Saturday, December 30, 2006

Chick lit

I don't read chick lit. In fact when I go into a bookshop I actively avoid paperbacks with pastel-coloured covers featuring a picture of a cartoon style young woman. It is not because I have anything specifically against chick lit, I believe it to be a harmless lightweight read for women in their 20's and 30's who aspire to a certain lifestyle. Being the wrong side of 45 ( but only just, honest...) I don't see it as being for me. I prefer to get my aspirational influences from glossy magazines.

As I said, I don't read chick lit. At least, I really thought I didn't. In the name of research I decided to look further into the phenomenon, as chick lit seems to have been predominantly what publishers have wanted for the last few years. Where better to start than Trashionista? Oh look, they have just posted their top 10 chick lit books of all time. I have read, and enjoyed, numbers 10 and 1 on the list. I have even flicked through number 7, which I got free with a mag. A further delve into their site reveals reviews of books by Anita Shreve and Melissa Bank, both of whom I list amongst my favourite authors and would categorize as having much more emotional depth and literary quality than the average chick lit.

On my bookshelf I also have this book. Normally the cover would have put me straight off but it is a compilation of stories originally published in Woman & Home magazine (which is surely published for the over 40 market?) and includes some great work by writers such as Andrea Levy, Tessa Hadley, Lesley Glaister and another of my special favourites, Maggie O'Farrell. It was issued to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care, a cause close to my heart ( see here for one of the reasons why). Is this chick lit, or hen lit? Does it matter? Who cares?

I think I am confused now. I need to do more research ....this topic may run and run.


Babs said...

lol 'henlit' I love it. Is that a Cathyism? I've never really thought about it before. I guess I read chicklit on holiday though maybe its henlit? I just read the blurb and go for it. I think I am a book philistine....but I know what I like lol

Anne Brooke said...

Yes, the labels are confusing - I wish we could all live without them, Cathy! Though I do admit to writing haglit, but that may be to do with my mental age ...



Cathy said...

Babs, I can't claim to have invented the term henlit...or even old-boiler-lit which was used in a book review in the Times this year. Do you think that would be the same as your haglit, Anne? All I know is that I definitely don't have a chicklit lifestyle so there is no way I could write it!

Anne Brooke said...

Ooh, I think haglit involves more cackling, Cathy!



Keris said...

Hi Cathy

Thanks for linking to our Top 10.

Chick lit used to have a much more specific meaning: humorous, written in the first person, about a single girl, usually looking for a man and set in a major city. Now it's being applied to any women's fiction, which is a shame.

We don't just review chick lit at Trashionista (I'm co-editor) and I wouldn't call Anita Shreve chick lit, but not because her books have more "emotional depth or literary quality than average chick lit" just because ... well, that's where we have a problem, because there is no real definition of chick lit anymore, it's moved on. It's kind of, "I don't know what it is, but I know it when I see it" now. :)

There is plenty of chick lit with emotional depth, though, I promise you. And I'm not having a go, but you started by saying you don't read chick lit, so how can you know how much emotional depth or literary quality it has? Don't be fooled by the hype (or the covers - though there are plenty of chick lit books that don't have pink cartoony covers too).

And I've just noticed you link to me! Thanks! And, hello, nice to "meet" you.

Keris x

Cathy said...

Hmm, think I've just been a bit controversial?! I love the Trashionista site by the way, Keris, and your blog, your son is so cute!

I suppose it boils down to an age and life experience thing and what I want to read now. I am certainly not saying that all chicklit is shallow or badly written...I have dipped into many books in the library/bookshop, even in Tesco when I am supposed to be food shoppping! It is just that my own 'chick' days were 20 years ago, in an entirely different era so I don't always find it easy to relate to some of the protagonists, certainly of what was originaly called 'chicklit'.

I think the point I was trying to get across is that, as you and Anne both say, labels (and covers) are a real issue both in attracting and repelling potential readers. Anyway, I will return to the subject later!

Thanks so much for dropping in, Keris. It is lovely to get feedback!

Kate said...

Oooh, interesting stuff, Cathy. When I was first published, and told my book was 'chick lit', I was rather offended. I never set out to write anything fluffy, none of my books featured single girls out for lurve, and I found it a bit insulting. But then I decided to embrace my inner 'chick' (in my late 30s, I think it's a compliment) and have even named my blog after chick lit.

Keris is right, I think, the definition is rather meaningless now. But Trashionista and other sites are more helpful in helping to define which pink-covered novels are worth reading (I say that even though they haven't always been that gushing about my books, ah well!).

My one big frustration is just that critics can lump 'em all together, as a catch-all insult. All genres have good and bad: crime fiction is another example, I think. But the slagging off of chick lit does sometimes have a whiff of sexism, I reckon, because the 'chickliterati' are predominantly women, writing about women's lives...

Oh and congratulations on your A215 result!

Kate x

Cathy said...

Wow, another real writer visiting my blog! I have to admit that I haven't yet read any of your books, Kate ( though I soon will, as I bought 'Brown Owl's Guide to Life' last week...)but I do visit your blog.

Personally I very much prefer female authors and rarely read books written by men (except crime fiction).It's back to being able to identify with the characters and situations I think. However, if I was in a bookshop I would automatically be attracted to a book with a cover in the style of say Sue Miller or Anita Shreve's work rather than something pink and fluffy which I see as often being aimed at a slightly younger buyer. That is probably the fault of the publishers and the way books are marketed nowadays but I do think that slightly older buyers like myself, could be put off good books (including your own work). If I had not read your blog and known about you via the OU I might not have looked more closely at the book, which I suspect I am going to enjoy very much. However, I have also looked at many books with similar style covers, where the writing is so poor that I know I would not get beyond the first chapter.

I guess the problem for me is that it is way too late to rediscover my 'inner chick'! My own writing is/will be darker, perhaps more like Jodi Picoult's work without the legal element. Another thought that has ocurred to me is that both the 'chick' style books I have really enjoyed (ie Bridget Jones and Sex in the City) were originally written as newspaper columns and I do like an episodic style of writing.

I hope you enjoyed tutoring A215 as much as I enjoyed doing it! Anyway, back to the novel now...

Keris said...

LOL, no, not controversial! I just get a bit fed up of reading criticism of chick lit, because - like Kate says - there's good and bad in all genres, but chick lit seems to be criticised more than most.

I totally understand what you mean about age and life experience and that's partly the reason I didn't enjoy Kate's The Starter Marriage as much as I know other people have - it was a bit "grown-up" for me. I may be 35, but I feel about 15 (which is why I write for young adults!) (And I think Trashionista's only reviewed one of your books so far, Kate!)

Um, what else? Oh, yes, thank you for your kind comments about Trashionista, my blog, and my son! :)

Oh and I've just seen you've commented again while I've been typing this! If you like Sue Miller and Anita Shreve, have you read any Elizabeth Berg? I love her (even though she's quite grown-up too).

Anyway, Happy New Year!

Keris x

Cathy said...

Thanks for that recommendation, Keris. No, I haven't read any of her books,I will look out for them on my next charity shop book buying spree...
Happy New Year to you too!