Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Chick Lit vs. Literary Chicks

“How can you write/read such fluff?”

Pretty much anyone who’s read or written a chick lit or romance has heard those words, oh, about twenty gazillion times in her life.

I know I get it all the time.

I hear it on an almost daily basis from my Yale-JD-turned-Stanford-“Modern Thought and Literature”-Ph.D.-candidate brother. (For the uninitiated, Modern Thought and Literature is an interdisciplinary degree drawing upon philosophy, literature, law, and politics…because “Ancient Thought and Picture Books” doesn’t pay nearly as well, but I digress.) He thinks I’m wasting my time reading and writing books that I enjoy. Apparently entertainment value doesn’t rate too high in his world, but then, he writes this epistemological existential whatever cr@p that I don’t understand because I’m not “intelligent” enough. (I’m the dumb one in the family, by the way. My law degree is only from Arizona State, not Yale.)

When I tell people I write, I always get "Oh yeah? What do you write?" When I say chick lit, I often get a blank stare or a question about how can I write chewing gum. But sometimes I get, "How can you write that fluff?" or sometimes, "Oh good. I thought you were going to say romance." (Um, chick lit is a romance genre, you dumbass. And if I looked at your bookshelf, I bet I'd see more than one example of romance fiction, even if you don't realize it.)

But the criticism is never so strong as from the so-called literati. For years, participants in college-level creative writing workshops and English classes have been told that romance is crap. (Interestingly enough, however, most of the world's most beloved titles are romance in some form...even if it's not marketed that way. Take Pride and Prejudice, for example.) There seems this idea that if you're entertained and feel good about yourself when you walk away from the novel that somehow it's less intelligent.

Elizabeth Merrick, editor and contributor to the recently-released THIS IS NOT CHICK LIT, certainly thinsk so. In the book's introduction, she writes: "Chick lit's formula numbs our senses. Literature, by contrast, grants us access to countless new cultures, places, and inner lives."

Oh really? Only so-called "literature" can do that?

She continues: “It has become nearly impossible to enter a bookstore without tripping over a pile of pink books.” (I should point out that her latest title has a decidely pink cover…)

Sure, Merrick doesn't have to love chick lit. It's a subgenre and not everyone is going to love all subgenres or genres. But what's with the caustic ad hominen attacks?

She goes on to say "Chick lit shuts down our consciousness. Literature expands our imaginations." Um, OK. Talk about a generalization. Not to mention an opinion.

Speaking of opinions, the subtitle of Merrick's book is "Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers." Gotta love someone who attaches a superlative to her own name so casually.

Although Merrick's book essentially names chick lit as contributing to the dumbing down of society, it's really a broader attack on genre fiction as a whole.

As a retort, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, acclaimed author of THE THIN PINK LINE, A LITTLE CHANGE OF FACE, HOW NANCY DREW SAVED MY LIFE, and the upcoming Victorian erotic suspense literary work, VERTIGO, called together a diverse group of chick litters to put together a collection that shows the depth, emotion, and sure, fun, of the genre. At the same time, the authors "reach across the aisle" and name their favortite books of any genre...including the classics and the so-called modern "literary" works.

Last week I wrote about how some women seem hell bent on dragging other women down. Why is Elizabeth Merrick so intent on bashing chick lit? Why not just be happy that women writers as a whole are seeing a heyday? But this is not just about chick lit. This is about all genre fiction. Why do the “literati” hate it so much?

And really, what’s so wrong with wanting to escape when we read? What’s so wrong about wanting to curl up with a book that will make me feel good and entertain me, not make me utterly depressed or confused by the end? And not all chick lit is mindless fluff about twenty-something assistants in NYC or London running all over town in their Manolo Blahnik slingbacks while shopping for designer clothes that they clearly can’t really afford on their pathetic salaries. Sure, some is, but chick lit heroines (and romance heroines in general) are evolving and we’re seeing a wide range of depth in these genres.

Anyway, you can weigh in, or at least just chat with the lovely ladies of THIS IS CHICK LIT (led by Lauren Baratz-Logsted) this weekend on Romance Divas. They’ll be answering your questions about publishing, the chick lit genre, and the controversy.

As always, Romance Divas is free. Just register at See you there!

Posted by Amanda Brice :: 7:14 AM :: 13 comments

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