Monday, February 15, 2010

Is There Such A Thing As "Chick-Lit"?

I enjoy thinking of myself as an open-minded person, and I suspect we all do. To that end, I have friends who are men and friends who are women. I have tall friends, short friends, straight friends, gay friends, thin friends (they're a particular challenge and my BFF recently joined them) and heavy-set friends.

On Christmas Eve I had the pleasure of having lunch at the home of friends who are a married couple, Dave and Helene. Dave and Helene have been married for over 25 years. I actually met Dave first, and our friendship is some 35 years old now, but I remind him as often as possible that I think he won the marriage lottery because his wife is so delightful and has always treated me with such kindness. Anyway, at this particular luncheon, Helene and I began to talk of a film that had recently been in the movie theaters and had developed from a rather well-known book. Dave, who had gone to put on another pot of coffee, returned to the dining room and asked what we were discussing. When Helene and I told him, I added "you know, chick lit". Well, his eyes all but glazed over immediately and I believe he excused himself for a few moments while Helene and I went on avidly about this new work of pop culture. Now, Dave is a scientist, and he's no slouch intellectually--he's a professor of physics and fully capable of waxing poetic on, of all things, positron emissions. Positron emissions are, I must admit, of marginal interest to me, and only marginally so because I've had a few PET scans in my lifetime. Dave's reading tastes aren't restricted to scientific journals, but he's been reading things on topics like the history of the Vietnam War and a biography of a political figure from the 1960's.

So my question is "does chick lit exist, and if so, why?" Mindful that some topics and characters appeal more to women, I'm not referring to romance novels or what I call "bodice rippers". If a guy who looks like Fabio is on the cover, with all due respect to Fabio, I'll pass on it. I'm talking about books like "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" and "In the Company of the Courtesan". (BTW, I can recommend both novels.) While I thoroughly enjoyed both, I'm also equally capable of enjoying a novel like "Rising Sun" (which was later made into a film starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes, which, to think about it, may have helped boost appeal to a female contingent).

One of my doctors is a gentleman. While awaiting his arrival in the exam room one day, I was reading, I believe the Cassandra King novel "Same Sweet Girls" which is a novel about a group of adult women friends who'd all gone to undergraduate school together. Upon entering the room, the doctor asked what I was reading. I said "oh, just some chick lit", and was surprised when he wanted to know more about my selection. He somewhat sheepishly admitted at that point that he's the only male in his household, as he resides with his wife (a librarian in a private school) and two daughters (both in their later teens). He then conceded that his own reading tastes ran along the order of "1492" which he very much enjoyed.

Yet another male pal of mine is a huge sci-fi fan, and has more copies of Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury works than some small-town libraries probably have. By profession, he's also a scientist. By nature, he's an enthusiastic reader and possessed of a great wit, sharp mind and acute imagination.

So what's up with "chick-lit"? Is it real? If so, why? Books with both male and female protagonists have been around for centuries. If "chick-lit" exists, is it an offshoot of the "bodice-ripper" or of a different genre of literature altogether?


  1. Good question ! Difficult to answer !!
    When I was in my 20s with a 2 small children, I read everything that I could enjoy for a minute, be able to put down and go back to whenever I had another minute.. nothing that heavy or profound.
    My sister-in-law had a huge collection of "Historical Romance" novels which I read like eating popcorn .. but gradually I found myself enjoying mysteries and to this day, I love reading a good mystery.. especially if it takes place in England .

    My husband reads Biographies and some are interesting to me, but for some reason, I get lost in a good who dunnit quicker than a life story.
    I don't enjoy Science Fiction but I love crime novels, detective stories are good.. history bores me.

    I am a chick, so I guess mysteries are my Lit :)

  2. I want to amend my previous statement, History does not bore me. It is the way it is told that can be boring.
    Some histories are more interesting/exciting than others also.
    And looking at lists of books from Womens Book Clubs online, I have to say that I don't really want to read a lot of the "womens" books that are chosen.