading. I don't need this subject running around in my head all day.

So I'm dumping it on you. Here. Go read this at CBC. Or at least click on the link so you can see the subheading and the great illustration.
Chick lit — in its original form and the new version 2.0 — can be liberating. Its success is a response to the smothering, simple-feminist notion that all our representations of women have to be ideal, that romance is a female rocket scientist and her stay-at-home mixed-race partner doing dishes together. But it’s bleak to think that the alternative to political correctness is this false, never-ending depiction of women’s lives as frivolous. Our preoccupations are not just shopping and sex, and our problems aren’t solvable with a wink and giggle and a new pair of shoes. Honey, sweetie, darling, a word of advice: please keep your fiction away from my reality.

Thank you.

I have given chick-lit a fair trial, and now I am rejecting it. Will somebody please point me to the novels for grownups?


Kristin said...

I think the problem I have is trying to quantify exactly what chick lit is. I am writing a book that I am having trouble categorizing for agents. I look at the Red Dress Ink line or any other "chick lit" line a publisher has and see these 'farcical' type of novels that you mention in your post...but I also see some more serious books about women and their lives that are in this "category" of fiction as well.

Either we need a new way to categorize books about women (mostly) for women, so that they don't all get heaped together into the "romance" pile, or we need to let people out there know there is more to 'chick lit' than books like "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "The Nanny Diaries."

I am not into traditional 'chick lit' either as I don't particularly understand these characters and what motivates them. I am still a tomboy at heart, I guess! Give me a sturdy pair of comfortable clogs over designer stiletto heels any day!

Brenda Coulter said...

Kristin, that "labeling" thing is always a problem, isn't it?

I agree that there's a lot more to chick-lit than Bridget Jones. I was speaking in very general terms. Marian Keyes's books were introduced to me (by my editor) as chick-lit, but I realize that not everyone would call them that.

By the way, will everyone indulge me for a moment and hit the "refresh" buttons on your browsers? I want to make sure you're seeing the most recent version of this page. I'm embarassed to admit that there are FOUR versions out there. I worked on this post off and on all morning, and as I was distracted by other things, I kept hitting "publish" when I meant to hit "save as draft".

Hey, it's Monday.

Heather Diane Tipton said...

LOL Uh, I write that chicklitty fluff. In my defense, I don't think it is true chicklit though. I'm writing it in first person and my h is sassy.
But I do agree about the "chicklit self-help" books. That is just nuts.
There is a lot of stuff out there being labeled chicklit that isn't true chicklit.
I do enjoy reading it too. Well some of it. I have my favorite author.

Brenda Coulter said...

Painful as it may be, Heather, I do recognize chick-lit's right to exist in the book world. ;-)

So, who's your favorite chick lit author? You left us hanging.

Heather Diane Tipton said...

Kristin Billerbeck is my favorite.
Painful for you is it, Brenda? LOL Sorry. But when I get mine pubbed you're going to read it right? ;-)

tristan coulter said...

Now be honest... how long did it take you to come up with the title of this blog entry? It's a brilliant quip.

Katie Hart said...

I've only read a limited amount of "lit" titles: 3 of chick-lit by Kristin Billerbeck (got the advance copy of her latest) - snappy, shallow, and loads of fun; 2 of lad lit by Ray Blackston - quirky, profound, and hilarious; and 1 of mom lit by Robin Jones Gunn, which bred no desire to read the sequels. Maybe it's the age factor.

Dee said...

I commented about the He's Just not that Into you Book a few months back when the authors were on Oprah. I thought the book created this notion that women sit around all day pondering over poor excuses for boyfriends.

On to chick lit...When I took a few Feminist Writing Courses in college, chick lit had a totally different meaning and most of the writing was short fiction. Somewhere between then and now(ten years) chick lit has changed into this monster where women are not actually in control and powerful. Now their material and sexual greed has made them Fendi toting charicatures. I wish chick lit went back to its original form.

Jaynie R said...

I've tried really hard to like chick lit, mostly because I've 'met' and liked some fabulous ladies that write it. It's just something I don't get. I think maybe it's because I'm not like those heroines - I can't relate to them. I'm not a girly girl. I don't hang out with my friends at a salad bar and talk about sex with the latest stud. I don't wear interesting clothes (I hate shopping lol - I can hear you all gasp), I don't understand the 'Does my butt look big in this?' question because, my butt would look big in a throw rug.

Of course I don't go out at night and hunt vampires either but for some reason I relate better to Buffy than Carrie Bradshaw. *g*

Brenda Coulter said...

Heather, I have not read Kristin Billerbeck; but yes, I will read your chick-lit when it's published.

Tristan, you wound me. You're just now figuring out that your mother is brilliant? What have I been telling you all these years?

Dee wrote, I thought the book created this notion that women sit around all day pondering over poor excuses for boyfriends.

Well, Dee, in chick-lit novels, that's what women do. Just like in real life. [Snort!] I think you nailed it with "Fendi-toting caricatures."

Jaynie, I hear you. But chick-lit is selling like mad. I wish one of its maniacally devoted readers would stop by here and tell us why so many young women are wild for the stuff.

Nicole said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Nicole. I really am curious about why people like those books so much.

And if you stop back by, maybe you will tell us which authors/books you have especially enjoyed.

BJ Deese said...

I've only read a handful of chick lit novels. Two that I loved the most were: BITE by C.J. Tosh and UNBECOMING BEHAVIOR by Stephanie Rowe. BITE is by far my favorite. The characters were absolutely hilarious. A group of friends start up a magazine called Bite, and the story revolves around that venture. It was a real adventure for me, and fun to learn about that industry. The book has two authors. One is a newspaper writer, and the other is a magazine editor. So, they are writing about a subject they are knowledgeable in. The next chic lit I read will be MAFIA CHIC by Erica Orloff. It sounds very entertaining.

Peggy said...

Hi there!
Just getting ready to bring Chick Lit into a new dimension. Stay tuned, you are going to love it! Promise!

Brenda Coulter said...

Well, Peggy, I'm definitely intrigued. I just clicked over to your blog to see if you were a chicklitter, and I learned that you recently garnered a request for a screenplay.

Congratulations! Have you mailed that puppy yet?

Monica said...

First time at your blog...I'm surprisingly refreshed and engaged. Surprisingly because, like your feelings for chick lit as a bubble gum genre, I've found the majority inspirational romance I've read to be self-righteous, preachy, and somewhat boring--however, I haven't read any of yours. I might be pleasantly surprised because blogs tend to reflect the author's tone.

I see chick lit as more about the evolution of the heroine than focusing on the getting-a-man part of it. It's a still evolving genre, but I do think the focus on shrill, navel-gazing, shoe-obsessed heroines is limiting--and that is changing. A variety of chick lit is emerging--books with older heroines, heroines of different races and backgrounds and beliefs, even sizes. I think Jennifer Weiner's fat heroine transcended the narrow cutesy heroines of the genre.

The possibilities of the genre excites me--a diverse, none cookie-cutter heroine's journey told with a strong, vibrant, humorous voice.

Christian chick lit--I find a few black authors who write characters with strong Christian values, but are still very real people in realistic and conflictual situations with little condescencion and preachiness are compelling reading also. Victoria Christopher Murray is one such author.