lip lit: is chick lit really so bad?
I’ve got a confession to make and it’s not going to please the high brow-sers in my literary degree clutching their leather-bound Hemingways, Austens and Dostoyevskys. Chick Literature deserves more recognition in the literary world. There’s more than just handbags, lipstick and thirty-somethings desperately searching for their Prince Charming in these books.
Not all Chick Lit is crass, degrading to women or badly written. If anything, the genre conveys female attitude, power, and the fine balance of embracing one’s femininity in a confusing Western society.
For about two weeks, I read Marian Keyes’ (the Irish chick-lit best-seller) book, The Other Side of the Story. This book made me laugh, nearly cry, and overall really enjoy the escapism in the chicky-do-dah world.
That’s right, I read a book with a “Women’s Weekly Recommends” shiny golden sticker on it. This is not the first, or last, time I will try on Chick Lit for size and be pleased with the results. I am always generally surprised that this genre gets such a tongue-lashing from critics, wannabe writers and the literary scenesters who seem to think these authors do not deserve their best-selling success or aforementioned stickers.
Marian Keyes is a writer with a sense of humour who even takes the piss out her own genre when her character, literary agent Jojo Harvey, describes the difficulty of the genre and being a female chick lit writer:
The critics wouldn’t even acknowledge it, books like this – ‘women’s fluff’ –flew beneath the radar. Occasionally, to make an example to the others, they wheeled one out and ‘reviewed’ it –although the review had been written before they’d actually read the book – and they poured scorn with the ugly superiority of Ku Klu Klan laughing at bound black boys..
Different, of course, it if had been written by a man.. Suddenly there would be talk of ‘courageous tenderness’ and ‘fearless exploration and exposition of emotion.” And women who normally made fun of “woman’s fiction” would read it with pride in public places.
Keyes doesn’t take herself too seriously, her characters are not one-dimensional floozies but funny, anxiety-ridden Irish and English girls with their own problems that are more than just relationship-based. If I had to explain why I enjoy her novels it would be because her characters are people you can identiy with and who you want to be friends with; they are flawed and human. Female readers connect with these characters because they are a reflection of social expectation and pressures: to be a mother, wife and have the perfect career.
To be honest I shouldn’t really be relating to these things as a 21 year old with no baby or hubby but as a woman I foresee the pressures of reaching that age, the wadding knee-deep into shitty uncertainty, fear and depression. And it’s certainly nice to know that there’s an author who can laugh about it all.
Sometimes I wonder whether if things which are popular have to be hated by the literary crowd, as taste in great literature should be rare like that stinky blue-cheese nobody wants to smear on their cracker. Chick lit being shunned by intellectuals seems to be a rule, and I’ll be running for the hills before I get into a seemingly “harmless” conversation about Stephanie Meyer.
But there have been moments of bravery when my literary class name-dropped authors they had read over the holidays, and I boldly admitted I had read – not one – but all 12 of the Gossip Girl books by Cecily von Ziegesar. I waited til someone asked if my brain had turned into an oversized (but delicious?) marshmallow or whether I had sold my dignity for a pair of darling Jimmy Choos in the Upper East Side. But nobody said anything of that sort, surprisingly the class turned into a discussion about why Chick Lit is treated so badly. Should we be calling it “trash” just because it’s mainstream? What is so wrong about escapism if it reduces stress and gives us enjoyment?
On further reflection, reading the Gossip Girl books felt more shameful than indulging in Marian Keyes books. They are books so far removed from my life, they are of excessive consumption and little bitchy tiffs where plots revolve around social balls and you know, that oh-so-fine wind-swept Nate Archibald (although I’m more into bad-ass Chuck myself). But still, I enjoyed them because if fiction is doing its job it makes you forget for a little about everything else. Yet not everyone sees it that way, feminist Naomi Wolf has even gone so far as to say the books are “corruption with a cute overlay,” with the sexualisation potentially damaging teenage girls who apparently believe everything they read. For me these books are not anti-feminist; as Beyonce would sing loudly in these books “Who rules the world?” “GIRLS!”. Yes, its shallow, it’s cringe-worthy but Blair and Serena certainly do rule the world.
But the thing is, you can’t put Chick Lit in one category, as there are different purposes whether it’s to conceptualise a modern woman’s struggle or just act as a form of pure self-indulgent escapism. It is interestingly to remember that Jane Austen’s love stories of the upper-class were once shunned a fluffy Chick Lit in the 19th century while today her books sit neatly in the classics aisle. When it comes down to it, Chick Lit writers teach readers to laugh at themselves and have some fun. Isn’t that what the joy of reading should be about?
Literary critics be damned!
(Image credit: 1.)