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Chick Lit Demystified

I do not like to be known for reading certain literary labels. Literary labels exist for the sake of categorizing books so they can be easily found in bookstores and libraries. Every literary labels has its audience: different strokes for different folks. While I have a solid understanding of what to expect in literary fiction, chick it is more ambiguous in this regard. What is chick lit?

Elizabeth Merrick delivers one of the best answer. In her latest, This is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers, she enlightens me that “chick lit is a genre, like the thriller, the sci-fi novel, or the fantasy epic.” So chick lit is a subset of fiction. “Its form and content are, more or less, formulaic: white girl in the big city searching for Prince Charming, all the while shopping, alternately cheating on or adhering to her diet, dodging her boss, and enjoying the occasional tear-eyed with her token Sassy Gay Friend. Chick lit is the daughter of romance novel and the step-sister to the fashion magazine. Details about race and class are almost always absence except, of course, for the protagonist’s relentless pursuit of Money, a Makeover, and Mr. Right.”

Is this the right genre for me? Not exactly, but I do enjoy the soapy dish of The Devil Wears Prada and Bridget Jones’ Diary. I do have reservation for books of which the title contains words like stiletto, bed, shopaholic. Truncated legs, handbags, and heels on covers are good indication of what I shall avoid.

20 Responses

  1. I sort of hate these designations also as “genre” fiction is tend to be frowned upon as lowbrow and not as good as “literary” works. The thing is some of it can be really, really good (and some “literary” works can be pretty bad), but they are designations we seem stuck with. I went through a chick lit phase after reading Bridget Jones’ Diary, though I tend not to pick up these sorts of stories anymore unless they have something extra to offer. I think I’m just too past that dating phase so I have a harder time relating to these types of stories. I did find Bridget Jones amusing though.

    • I like how you call that stage a dating phase. Every once in a while I need a comfort read and chick lit would be the appropriate choice to fill that purpose. Like you, I cannot relate to most of these stories, but they are such fun and quick reads that I don’t need to think about or analyze like I do in classics and literary fiction.

  2. I agree with your way of deciding what to read and what not to read. I loved Bridget Jones, just read it last month. I’ve never gotten into Sophie Kinsiella though, the books are far too pink.

    • Every reader is predisposed to certain genre and oeuvre of works. He/She would simply not go into certain genre or sub-genre because there would be any value of appreciation. Bridget Jones belongs to yet another planet from Diary of a Shopaholic! I read the former but probably wouldn’t go for the latter!

  3. I have a friend who will read nothing but chick lit, as soon as a chick lit writer tries to do something a little different then she isn’t interested as a result shes not a huge fan of Bridget Jones even.

    • Hmmm….that is understandable. Readers, as in anyone, always expect consistency. I don’t like surprises. Imagine a literary fiction author writes romance! 🙂 We stick with what we always enjoy reading and that is the reason why I rarely delve into chick lit.

  4. I’m a semi-fan of chick-lit, certain authors I enjoy, while others I cringe at. I lean my reading habits (in chick-lit at least) more towards what I call women’s lit, which still has the same elements of chick lit, but seem to be a lot more mature in content, and less fluff. IE they focus more on real problems women face in job, love and life. Marian Keyes is a great example of this. Some of her books focus on drug addiction, single parenthood, loss of a spouse, cheating on a spouse. Even the more “stereotypical” issues are done far better than I’ve seen in other books.

    I find there is a lot of chick lit, where it focus on young women, shopping, looking for mr perfect, contently partying, size zero wastes (which is what I love about Marian Keyes, she writes about real women, not skinny perfect models), all in some big high end city, I can’t deal. Nor can I deal with the poor rich housewife of the super rich overbearing highend husband, who fakes own death, runs off with the pool boy, or has some substance problem, because rich husband has a thing called a job and doesn’t pay attention to her and her newest set of high lights.

    Sorry, got off track, what I mean to say, is there are a lot of sub classes, or mother classes of chick-lit, that don’t get the attention they deserve because a lot of the “fluff” (not that I mean to insult those who read it, I just can’t stand it) is what sells, and what gets the attention, while the other books get shoved in the background and ignored by many who would enjoy them, because they have the label of chick lit.

    Whoa, didn’t mean to jump up on the soapbox there, but alas I did. Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for all the great thoughts Jules. Fluffs always sell because they are meant for quick consumerism. You can read through half a book during lunch without having to think about the book because there isn’t depth. I think reality TVs have provided more than what we want to see in this regard. 🙂

      On the other hand, chick lit absolutely can have depth like you mention. After all, the prime target of chick lit are female readers who I’m sure would resonate with the women issues that the authors are thoughtful to incorporate into their novels. 🙂

  5. I love that definition! I will admit, these are not the types of books I like to read, but once in awhile…maybe once a year…I will read one because they are fun. Just like eating a bunch of cotton candy, but then you feel all yucky and long for something more substantial. Trouble is, there are some great women’s fiction out there that get pushed into the chick-lit genre and really shouldn’t be.

    • Exactly. Every once in a while I need something quick and fun, taking my mind off substantial issues like style, subtexts and innuendo.

  6. Chick lit is definitely not for me. I have read a few in the past, but that was more than enough. The description of chick lit you quote in your post has been exactly my experience of the genre. I can understand why some people like reading these types of books, but they are just not my cup of tea.

    I also agree with Sandy’s comment above – alot of fiction gets categorized as Chick Lit when it is really something else altogether.

    • One thing about chick lit is I don’t know how to approach reviewing them. They adopt a formula so the story is coined from a mold. As to the style it doesn’t exist either. It can be bitingly funny but that’s all. 🙂

  7. I am a fan of the genre…I recently read “One Day” by David Nicholls and I think chick lit is expanding: guy-lit is getting more and more popular

  8. I’m definitely not into chick lit myself but have read a few that fit this genre because friends recommended them to me.

    • Based on what you read and review, you’re one of the last persons whom I think would delve into this genre! You’re more of the “All Quiet on the Western Front” reader! Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

  9. I have mixed feelings about this genre. I kind of liked Bridget Jones’ Diary and have come across a few others that I enjoyed. What I dislike is that the work-related problems of the heroines in these books often come across as really superficial, and so, unfortunately, do they.

    • I As superficial as some the heroines are, they do represent a slice of our society, where the opportunists chase after money, material possessions and a Mr. Right.

  10. See, to me, the level of writing is most important. I read an article a month or so ago (can’t find it now), but it talked about how, often, books by women writers are designed with pink and stilettos, etc. to market to a certain audience, when really it’s a serious piece of fiction. The example they used was that Nick Hornby’s works are similar to chick lit: bored white guys going from one relationship to the next, unseen potential, etc., etc. But we don’t label that “dick” lit or “guy” lit. We instead take it more seriously.

    Granted, the majority of chick lit is skinny white girls with mountains of labeled clothing and debt, looking for the perfect relationship – but not all.

    It’s a conundrum.

    • I agree with you on the writing. The writing has to appeal to me in order to like a work of fiction. Based on this criterion, chick lit, and guy lit, are not my cup of tea. I picked up a book by Nick Hornby and decided it’s not what I’m looking for in both writing and story.

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