Monday, August 4, 2014

What is Chick Lit?

Discussion Topic: What is Chick Lit?

I have eclectic reading tastes. My strongest preferences are for young adult and fantasy, but I also read mainstream fiction (both commercial and literary), cozy mysteries, middle grade, and assorted nonfiction. Sometimes what I crave most is a good chick lit novel. Except lately I’ve noticed some confusion about that term. Some people dislike chick lit works. Some just dislike the phrase. And some don’t have any idea what chick lit is.

I want to start with my definition and interpretation. I always considered chick lit one of those pseudo-subgenres created primarily for promotional purposes. Chick lit books are basically mainstream fiction, but the chick lit label is another marketing tag to pull in the right readers. Chick lit books are warm, lighthearted, and funny novels. They’re the kind of stuff many people refer to as fluff, though I always hesitate with that word due to the negative connotation. Chick lit books follow a reliable template: young (20s-30s) female protagonist, life is in a low at the start of the book with different problems in different areas (usually including - but not limited to - family, friends, romance, and work), these problems are approached with humor and the book remains funny even at gloomy moments, the protagonist hits a mind-boggling low near the climax only to then fall even farther than the reader expected, and finally everything wraps up neatly with a satisfying conclusion that shows improvement (if not perfection) in every area where there was a problem.

However, that’s my definition. Other people interpret the term differently. Some use the phrase “chick lit” to refer to pretty much any book written by a woman, staring primarily female characters, or marketed towards female readers. Understandably, many take issue with this: boxing women’s literature off from men’s literature like it’s lesser. That attitude tends to reinforce the frustrating idea that “men’s books” will also appeal to women, but “women’s books” are only for women.

So if I describe a book as chick lit in a review or conversation, I’m referring to the style and general plot formula. For an example, I’ve always considered Sophie Kinsella the queen of chick lit. I first discovered her when I bought a copy of CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? while in England. In that one a nervous flyer copes with her turbulence anxiety by spilling her every secret to the man sitting next to her. After landing safely, she’s embarrassed but figures she’ll never see him again. Then he turns out to be her new boss. Next I read THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS, which I still consider Kinsella’s very best. After work and romance disasters, an attorney escapes to a smaller, quieter town and walks into a job as a housekeeper (for which she’s entirely unqualified). Aside from being as laugh-out-land funny as my first Kinsella read, THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS moved me with some important themes about how we prioritize life. I’ve also read and enjoyed chick lit works by Gemma Townley and Melissa Nathan.

If you’re one of those confused about what exactly chick lit is, that’s probably because everyone disagrees. (So it’s not you; it’s us.) Some interpret the term as a dismissive label for literature by, about, and for women. I personally think of “chick lit” as a fiction sub-label marketing a specific type of book: one that’s funny, lighthearted, and satisfying.

1 comment:

  1. Another good post on the matter: