Chick Lit Has the Power

I have never been shy of stating how much I loathe the term “chick lit.” Hate it. I like some of the books that term describes – and like Jane I have a massive fangirl crush on Meg Cabot. It’s preposterous, this crush. I have a serious thing… well, no, it’s probably graduated to a thaaaang for Rob Wilkins, the hero of her 1-800-Where-R-U series. Seriously one of the best heroes I’ve read in awhile. Even if the final book in the series was entirely “happily ever after and boy oh boy do we mean it” to the point where one or both of the protagonists might as well have farted My Little Ponies, I still love that character. I should stop talking about it now before I get any more creepy about it.

Anyway, one of the things I like about Cabot is that she’s unapologetic about being termed “chick lit.” In a recent PR email I received, Cabot was quoted as saying, “…I love chick-lit because it’s like real-life…she got hurt, but she bounced back, just like we do out here on Planet Earth.”

I can’t say that every novel classified under that really awful term has been akin to real life, unless it was real life on planet fantasy land, but Cabot’s got a point: there’s an element of realism in focusing on the heroine’s dark moment and how she ends up happy in the end.

Contrast that statement with this one, sent to me by alert reader Miriam, from the introduction to the 2006 anthology, This is Not Chick Lit:

“Chick lit’s formula numbs our senses. Literature, by contrast, grants us access to countless cultures, places, and inner lives…Chick lit shuts down our consciousness. Literature expands our imaginations.”

Numbs our senses? Shuts down our consciousness? DUDE. I had NO IDEA chick lit has such power. Wonder what that intro writer would say about romance in general? Can it leap tall buildings in a single bound, or generate worldwide orgasms? Because, awesome!

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General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Cat Marsters says:

    I’ve never had a problem with the label chick lit, but then I don’t have a problem with being called a chick.  Cute, young, and adorable?  Sign me up.

  2. 2
    RfP says:

    (I thought you’d commented on that introduction when it came out a couple years ago?)

    The goals of the anthology sound excellent: to highlight lively, penetrating, sparkling short stories by women writers.  Unfortunately the collection isn’t great.  I enjoyed about three of the stories, two by authors I already like and have reviewed (Mary Gordon, Jennifer Egan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; the Curtis Sittenfeld was okay).  The rest were unimpressive.

    A few months ago I planned to review This Is Not Chick Lit, but it didn’t interest me enough to invest that kind of time.  Which makes the introduction look like a miscalculated piece of hubris, eh?

  3. 3
    rebyj says:

    Our used bookstore has a chick lit section. All glossy cartoony covers. One gem I’ve found there is Julie Kenner’s “Demon” series. “Carpe Demon”, “California Demon” , “Demon’s are Forever” and her newest that’s just out is “Deja Demon”.  Well written, curious demonology, includes the Vatican and Church influence and had me rolling in laughter on how Kate juggles family , friends and hiding the bodies. lol

    “Chick lit’s formula numbs our senses. Literature, by contrast, grants us access to countless cultures, places, and inner lives…Chick lit shuts down our consciousness. Literature expands our imaginations.”

    *cough* bullshit *cough*

  4. 4
    Angela James says:

    I remember when this book was released and the uproar it caused then. I think it’s a shame when books go the route of politics: denigrating the “competition” in order to make themselves look better. Though in the case of this book, I think it’s even worse, because I’d venture a guess that some of the authors involved had author friends who’d written chick lit.

  5. 5
    RfP says:

    I’d venture a guess that some of the authors involved had author friends who’d written chick lit.

    Worse than that: some of the authors involved *write* chick lit.  Not that they admit it.  Like Curtis Sittenfeld—she was involved in the ridiculous battle with Jennifer Weiner.  It went something like:
    “You write chick lit!”
    “No I don’t!”
    “Yes you do!”
    “No, what you say is what you are!”

    From my summary:

    they spent more time reviewing each other’s personalities and genre definitions than each other’s books.

    Though Sittenfeld seems to have come around a bit.

  6. 6

    Worldwide orgams?
    I read romance and I’m missing out on them! Dang!
    cmr

  7. 7
    Silver James says:

    Wonder what that intro writer would say about romance in general? Can it leap tall buildings in a single bound, or generate worldwide orgasms? Because, awesome!

    Worldwide orgams? Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Where? Sign me up! I want!!!

    Heh. Hubris. My new favorite word.

  8. 8
    kalafudra says:

    Chick lit may not be the most fortunate of genre names, but the problem is not the name itself, but what people associate with it – only fortified by the covers most of the books display (and which are, frankly, hideous). Pink, fluff, girly, obsessed with fashion and shopping. None of these things is bad per se, but they have bad connotations, “tainting” the whole genre in the process.

    The general stereotype is that chick lit isn’t worth anything, has no depth and is only read by people, who have no brain. If you now changed the name to anything else, the perceptions would still stay the same. Unfortunately.

    And unless this perception is changed, it doesn’t matter what the genre is called.
    We can see this with “romance” – not a bad thing, right? Talk about romance novels, most people will either instantly snigger that somebody actually reads this crap or be relieved that they have finally found somebody, who reads them as well, so they don’t have to be ashamed anymore.

    Very sad.

  9. 9
    SonomaLass says:

    I try not to pay attention to such labels.  “Romance” encompasses quite a few authors whose books I really like, some whose books I can’t stand, and some who are hit-and-miss for me.  Same is true of “chick lit,”  and of “literary fiction.”  (“Mystery,” “sci-fi,” and “fantasy,” too.)  It’s harder to get past the marketing, particularly if I’m trying to decide whether to buy a book from an unknown (or hit-and-miss) author.  That’s why I depend on sites like SBTB and DA for recommendations—you give me a good look behind the covers, labels and titles.

  10. 10
    wimseynotes says:

    I’m confused by the genres books get put into.  For example, Nora Roberts writes interesting, complex stories which usually have a mystery (sometimes with actual police personnel involved) and some hot sex on the side.  Her books get classified as Romance.

    J D Robb writes stories in which the kick-ass cop has great sex with her gorgeous husband and incidentally solves murders and such. Her books get classified as Mystery.

    (and yes, I know the authors are actually the same person)

    Tami Hoag, on the other hand, writes complex, often interesting stories with sex in them, and some kind of mystery (often with actual members of the colourfully localized constabulary involved), and her books get classified as Fiction.

    Or even Literature.

    Why is that?

  11. 11
    Esri Rose says:

    Ah, literature, with its cliched covers of abandoned children’s toys and/or bare feet, and its rampant overuse of the phrase, “A novel.” Every one bogged down with formulaic Ivy League language (bonus words: “limned” and “hagiographic”) and the perception that as long as you ignore narrative flow and have an unsympathetic protagonist, that makes you “arty.”

    But I generalize. To be more accurate, my experience is that the percentage of literature that’s trite crap and the percentage of chick lit that’s trite crap is exactly the same.

  12. 12
    Ms Manna says:

    Size Twelve is Not Fat is the only book I have ever actually thrown in the bin.  Hurled, even.

  13. 13
    amy lane says:

    You know, people keep calling Mary Janice-Davison ‘chick-lit’—I wonder what Queen Betsy would say about that?

    Seriously—over-classifying, over generalizing and over-criticizing any genre can essentially boil down to doing the same thing to the gender that favors it.  If the world started calling sports biopics ‘prick-lit’, I’m pretty damned sure there would be legions of men willing to eat them some chicken raw…

  14. 14
    Esri Rose says:

    Seriously, how cheap do you have to be to put a kid with a smudge of ankle dirt on the lawn next to a trike? Put some money in the cover budget, for Christ’s sake.

  15. 15
    ev says:

    Well written, curious demonology, includes the Vatican and Church influence and had me rolling in laughter on how Kate juggles family , friends and hiding the bodies.

    Love, love, love those books. I can’t wait for the next one. So what is so wrong about a book making you laugh outloud? Unless you are snorting coke through your nose when you do it, I see no problem. And that makes someting unworthy? Generally, LIterature makes me want to take a nap. Or a prozac. Or possibly a bullet. Although I am not saying in which direction said bullet would be traveling.

    The general stereotype is that chick lit isn’t worth anything, has no depth and is only read by people, who have no brain.

    Which always 1)makes me snicker and 2) makes me want to smash them upside the head with my PKP membership. Idiots.

  16. 16
    Vicki says:

    Ooh, ooh, ooh, I love Rob Wilkins, too. I found him in a thrift store in a box of “chick lit” that was on sale and was not deterred by the label. Seriously, he could be responsible for world wide orgasms (where do I sign up?)

    together forever 31

  17. 17

    Now come on, Sarah. You know anything that makes us smile when we read it, anything that we can actually enjoy can’t possibly be good for us.

    In order for something to be ‘good’ and ‘expand our minds’, it can’t possibly be entertaining.

    Although, I gotta say… most of the books considered ‘literature’, with the exception of certain classics like Jane Erye, do sort of shut down my consciousness and close off my imagination-they bore me senseless.

    It’s the genre fiction that makes me think and fires my imagination.  I must be plebeian.

    Now I’m curious about Rob Wilkins.  I don’t read much chick lit, but I’m curious.

  18. 18
    Bonnie says:

    I guess I consider “Chic Lit” to be geared towards young adults.  And I’m nowhere near young adult. 

    The two “chic lit” books I read made me feel kind of out of place and old.  So, I’ve never returned. 

    But, hey, that’s just me.

  19. 19
    Suze says:

    Sigh.  Rob Wilkins.

    Read Meg Cabot’s 1-800-WhereRYou series in chronological order:

    When Lightning Strikes
    Code Name Cassandra
    Safe House
    Sanctuary
    (years-long-pause)
    Missing You

    He’s delicious.  I want him.

  20. 20

    “Chick lit’s formula numbs our senses. Literature, by contrast, grants us access to countless cultures, places, and inner lives…Chick lit shuts down our consciousness. Literature expands our imaginations.”

    Oh, please.  I haven’t read this anthology (bad Virginia for judging without reading, just like countless critics who dis romance).  But I’ve read plenty of chick lit, and this quote pushed my buttons.  Like the only truth that’s honest or authentic has to carry the “literature” label and come comes with an inflated cover price and an ego to match.  Somebody needs to read Jenny Crusie’s Glee and Sympathy.

  21. 21
    JenB says:

    “Prick Lit”.  Hehehe.  OMG.  Amy, I love you!

  22. 22
    RfP says:

    If the world started calling sports biopics ‘prick-lit’, I’m pretty damned sure there would be legions of men willing to eat them some chicken raw

    There are lots of books called dick lit, and sometimes prick lit.

    Gloria Steinem on prick flicks

    Steve Almond on dick lit

    You probably know a few dick lit authors.  Nick Hornby’s one (High Fidelity).

  23. 23
    Diana says:

    Just want to chime in that I like Meg Cabot a lot, too, although I’ve never read her 1-800-Where-R-U series.  Sarah, your description of Rob has convinced me that I need to read this series.

  24. 24
    --E says:

    It’s like any other genre: when it’s good, it’s good, and when it’s bad, it sucks.

    I worked on an awful lot of chick-lit in my time (including many of Meg Cabot’s books), and there was a segment of the genre that was so obviously chasing the Bridget Jones mold. Plucky Young Thing goes to the Big City to make her fortune! Oh noes, her job has troubles! But there’s this Cute Guy… Oh noes again, she gets into a slapstick comedy situation that could cost her her job! But Cute Guy saves the day! Repeat previous two sentences a few times. Throw in a Bad Boss of some sort.

    End with Large Crisis being solved by Plucky Young Thing with assistance from Cute Guy (and really, it’s all Cute Guy’s doing, but PYT benefits hugely and comes off looking mighty shiny). And everyone lives happily ever after in some version of the Big City that resembles New York but is much, much cheaper to live in.

    The good books, of course, don’t follow quite that pattern.  Or if they do, they do it better, and the characters are interesting. I rather liked Meg Cabot’s stuff, because her characters are people, not figureheads and simulacra to move about in the plot.

    But I’ve read far too many of these sort of things where the author obviously believes that “plucky twenty-something” is sufficient characterization.

  25. 25
    Samantha says:

    I have a fangirl crush on Marian Keyes.. Many people call her books chick lit. I don’t think it is a bad thing. They certainly don’t shut down my senses. In fact I think I a few of them have broken my heart and moved me to tears.

  26. 26
    SK says:

    I have that anthology! It was…less than I expected. Many of the writers tried to be edgy instead of telling a story.

    One of the blurbs on the back states “I’ll know we’re getting somewhere when equally talented male writers feel they have to separate themselves from the endless stream of fiction glorifying war, hunting, and sports by naming an anthology This is Not a Guy Thing.” Frankly, I should have but the book down after I read that. I’m not interested in most chick-lit books, but that statement is ridiculous.

  27. 27
    Cat Marsters says:

    I’ve often been confused by the whole ‘shopping and fashion’ thing.  To me, that’s not what chick lit is about.  Then I realised that, as with so many things, there’s an Atlantic divide: British chick lit tends to follow the Bridget Jones model of a ditzy heroine juggling crap job, lunatic family and unsuitable men while usually being slightly too poor/fat/mad to ever wear designer anything.  I like this kind of book.  The heroine is actually like me.

    The New York model tends to be a little more Sex and the City (finally got around to reading the book: incomprehensible for the most part and unlikeable for the rest).  Heroine is thin enough to wear designer clothes, rich enough to wear designer clothes (or dumb enough to prioritise them above paying her rent) shops a lot for designer clothes, is surrounded by unpleasant people (who also wear designer clothes) and is in danger of joining them because her ambition knows no bounds.  Man optional.  Usually some sort of lawyer.  I can’t love that kind of book.  I don’t know anyone like that, and if I did I know I wouldn’t like her.

    Recently I came across a distinction: the Bridget kind is chick lit, the SATC kind is chic lit.

    Then again, after so many poor imitations it’s become such an albatross that so many books formerly called chick lit are being rebranded as ‘womens fiction’ or ‘romantic comedy’ because nobody—public or publisher—wants to buy a genre that’s ‘over’.

  28. 28
    HelenB says:

    Thank you for the link to Janny Crusie. I LOVE Sluts for the Revolution. Sluts go!

    Bit worried about passed 86, hell I’ve got a long way to go yet!

  29. 29
    L says:

    I’m confused by the genres books get put into.

    It’s actually pretty simple. The publishers more or less decide what genre their books will get put into, and they decide according to their marketing purposes/financial projections. It’s all about figuring out where they’ll make their biggest return.

    I’m sure with Nora Roberts, the publisher realized that they had a very talented and wildly successful author on their hands whom, with just a bit of tweaking, could pull in a whole new audience. We all know that there are legions of folks who would never pick up a romance novel, but mystery…well, that would be just fine. So by shifting the focus of the story just a tad, then selecting appropriate cover art, and slapping on a mystery classification instead of a romance one, they can market her work to the mystery-lovin’ crowd and make themselves a bucketload of extra profit. And I say extra because don’t forget that her romance fans would probably read anything she wrote, romance or not. So it’s profit on top of profit.

    I find it amusing in a sad sort of way that so many financial/economical factors enter into the production of a book because the bottom line for readers is simply this: we want a good story. And there’s an ‘it’ factor to a good story that just can’t be manufactured. It’s there or it’s not and we know it when we see it :-)

  30. 30
    Rachel R. says:

    I’m confused by the genres books get put into.

    For the company I work for, it depends on who buys the book; the book gets shelved under the particular buyer’s category, because the buyer needs the credit for the sales.  It’s why you get some bizarre categorizations sometimes; there are things like a J. K. Rowling biography that’s shelved in the children’s section, because it was the children’s buyer who purchased the book for the stores. 

    (And yes, we see complaints from the stores all the time about how things are shelved; part of the problem is that categorization is subjective, so we’ll see things like six stores claiming that any idiot would know that Book X should be shelved in Subject Y, and each of them will give a different subject it should be shelved in.)

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