Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chick Lit

In honor of Sex and the City’s opening weekend, I thought I’d post about “chick lit.” While I don’t necessarily agree with naming a genre of books geared toward women, about women in the workplace, in relationships, etc., a semi-insulting name as “chick lit,” it is what it is. The term’s been out there for probably 12-15 years now, and many people understand it to encompass all books with titles similar to: Confessions of a Twenty-Something Woman Looking for Mr. Right in the City While Shopping on Her Lunch Break from Her Menial Job at a Publishing House.

I’ve definitely read my fair share of these types of books, those by the usual suspects of Jane Green, Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella. To go along with my Summer Reads post in a way, they’re easy, quick, mindless, entertaining and usually pretty funny. However, many are forgettable. When I thought of the idea for this post, I tried to think of all the chick lit books I’ve read. Impossible. I searched Amazon and saw some familiar covers and titles, but I couldn’t tell you what they were about. I’m sure I could guess, and I wouldn’t be far off—the themes remain the same.

Some great books unfortunately get a reputation as chick lit just because they’re about women for women readers, in turn not getting the credit they deserve. Also, some authors come out with great debuts, yet don’t deliver with their following novels. For example, I really enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada. Unfortunately the response to Lauren Weisberger’s follow-ups has been less than flattering. In the same manner, I also thought The Nanny Diaries was very entertaining, but McLaughlin and Kraus’ Citizen Girl? Well, I made it through two awful chapters and returned it to the library.

Even Helen Fielding’s subsequent attempts seem to be cursed. Love Bridget Jones’s Diary. That’s another book I’m happy to read again; a movie I own. I think this was probably one the groundbreakers when it comes to the swoop in of female-based fiction. Even Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason was a decent, entertaining sequel. However, Cause Celeb? Again, returned to the library because I had no interest in finishing it.

One author who I think falls under chick lit, but continues to put out good books is Jennifer Weiner. I’ve read several of her books—In Her Shoes, Little Earthquakes, Goodnight Nobody—and while they highlight similar themes as the books above, they dig a little deeper into important issues, such as loss of a child, inattentive husbands, meany moms at the playground, infidelity, weight issues, etc. For that reason, Weiner’s books are more memorable than most. Not fabulous, but good reads all around.

A different type of series that may fall under chick lit is Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly and so on), about a female bounty hunter and her goofy shenanigans. I ate up this series several years ago—great books to read while sitting at a slow summer job—but after a while, around To the Nines, they all started sounding the same. However, a fun group of books all the same, especially for newbies to the series.

The other possible groundbreaking chick lit author would have to be Candace Bushnell—the woman who started the franchise many females will be celebrating this weekend, Sex and the City. While I love the show and will be at the theater opening night, I actually never read the book. But I did read 4 Blondes, which I give a big thumbs down to, and which has kept me from cracking open any others of her books.

So, after this long-winded post, I ask: How do you feel about the term “chick lit”? What are your favorite guilty pleasures in the genre? What books in your mind don’t deserve to fall under the genre title? Or, what chick lit books do you just hate?


CMS said...

I'm reading The Friday Night Knitting Club and I this totally fits under your "chick lit" category. I'm only finishing it because I have nothing else to read while on the bus & I sort of feel obligated to finish it (maybe it will get better?) I guess Julia Roberts is set to star in the movie, so it must have some merit. It bugs me that the writing is mediocre and the main character is so perfect. I like my main characters to be as f*cked up as I am, so I can relate.

kristine said...

i liked this post. In my opinion the vast majority of books that fall under the category 'chick lit' tend to be of fairly mediocre quality, and while they can be entertaining to read on the beach or on the bus, they tend not to be the ones you remember for years and read over and over. But you are right - there are some that get the label somewhat unfairly just because they are books written for women.....

Shelf Talk said...

It is such a big tent, "Chick Lit," ranging from re-packaged contemporary romance to cunning social satire, and it is all so tied up w/ marketing and jacket art. Ultimately it is pretty hard for even the most literary author to argue w/ something that helps them get books selling in readers hands. You see this same issue of labels and genres pop up elsewhere, too, between mystery authors and their mega-selling siblings over in thrillers, or the SF folks and those who have escaped from the 'sf ghetto.' All I know is, we can't keep it on the shelves!

A. said...

CMS: you're not f***ed up by any means, so I have to disagree with you there. :) But I understand your frustration with mediocre writing.

Kristine: Thanks for your comments! It's totally true that the typical "chick lit" stories all blend together.

Shelf Talk: Hello! Thanks for posting! I couldn't agree more. If I were to write a book, would I care so much if my publisher labeled it as Chick Lit and strapped a hot pink cover on it if it helped sell copies? No, I would be glad for the exposure and hope my book would be one to remember. :)