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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Elizabeth Street

THE ENTERTAINING TRUTH BEHIND CHICK LIT

Jan 15, 2014

The Entertaining Truth Behind Chick Lit

While there's something to be said for having read a certain breadth of classics (think Twain, Dickens, Austen, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Dostoevsky), it's not always what I'm in the mood for.

On a recent vacation, I brought with me Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding. When my partner discovered that it was about baseball (albeit in the same way that the critically acclaimed series Friday Night Lights is about football), he took to picking up the heavy paperback book whenever it wasn't in my grasp. One day, we took fifteen minute turns each with it, me hastily scanning through the baseball-laden scenes and him rushing through the romantic ones.

I don't read chick lit, per say, and I don't like romantic comedies (screw cheesy sentiment; I like movies that make me bawl) but after reading an intriguing piece in the January 13th issue of The New Yorker about author Jennifer Weiner's "quest for literary respect," I decided that I ought to learn more about the genre I disdained. Once I started researching chick lit in greater detail, I realized that I had read a lot of the major recognized titles--and subsequently seen the movies!

When Weiner's novel, Good In Bed, debuted in 2001, I read it with great enjoyment. Yet later, when I'd gotten turned on by such female authors as Jumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Louise Erdrich and Alice Munro, I felt I'd graduated to more serious books. And when I moved to New York and had to pare down my extensive book collection, it was titles such as The Nanny Diaries and How Stella Got Her Groove Back that were tossed out first.

Interestingly enough, most of the books on our round up of chick lit titles--a genre that New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead says arrived as "the hapless and approachable half-sibling to what was then called the 'shopping and fucking' novel"--never received any critical attention from The New York Times, but nearly all of them enjoyed numerous weeks on The New York Times Bestseller list. Mead explains that most of Weiner's readers (and readers of her sisters in the field) seek out her books because of their "casual prose, happy resolutions, and lovable heroines." She goes on to say that "it is unlikely that literary critics will ever applaud Weiner's work for these qualities, because literary criticism, at its best, seeks to elucidate the complex, not to catalogue the familiar."  

Whether or not you agree with this statement (and I happen to agree with it), it doesn't mean you can't appreciate the genre with a bum rap. Furthermore, it says nothing of your intelligence, something I once worried about when company came over and studiously perused my bookshelves.

Truth is, after a long day, or when you're vacationing with your family on a relaxing island, sometimes all you really want is to pick up something familiar, with characters that remind you of your best friends. So, go ahead, be a chick and embrace the literature made in your honor. Click through the slideshow above for twelve heartwarming and hilarious reading selections.

By Stacey Gawronski

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