UPDATED IN SEPTEMBER 2012: Chick lit is smart, fun fiction for and/or about women of all ages. Story lines often revolve around jobs, children, motherhood, romance, fame, living in the ‘big city’, friendship, dieting and much more, usually with a touch of humor thrown in. Many of these books are written from a first-person viewpoint, making them a bit more personal and realistic. The plots can range from being very light and fast-paced to being extraordinarily deep, thought-provoking and/or moving.
The following was written back in 2006, when there was a bit of a war going on with chick lit. Certain publications and authors were ‘trashing’ chick lit as a genre. Nowadays, the genre is well-established and accepted, so the following article is no longer really relevant. Now that it’s 2012, I’ve considered removing this ‘manifesto’, but decided to go ahead and keep it up for now, although certain parts now make me cringe.
What is chick lit?
The answer to that is not as simple as you might think. There is much speculation that chick lit is nothing more than “trash”, “fluffy, mind-numbing garbage”, “formulaic vapid prose”, and more. I’ve heard it all, and then some. The problem I have with probably 99% of the people who say those things is that they haven’t extensively read into the genre. So why are they labeling something they have little idea about?
Let me proceed to tell you what chick lit really is. First, I will establish my credentials to you: I have read extensively into the chick lit genre, so I feel well-equipped to answer such a question. I have read the good, I have read the bad, I have read a bit of it all. I have also read quite a bit into the British chick lit genre.
That said, chick lit is a genre comprised of books that are mainly written by women for women. The books range from having main characters in their early 20′s to their late 60′s. There is usually a personal, light, and humorous tone to the books. Sometimes they are written in first-person narrative; other time they are written from multiple viewpoints. The plots usually consist of women experiencing usual life issues, such as love, marriage, dating, relationships, friendships, roommates, corporate environments, weight issues, addiction, and much more.
So how does that differ from regular woman’s fiction, you might be wondering? Well, it’s all in the tone. Chick lit is told in a more confiding, personal tone. It’s like having a best friend tell you about her life. Or watching various characters go through things that you have gone through yourself, or witnessed others going through. Humor is a strong point in chick lit, too. Nearly every chick lit book I have read has had some type of humor in it. THAT is what really separates chick lit from regular woman’s fiction.
Chick lit is also a truly fascinating character study. That is one major factor that keeps me so interested in the genre. A chick lit author takes a character and puts them through a series of mostly realistic ordeals – many that many women can relate to. The end result is usually very interesting, detailed, fun-to-read and satisfying.
Another thing about chick lit is that regardless of the type of fictionalized story you are looking for – you can usually find it. Want to read about a young woman going to school in another country? There is at least one chick lit book about that. Are you interested in exploring pregnancy, childbirth, and related issues in a variety of different scenarios? Try a chick lit novel. Want to read about a woman who wants to lose weight, right a wrong in her life, make new friends, find a new place to live, get ahead in her career, figure out how to fix problems in her life by opening her heart, or get over an ex-boyfriend/husband who has really messed up her life? Try a chick lit book! These books range in topics all the way from dating and relationships to grieving over lost family members, cancer and miscarriages. And everything in between you can imagine. There are even chick lit books that explore religion and the paranormal.
So, why do rumors keep floating around that chick lit is “trash” or “vapid garbage”? First of all, there are certainly some chick lit novels that could be described that way. Not every chick lit book is great! Just like in any genre, you have your good, your so-so, and your bad. However, it’s mostly the earlier novels that are excessively light, airy and frilly. As chick lit has evolved, the standard has gone up. Now you can find chick lit that is anywhere from light, frilly and glamourous to deep and meaningful. Sub-genres have also begun to spring up, such as “Mommy lit”, “Mystery Lit”, “Lad Lit”, “Marriage Lit”, and “Christian Chick Lit”. And many others.
One important thing to note is that American chick lit is different in some ways than UK chick lit. I’ve ordered several novels from amazon.co.uk, and while I loved some of them, there were others I couldn’t really get into. UK chick lit tends to be a bit lighter and somewhat frivolous at times. However, some of the novels are really funny – the British have a great sense of humor. And they did start the chick lit genre. We (Americans) have just let it evolve into different varieties.
Let me speak for a moment on the marketing and publishing side of chick lit. Marketing departments at chick lit publishing companies often package chick lit as a lot lighter and more daring than it really is. Why? I’m not sure exactly, except that it must draw more readers in that way. However, I’m imploring you now: don’t be fooled. Some of the covers with embarrassing titles and pictures of legs or shoes or shopping bags are truly masking meaningful, touching, hilarious at times and wonderful chick lit stories.
There is another reason people keep calling chick lit “fluffy books about marriage-obsessed women with a penchant for shoes.” A lot of hard-cover chick lit is based on women with glamourous careers and in the fashion and magazine industry. For some reason, some of the lightest, frilliest chick lit is published in hardcover, therefore bringing it to more reading audiences. Why? I’m not sure, to be honest. And some of the best, deepest, most well-written chick lit is hidden behind brightly colored covers with alluring titles. Or published under chick lit imprints that release 2 or more books per month.
However, that still doesn’t give the media the right to attack chick lit! It’s not the authors’ fault that their books are marketed the way they are. Isn’t it the media’s responsibility to get their facts straight, and to thoroughly research something before making claims? If you can label an entire genre of books, shouldn’t you read more than a few of them and seriously be able to back up your claims with proof? Um, yes.
But they don’t! Ridiculous comments and insults are continued to be hurled at and about the chick lit genre. But whose fault is it really? The media and journalists, who enjoy trashing something to make themselves sound more educated? Or is it the publishers, because they continually market the books to be much more gossipy and glamourous then they really are? Or is it the people who just enjoy putting something down that they know little about? I’ll leave that up to you, the reader, to decide who – if anyone – is to blame. I for one am tired of the ridiculous media and journalists putting down chick lit when they haven’t read more than a few of the books. What reason, other than trying (and failing) to make themselves look intelligent, do they have to put something down they truly don’t read?
Another aspect of chick lit bashing that I have had the misfortune of witnessing is mostly in regards to reviewers, reporters, and columnists. Often you will see a flashy headline to a review or article that belittles chick lit in some way. The writer of such an article enjoys putting an entire genre down just to make the book/author/subject they are writing about sound better. Now what I don’t understand is, if the book/author/subject they are writing about is so good, why must they put something else down? Is putting down an entire genre, as well as hundreds of talented writers, supposed to convince someone that they should buy/read something else? Do they not have anything better to say about their book/author/subject? Apparently not!
I challenge you – read some trade-sized paperback chick lit before making any assumptions.
On a final note, don’t mistake mass-market sized romance novels for chick lit. (Although many trade-sized paperbacks are being published in mass-market format now.) Do some research before making your claim. And please, don’t go watch Bridget Jones’s Diary 2 in the theater and claim to hate chick lit. I hated most things about that movie, but still love chick lit.
-written by Rian Montgomery, Site Owner
*Please note, this article was written way back in 2006! Some views and definitions may have changed since then…