Books to the Sky

Archive for the ‘chick lit’ Category

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I think this Jezebel headline says it all: Is “New Chick Lit” Just a Different Kind of Obnoxious?:

These tales of women overcoming obstacles to live independently of men and their bank accounts certainly sound inspiring — except that the obstacles aren’t really that big. In fact, it seems that divorce and financial devastation usually cause the heroines to do something fun and hip that they really wanted to do anyway. When her parents take away her credit cards, Mercury in Retrograde’s Lena “Lipstick” Lippencrass “discovers a talent for fashion design” — that noted path to financial security. The heroine of The Summer Kitchen is “forced to open a bakery,” also usually a capital-intensive and uncertain enterprise, at least in the real world. And Jill Kargman’s The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund, has its heroine, post-divorce, “picking up the threads of a career built on her first love, rock ‘n’ roll.” These women don’t have to scrimp and save in menial jobs — instead, they embark on glamorous careers, with the implication that their lives are now more fulfilling than they were in the days of easy marital money.

It makes me think of that episode of Sex and the City in which Carrie goes apartment hunting only to find that things in her price range are tiny. The first time I saw it, I thought that it was maybe the first episode of the whole darn series that showed my New York. Carrie looks in a tiny closet and wonders where she’ll keep her shoes. Yeah, welcome to life for the rest of us. You may recall that the episode ends when Charlotte gives Carrie the money she needs to buy her old apartment, thus solving the problem handily in a half hour.

In other words, it’s hard to look at the plots of these books and not think, “Oh, you have slightly less disposable income so you pursue your dream job. Such problems!” This is appealing how?

Jezebel concludes:

The chick lit genre doesn’t deserve across-the-board opprobrium — at their best, these novels can be witty and wise, and their popularity supports many a female writer. But chick lit writers may be unconsciously buying into women’s magazine culture, with its idea that reading should inspire desire — for more stuff, or, in the new, recession-era formulation, for a life that is glamorous even in fallback mode. It’s neither realistic nor necessary to ask that writers produce only what Benfer calls “Great and Difficult works of art,” or that all chick lit novels be about unmitigated pain and suffering. But, as author Gigi Levangie Grazer says, “the idea that having the right bag buys you happiness-now that’s dark.” And there’s something dark, too, about the notion that even in a recession, heroines need to be better off than their readers. Do chick lit consumers want to read about working-class families dealing with layoffs, or women who find fulfillment in jobs that aren’t traditionally “cool”? We don’t know, because those books aren’t being written — yet.

I discovered Chick Lit my last year in college, when I read a string of books in a row intended to distract me from my thesis. These were cutesy romances involving flawed heroines living in cities, and most of the ones I read were fluffy nonsense, but I could recognize something there. Before the books became cookie-cutter Bridget Jones clones, these were books about women, most of whom worked in media and lived in big cities like New York, and who were an interesting contrast to the typical superlatively beautiful and perfect romance heroine. And, hey, what did I do after college? I moved to New York and got a job in media.

I hate the label “chick lit” because I think it’s belittling. I went to an Erica Jong reading around the time her autobiography was published, and I chatted with her a little at the end about chick lit. She also hates the label because it necessarily segregates female authors in the book stores. Because, let’s face it, chick lit is looked down upon as being, well, fluffy nonsense.

But I like the idea of books about urban women with flaws. Maybe because I can see myself in a lot of these heroines, but I think there’s something really appealing in that. I’m also a sucker for a book that takes place somewhere I know well.

A new wave of chick lit is deemed more realistic. An example is Amy Sohn’s new novel about Park Slope (Brooklyn) moms. Themes in these novels include finding oneself after divorce and raising children in affluent communities.

I work in Park Slope and spend a fair amount of my play time there, too, so I know from Park Slope moms, trust me. The idea of a novel about 4 Park Slope couples is kind of appealing, and I’d read it jsut to find familiarity. But after reading the summaries of this novel, I came to realize that I do not know these women. Or if I do, but I don’t like them. What I like to call the Park Slope Mom Brigade is something of a joke around these parts because these moms are crazy and overprotective, and conjure images of helicopter parenting and food co-op memberships (see also Fucked in Park Slope). And I’m supposed to find them sympathetic? Novels featuring wealthy divorcees? Um, what? I have some respect for what these writers are doing, but I feel like it’s not that far removed from Candace Bushnell, and maybe it’s “realistic,” but it’s still kind of whiney and elitist.

Thoughts?


Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
--Arnold Lobel

From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.
--Groucho Marx

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