Disclaimer: This is not a slam on the genre, it’s just my personal take on things, and no, I haven’t read REALLY extensively in it so feel free to let me know when I’m talking entirely out of my ass and recommend titles to me that won’t get my panties in a bunch.
(Addendum: Disclaimer is now in bold because people seemed to be skipping right past the poor thing and latching onto selective bits of the rant, and it was starting to pine from neglect and lack of attention.)
(Addendum, part deux: Before you defenders of chick lit get your knickers in a twist, please read this follow-up after you read this post. If you want to link to this entry as Yet Another Heinous Attack on Chick Lit [hey, did you read that disclaimer first? just wondering], be fair and link to the other one, too.)
Right. Chick lit. I don’t HATE it (then again, I don’t hate any specific genre of writing, unless you count Jack Chick tracts as a specific genre of especially bad fiction), but I have to say I don’t really get it. I tried reading Bridget Jones’ Diary when it first came out and was so bored by page 10 that I abandoned it entirely. The movie didn’t wow me either, though it was pretty amusing. I guess MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series is paranormal chick lit, and I did enjoy the first one quite a bit. I’ve since tried paging through a bunch of different titles, and none so far have grabbed me.
I’m pretty much the ideal demographic for chick lit books. I’m in my twenties, I’m urban, I have an office job I am indifferent to when I’m not hating it intensely, I have an inordinate fondness for shoes, I’m snarky, I’m overweight. Why don’t I enjoy reading about women facing many of the same struggles and much of the same bullshit I am?
Part of the answer, I think, lies in the stupidity of many of the heroines—or at least, what I perceive to be their stupidity.
These are allegedly educated adult women with jobs, and many of them seem to demonstrate quite a bit of wit, but… God, they just seem so DUMB. Oftentimes in petty little ways that drive me up the wall. Like, for instance, I have Beth Kendrick’s Exes and Ohs on my TBR pile, and I picked it up the other day and started browsing through it. And before 20 pages have gone by, Our Intrepid Yet Extremely Broke Heroine has thrown her cellphone into the road with great vigor, breaking it into teeny smithereens the way fragile plastic doodads tend to do when you hurl them to the ground. Why did she do this? Because its batteries had died while she was trying to call her best friend to recount her encounter with her ex-fiance.
Big old “What. the. fuck” from this corner of the room, folks. The phone was in perfect working order, she can’t afford a new one, and the only crime the poor thing committed wasn’t even its own fault—unless cellphones can magically recharge their own batteries nowadays. I had to set the book down. See, that didn’t make the heroine sympathetic or cute or whatever to me. That branded the heroine as a Big Old Dumb Bitch, and on one hand she might outgrow her dumb bitchery, but on the other hand, maybe not, and do I really want to invest the time and mental energy to read about and root for a character I already dislike?
Another point of contention is the preoccupation many (though not by an means all) of these books have with conspicuous consumption. I mean, I’ve touched on this subject tangentially before in a post I only half-jokingly called “Filthy Lucre.” Political and economic leanings aside, my personal experiences have also predisposed me to grit my teeth when I read about broke heroines obsessed with expensive shoes and designer clothing. See, my fourth brother, whom I used to live with (hell, whom I used to speak to), was unemployed for many years, and I was far too stupid and softhearted to kick him out after the first year. After paying all the rent and many of the utilities by myself, I had about $150 a month to cover a bus pass, feed myself and take care of other necessities. I went for years without new clothing, new shoes, new music, new books. I stopped eating out, and I cut way, way, WAY down on my concert-going schedule (and let me tell you, that last really rankled). This didn’t bug me too much, initially, because I don’t NEED new, pretty things, and hell, the Portland public library is pretty damn awesome and it was past time I learned how to how to cook properly and affordably anyway. In short, I tightened my belt because I knew I had to, like how I assumed most sane people would act in a similar situation.
My brother, however, didn’t stop his spending. Literally every month he’d come back with a cute new outfit or hot new pair of shoes from Banana Republic, Kenneth Cole, Diesel. Expensive shit. He got some under-the-table freelance design work, but he was still allegedly so broke he couldn’t even pay his $45 share for the internet/telephone bill. Despite that, his wardrobe kept expanding by leaps and bounds—he had a walk-in closet that was overflowing, three giant storage tubs full of seasonal clothing and his bedroom floor was literally covered in clothing and shoes. And there I was in my dirty-ass sneakers and mary janes with holes worn in the soles, getting madder and madder but constrained by a lifetime of Good Chinese Daughter upbringing from just tossing him out on his ear because oh God, what would my parents think? (And mind you, I’m the youngest in my family—my brother is 7 years older than me, and trust me, the irony of a 22-year-old just out of college having to be the caretaker for a man almost hitting 30 did not escape me.)
So because of this personal experience and the very, very deep anger I still harbor against my brother, the specific kind of chick lit that features impecunious heroines who are all ga-ga about designer brands makes me want to hurt somebody. In fact, it’s a measure of how very likeable I found Betsy of the Undead series that I didn’t immediately chuck the book when she spent most of her first Macy’s paycheck on Manolo Blahniks. I’ve had to live with someone like that, and that sort of irresponsibility gets old REAL quick.
So as with Indian romances, any sort of love story involving slaves and slave owners and tales of divorced couples reuniting, this is one particular fantasy I can’t really buy into. I’m sure there are chick lit books out there that aren’t arch and precious and all about conspicuous consumption; it’s just that the ones I’ve encountered seem to follow a pattern I’m not too fond of.
Sarah chimes in: ME TOO! Me me me, too too too! I cannot tell you how many women I see on the trains in the morning, reading chick lit. You can tell them by their size, right (the books, not the women)? Larger than a traditional paperback, skinnier than a romance, and with some sort of girly-colored graphical cartoon on the front? They all look the same, and to me, they all taste the same, too. Harumph.
They even get their own section at the drugstore – down on an aisle endcap, there’s a whole rack of chicklit, while the romances, mysteries, and standard issue bestsellers for people getting on the train are over near magazines. Chick lit, it has its own rack(et). It’s very special, and certainly different from the other mainstream paperback pieces of fiction. Harumph, indeed.
The same things that bug Candy about ChickLit are the same things that bother me. Most of them are broke for stupid reasons. (Candy, for the love of all that is holy and good, I implore you, do not go NEAR the Shopoholic series. Trust me on this. I read the first one.) And yet, most of them have jobs, jobs that seem to pay well, at least, that what the lead character says when she takes a moment to feel guilty for slacking off yet again at their job.
There are other oddities harbored in the ChickLit genre that I don’t get, either. For some reason they are often British and somewhat overweight with self-image problems, and, as Candy said, think nothing of destroying perfectly good appliances even though they can’t afford new ones. And they’re obsessed with attaining the right men while working those jobs that just fill time and create a paycheck – that they can then overspend on shoes and scarves. They don’t really take care of themselves; they wait for someone to take care of them.
I think one of the things that bothers me about ChickLit is that it is permissable reading material. It’s ok to be seen reading Shopoholic Has an Enema and Pass the Chocolate, I’m Having a Meltdown in public. These are books marketed openly to women. The authors often enjoy some degree of celebrity for having authored these works, these books that take the pulse of the modern working woman. It’s cool to be seen reading them.
What absolute horse pucky. I have a theory that the reason ChickLit experienced the advent that it has is due to the publishing world’s noticing the number of young women entering the workforce who need (a) books to read on their public transit commutes, and (b) heroines to read about that have something in common with them – entry level jobs, figuring out the world, annoying parents, weight concerns, etc. And what irritates the shit out of me is that these characters, they let you look down on them. They exist to make you feel better about yourself. And not only that, things happen to them because they are “nice” or “good” or “kind” and they aren’t complete bitchasses, and so they earn their happily ever after, and maybe it’s with the rich executive guy who just got his MBA and a promotion by age 24, and all is right with the world because suddenly, Dippi McHeroine can afford a new cell phone, now that hers is in pieces on the street. Or Jemima J-heroine loses weight after seeing herself photoshopped into slender glory, and ends up with a hot job, a new sense of self-worth, and a hot, hot man she’s lusted for all along. Or maybe Frumpi L’Heroine figures out all by herself a way to deal with her annoying evil boss and her annoying evil stepmother and finds a modicum of personal happiness – and of course a guy figures into the story most of the time somehow. But isn’t this genre often inculcating among young women the idea that fulfillment isn’t to be had professionally? That true fulfillment is money, goods acquisition, and a hot, hunky man? How is that addressing the needs to the young, female workforce, except using common rhetoric to slide the idea into their heads that the workplace isn’t really where they want to be, and reinforcing old, dangerous standards of what modern femininity is?
A vast number of these novels also take place within publishing as a career, and that I don’t understand. Most of the women who are in entry level publishing careers are trying desperately to get into the field and will take any job just as a foot in the door. Are there that many people who are just cruising along in the publishing industry as admins and assistants just for the paycheck and the comfy chair? I don’t know any of those people, if so.
Most of all, Chick Lit also doesn’t do it for me because the heroines never do anything, aside from make big messes. Stuff happens to them. Then, when they happen to do something, it’s a catastrophe. They aren’t often autonomous and they don’t make decisions to better themselves after they’ve had a three-martini lunch with their shallow friends about how much things suck. That’s not inspiring, and it’s not interesting. It’s dumb and I get irritated with people like that in real life. I don’t care about shoes and handbags to the exclusion of your having a brain. And I surely do not care about this that or the other hot guy, and it’s not because I’m married. I have single friends, but they are not weight-obsessed slackasses who stick their heads up their asses then complain about the view. I can’t handle people like that with a great degree of patience. I’m not friends with them. They annoy me. And I hate spending my leisure time with them.