Why I Don’t Get Chick Lit

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.

Categorized:

Ranty McRant

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  1. 1
    E.D'Trix says:

    Dear god, I think I love you both.

    I agree one hundred percent, and have often remarked on my own blog how much I dislike chick-lit. I have a friend who loves it, and when closely questioned, called it pretty much a “bubble gum/cotton candy”-type read. I was musing over that when I realized that chick lit is what she reads when ROMANCE gets too heavy for her!

    You are so right about the shallow petty heroines with little to no problems. As someone with more than enough junk in the trunk, reading about a designer obsessed, credit card debt having, borderline anorexic who constantly has 10 pounds to lose is not entertainment.

    I am so frustrated by the huge amount of people reading these books (I have to rein in my inner dictator). I want to grab them by the hand in the bookstore and lead them to Romancelandia, the home of spunky heroines and good plots.

    Which leads me to my number one peeve about chick lit. No plots whatsoever. Of course they are cotton candy books—nothing ever happens in them until the great and magical deus ex machina shows up to reward the dumbass for skipping blithely through life!

  2. 2
    Sarah says:

    Yes! Oh, that is exactly it – the deus ex machina shows up to reward them for their shallow, insipid behavior.

    And to think, romance novels are put down as ‘not worth reading’ but this drivel is encouraged and has the added allure of celebrity attached to the author and the book. Growl.

  3. 3
    Candy says:

    Hot donkeys, Sarah, you basically hit on alllll the other points that annoy me about (certain types of) chick-lit other than my rather incoherent “I don’t like chick-lit heroines because they remind me of my brother, wah!” ramble.

    Stop making me look bad, dammit!

  4. 4
    Sarah says:

    Nah, you hit it smack in the middle – the throwing the cell phone thing in the street? SUCH a Chick Lit Heroine thing to do! It’s like a new heroine category – “TSTL,” “inappropriately stubborn only to get the story going,” and “throws cell phone in the street.”

  5. 5
    Stef says:

    I don’t really read it. I wouldn’t know a Manolo Blahnik from Emmanuel Lewis, and I don’t particularly care. I prefer Kinsey Milhone myself. Owns one dress, Cuts her hair with nail scissors, and kicks butt on a regular basis.

    What’s the basic definition of chick lit, anyway?

  6. 6
  7. 7

    Candy and Sarah,

    You have both said it brilliantly, and I am soooooo with you on this whole “What the fuck is with these brand-name shoe-obsessed dumbshits?” 

    Why should we as readers care about the fates of shallow bimbos who have known no real suffering, and supposedly have very little money but act irresponsibly as though they have a replicator genie in a bottle tucked in that designer Prada purse that they have bought with their rent money?

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for yet another great rant.  I wondered if I were alone in just not *getting* Chick Lit, but this is a relief.

  8. 8
    Stef says:

    Thank you, Candy. Nope, not my kind of thing.  Better you throw the cell phone at the heroine.

    Though I did kinda like Bridget Jones’ Diary.

  9. 9
    Sarah says:

    About the shoes thing. I work in Manhattan. Doesn’t get more shoe-obsessed than that, particularly since I’m on the upper east side. And me? I wear Danskos, which are like nurse clogs with backs, and very round and, well, lesbian-chic, if you ask the arbiters of such chic. I’m comfy. My feet are all about comfy. I couldn’t wear Manolos or Choos during the day if you paid me. There’s no way on earth.

  10. 10
    Charlene says:

    I’ve read about 4 Chick Lit titles because it doesn’t grab me when I’m browsing. I’ve read a couple of Katie Fforde’s books and liked them, but at the same time I found myself wishing the heroine wasn’t quite so bitchy to the hero for no discernable reason. (I don’t mind bitchiness, I just like it to have a purpose.)

    The only other book in that genre I’ve read is Coffee and Kung Fu, which I read because a heroine who liked Jackie Chan interested me. Also, she wasn’t interested in everything brand name. I found this a good read, but I don’t think the few examples I’ve read are typical of the genre. And I haven’t been grabbed enough by anything else to read more.

  11. 11
    Candy says:

    OK, like everything else, I feel compelled now to give chick lit a fair chance and actually read few of the creme de la creme. Anyone have any recommendations? Some notes:

    - I dislike Sex and the City (the TV show, not the book—never read the book). Ohhh, the dumb bitchery that permeates that show.

    - I didn’t like The Nanny Diaries—I thought it could’ve been done sooo much better because the premise was pretty awesome but the writing and the treatment of the subject matter just turned out to be a big old “meh.”

    - As noted in my rant, I couldn’t even last 10 pages into Bridget Jones.

    - I still plan to give Exes and Ohs a fair chance. I will pretend the cellphone thing didn’t happen, or at least acknowledge that my peeve is disproportionate to the stupidity ;-) .

  12. 12
    E.D'Trix says:

    LOL about the shoes. I wear flip-flops and slides to work and have my “Editrix” shoes (hence the pen name) which I bust out for conferences. They are pointy as hell but still have a low (2 inch or less) heel and are most often backless slides. That way I can look fancy but still slide the dang things on like slippers.

    Also, one more thing about the chick-lit thing here—I think it is important to note that most of our criticisms have to do with the plot and story conventions surrounding the genre. As you said Candy, you enjoyed the chick-lit voice in Undead and Unwed, and there are a few other romance authors who employ the voice successfully (and not so successfully). A kicky first person story about a young woman just starting out in her career is what the author makes it. Unfortunately, the conventions of chick lit often cause the author to add in other annoying things like extremem shallowness and an obsession with very expensive high heels…

  13. 13
    Selah March says:

    Candy –

    Try TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR by Lani Diane Rich. Nothing “bubblegum” about that one, believe me—first person, snarky POV, but very edgy, with gritty, real-life problems, plus a believable romance.

    Also, ELEGANCE by Kathleen Tessaro—a Brit heroine who’s nothing at all like Bridget.

    Finally, anything by Alesia Holliday—I love her voice, though her work tends to be lighter than the two aforementioned books.

  14. 14
    Sarah says:

    E.D’T the conventions of chick lit – that is exactly my problem with the genre.

    And I hear you about slides – I just cannot wear them running for a train, and I can’t get my brain around getting dressed in the morning without leaving myself a breadcrumb trail the night before. Having train shoes and work shoes is just beyond my brain. However, pointy slides? With heels? Kick ASS.

  15. 15
    Suzi says:

    Candy et al.,
    You might try MY LURID PAST by Lauren Henderson.  (And if you like that at all, try her “Tart Noir” books FREEZE MY MARGARITA, BLACK RUBBER DRESS, CHAINED!, and more.  They’re amazing.)

    I have not read a single “chick-lit” book other than this one, so I don’t really know what the deal is, but this one is pretty solid.  And the career is important.  And I don’t THINK the heroine regards herself as “overweight” though it’s been a long time since I read it.

    Apparently, young adult fiction now also has a big chick-lit category (Chiclet Chick-lit?) including series like THE GOSSIP GIRLS.  I’m pretty sure these focus on conspicuous consumption, but again, I haven’t yet read them. 

    Great rant.  Great site.  I don’t read romances, but I surely do read your blog every day or two.  As a former art historian, I must say I adore your “Lindsey covers” series of, er, formal analyses.  :P

  16. 16
    Candy says:

    OK, I just checked out Amazon.com page for the Alesia Holliday books, and the premises sound like a lot of fun. A wacky behind-the-scenes look at an American Idol wannabe program? Yeah! That’s going on my Hold list at the library. Also, her latest, Nice Girls Finish First sounds like it might be really, really good comedy if executed just right: a ball-busting bitch of an executive must find somebody to tell her she’s nice or she loses her job.

    But that doesn’t come out until July, which is probably a good thing, because God knows I have my reading slate full up until, ohhhh, 2038.

  17. 17
    Meljean says:

    After a great review from Nicole about THE GIVENCHY CODE I’m going to give that a Chick-Lit try (the heroine is quite smart, apparently). I haven’t read many, but I have liked those that I’ve read. I liked BRIDGET JONES (but haven’t read the sequel) which was my first.

    RE: Sex and the City—I liked the first couple of episodes (I didn’t see them until they started airing on TBS…Very Funny :roll: ) but then the puns and Carrie got on my nerves. I ended up watching the last episode just because I read on TWoP that she got slapped, and my bloodthirsty little self really wanted to see that, but then I was disappointed when she only got a tiny little unintentional smack. Sigh.

    So I guess the Chick Lits I’ve read (all, like, three of them, not counting the U&U books) haven’t been that cringe-inducing.

  18. 18
    Candy says:

    The Givenchy Code is chick-lit?? Sounded more like high-tech romantic suspense to me, hee hee.

    Which reminds me: gotta check and see if the library has THAT book….

  19. 19
    Sarah says:

    Oh my God, I want to read it just for the absolutely hysterical title alone.

    That’s my other minor beef with chick lit. The titles are often better than the content.

  20. 20
    Meljean says:

    *g* I just went by the genre coding in the review—I think they called it “Chick Lit romantic suspense”. Now that’s my kinda book. Everything but vampires. 

    Those damn blurry genre lines! *shakes fist*

  21. 21
    Candy says:

    “I just went by the genre coding in the review (…)”

    You pay attention to those? Shit, about the time I don’t even remember to set the genre correctly for my OWN reviews, heh heh heh.

  22. 22
    Sarah says:

    Wait, there’s a genre code? I thought we were just supposed to figure it out ourselves! Darn.

  23. 23
    Meljean says:

    I pay attention so that I can avoid contemporary romantic comedy :D

  24. 24
    Maili says:

    *sigh* I’m getting *really* tired of defending chick lit. *waving a white flag* I give up.  The way I see it – if the romance side keeps bashing the chick lit side on the basis of a couple of books, then I may as well as to let chick lit side to bash the romance side on the basis of a couple of books, too.

  25. 25
    Candy says:

    Maili: Don’t wave a white flag! Give me some recommendations! (Ones that don’t involve the genre conventions that give me hives.)

    And come now—I’ve been MUCH harder on secret baby books than I have been on chick lit.

  26. 26
    Sarah says:

    Ditto. I spoke specifically of the books I had read, and I would really like recommendations – don’t wave the white flag!

  27. 27
    Megan says:

    This one brought me out of lurkdom!

    Here are a handful of titles which, in my opinion, span the genre and are not shallow or insipid:

    Rachel’s Holiday, by Marian Keyes

    Getting Over It, by Anna Maxted

    Good Grief, by Lolly Winston

    The Next Big Thing, by Johanna Edwards

    A Clean Slate, by Laura Caldwell

    I Don’t Know How She Does It, Alison Pearson

    As Rian said on the Chicklitbooks site, Chick Lit is about character study.  I find it fascinating.  Of course, I’m biased—I write it myself!

  28. 28
    Nicole says:

    Erm, I wrote that review of The Givenchy Code.  It’s got a slight chick lit feel, but it was fast-paced and fun.  Of course, now if y’all hate it I’m going to feel bad.  Though there’s a scene at the end where I swear a romance heroine would’ve just waited for the hero to rescue her and I was thrilled at seeing her take action right away.

    I liked Exes and Ohs.  And honestly, I have a friend who ruined a cell phone rather similarly to that scene.  I think it involved a boyfriend too. 

    Now…I need to go iron, so I’m not going to say anything more right now.

    But I DO like chick lit.  I just also realize it’s NOT romance.

    Though TGC does have a HEA. 

    And it’s Downtown Press, which is a chick lit line, so that’s one reason for calling it chick lit.

  29. 29
    AngieW says:

    I don’t have such particularly passionate feelings about chick lit- on either side of the issue, although I do tend to avoid chick lit because I enjoy romance more and there are so many books out there to spend my time on. That said, if I was going to have to come down on one side of the issue, I’d lean towards dislike or avoidment for the reasons that Sarah stated with a dose of Candy thrown in ;)

    And what’s funny is that I just received three books in the “novel with romantic elements” category to judge for an RWA chapter. Chick lits each and every one.

    I’m going to make note of the recommendations being given and pick up a few myself. Are these going on the recommendation pages y’all are making?

  30. 30
    Candy says:

    Hey Nicole, thanks for speaking up—I was actually waiting for you to pipe up because I know you like chick lit and I was hoping you’d give us your perspective. Confession time: I picked up Exes and Ohs because of your review, hee! And now I’m going to check out The Givenchy Code because of your review, too.

    And I fully realize chick lit isn’t romance—in fact, I’d be perfectly happy reading chick lit that didn’t have a love story at all. The problems I have with the chick lit I’ve checked out have to do with certain trends, like the conspicuous consumption thing, and the heroines doing dumb things—which, to be fair, would also peeve me in romance novels.

    And hey, if somebody were unfortunate enough to have their introduction to romance be a series of secret baby books and they were “WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH THESE GODDAMN ROMANCES?” I’d comisserate with them, then point out loads of books that don’t contain that particular plot device. So like I said in my disclaimer, feel free to let me know when I’m talking out of my ass, and DEFINITELY recommend some books to me.

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