August 15, 2009

If You're Going to Rag on Chick Lit, Read the Books First...

Read this article by Dan Wright on chick lit. He condemns the genre without really referencing many of its works. He basically thinks that it shows women as "Selfish" because they aren't all about "mothering" and finding the right man all the time, but often instead explore sex and personal fulfillment in many forms. Honestly, this man is clearly just bitter about his own book sales!

Wright's most valid criticism of chick lit is that it usually deals with white, Western, middle-class girls. This is true; however, that's also true of a disproportionate amount of Western fiction in general. His survey of chick lit also does not even mention some very popular books that are exceptions to what he seems to think is a rule. For example, Marian Keyes, arguably the most celebrated and one of the most popular chick lit writers today, often writes about women with working-class backgrounds. It's true that many of her heroines triumph through their intelligence and educations to become middle-class in adulthood (as is the case with the gang from Last Chance Saloon and one of the main characters in Sushi For Beginners as well as JoJo in The Other Side of The Story), but not all do. Lucy Sullivan of "Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married" might find love in her story, but she never becomes anything more than an entry-level white collar employee and doesn't really mind it.

Okay, so I've made it clear that Ms. Keyes has some class diversity, but what about other authors? To this I say, has Mr. Wright never heard of The Nanny Diaries, about a young woman working part-time all-year long to put herself through college because her teacher father and pro-bono lawyer mother can't afford to pay for NYU for her? Nan might come from an educated family, but there are definite limits to her class privilege.

Maeve Binchy's characters in Circle of Friends aren't all wealthy, either. In fact, one of the main characters is an orphan raised by nuns. And who could forget Meg Cabot, one of the most prolific chick lit writers of our time? I would say her characters come from working class backgrounds most of the time, and are often struggling to put themselves through university or find themselves homeless and sleeping on a friend's couch for most of the novel. Sure, her heroines usually find a way to achieve somewhat greater financial stability by the end of the story, but wtf? Is the only valid heroine one who accepts poverty and doesn't aspire to having a successful career? Is that what Mr. Wright is saying?

Yes, chick lit is mostly about white chicks. No, I don't like that, but it's also often about women with real problems, like drug addiction and alcoholism or suffering from domestic violence (Marian Keyes novels) or women working shitty jobs to pay for college like Nan in the Nanny Diaries. Not all chick lit is good, but since when does every book in a genre have to be good for it to be considered a legitimate one? Not all British Renaissance theatre is good, so does that discredit Shakespeare, because that was his genre? Certainly not!

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