Ron at Galleycat has some marvellous linkage on the various reactions by chick lit authors. Go ye forth and click; marvel and chuckle with evil glee. Me? I’m behind on my writing and blog-hopping. So apologies for the stale air of this piece; I just managed to steal a few free moments to compose my thoughts and my bile.
So while reading Maureen Dowd’s incredibly silly piece on how OMG THE SHELVES THEY ARE PINK WITH CHICK LIT PLAGUE, I couldn’t help but compose this little mental letter to her:
George Eliot called from beyond the grave, and she’d like her schtick back.
Love and lipstick-free kisses (I read the pink books, but I don’t wear make-up, which I hope is at least a point in my favor),
Though the comparison is quite unfair to Eliot, since a) she actually had a coherent point about technique and skill being important to storytelling, instead of just slagging off in a singularly sloppy fashion an entire genre of books, and b) Eliot actually knew what she was talking about, whereas Dowd’s attempt to assert her feminism by displaying a rather potent mixture of ignorance and misogyny was, to quote Sarah, shooting herself in the foot with her vagina. (Hey, new idea for a play: Reservoir Vaginae! No, wait, sorry, didn’t mean to offend: Reservoir Hoo-Hoos.)
My eyes did widen just the littlest bit when I read this part of her article:
Even Will Shakespeare is buffeted by rampaging 30-year-old heroines, each one frantically trying to get their guy or figure out if he’s the right guy, or if he meant what he said, or if he should be with them instead of their BFF or cousin, or if he’ll come back, or if she’ll end up stuck home alone eating HÃ¤agen-Dazs and watching “CSIâ€ and “Sex and the Cityâ€ reruns.
You know, she may have a point there. It’s not as if The Bard himself has ever written a story (or three) featuring cross-dressing protagonists and reams of comic miscommunication, or plays driven by romantic misunderstandings, or stories about tangled-up couples who wibble endlessly about their love and obsessively analyze what their lovers say and do. No no no. Not Shakespeare. It’s not as if he’d ever stoop to making dirty jokes and puns in his plays. Because dammit all, he’s litrachure.
Why? Being dead, white and formerly endowed with a penis helps, but most importantly, you have to remember that back when his plays were published, none of the covers were sullied by so much as a smidgen of pink ink. Or stiletto heels. Shakespeare’s heroines were always the most sober paragons of womanhood, and not horny, flighty teenagers.
I even found Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jarâ€ with chick-lit pretty-in-pink lettering. (…) Trying to keep up with soap-opera modernity, “Romeo and Julietâ€ has been reissued with a perky pink cover.
Oh, the horrah, the horrah! What a sign of these degraded times! Publishers putting lurid covers on classics to catch the public’s eye?* Quelle idée! I have seen the horsemen of the cultural apocalypse, and they’re wearing Jimmy Choos.
This passage also amused me:
In the 19th century in America, people often linked the reading of novels with women. Women were creatures of sensibility, and men were creatures of action. But now, Leon suggested, American fiction seems to be undergoing a certain re-feminization.
Oh God forbid that girl cooties reappear in literature. We like our books to be potent and masculine, redolent of pipe smoke and Hemingway’s unwashed underwear. We’ve forgotten that the masculine experience, that prototypical manly isolato striking out to wrestle (in a non-homoerotic, not at all naked-and-rubbed-all-over-with-oil way) with fish or bulls or stallions or giant sperm whales called Dick, should be held as the ideal and the eternal; stories about women’s struggles with family, the cult of beauty, their careers and their lovers are fluff. Harlequins, as she called ‘em. Yes. Got it.
This choice tidbit from Leon “I flap like an outraged matron when confronted with fictional hypotheticals distasteful to my delicate sensibilities” Wieseltier was also very amusing to me:
“These books do not seem particularly demanding in the manner of real novels,â€ Leon said. “And when we’re at war and the country is under threat, they seem a little insular. America’s reading women could do a lot worse than to put down â€˜Will Francine Get Her Guy?’ and pick up â€˜The Red Badge of Courage.’â€
Dear heart, I don’t know how to break this to you, but…I’ve read The Red Badge of Courage three times. The first time was when I was twelve years old. I’ve read plenty of books about Man’s Inhumanity to Man In a Time of War; for a slightly more contemporary take, I highly recommend Pat Barker’s WWI trilogy, though some may want to approach that with caution because not only is it written by a woman, it contains *drops voice to a whisper* the gay. The thing is, it’s not a zero sum game. There are those of us who like our pink books and who are very, very well-versed in the Western literary canon. This may be difficult for you to wrap your mind around, Leon (can I call you Leon?), but do try. You’ll find it amazingly liberating.
* Yes, am quite aware that the slideshow on the Slate.com article showcases newly-designed pulp covers. Can’t find any links to the original pulp covers to, say, The Sheltering Sky. Dammit.