Thursday, September 2, 2010

Space On the Shelf

All of this Mercury retrograde has me returning to writing in full-force, which is fantastic, and I'm romantically reunited with the idea of writing a chick-lit novel.

Stupid and I were gnawing over this discussion point. "I consider us both fairly well-read individuals," she pointed out, with the inference of "but we still love chick lit." It's true. No girl can subsist alone on a steady diet of British gabbery, true, but the genre of "chick lit" is surprisingly broad and currently quite controversial.

It has a stigma of pastel book covers and taking up space in book stores under signs like "BEACH READS" or "50% OFF PAPERBACKS!" But the fact is that women auteurs have cornered a serious market in the literary biz and are giving former heavy hitters (King, Irving, and Grisham to name a few) a run for their collective money and shelf space.

Jennifer Weiner, author of "In Her Shoes" (among other works) has been a vocal activist in the reclaiming of the chick lit titleage and removing the stigma of "fluff" from what is genuinely well-crafted literature. There's an excellent Huffington Post article in which she teams up with Jodi Picoult to discuss this, which has sparked a debate about New York Times' coverage of new literature and its consistent failure to give page space to women writers over men.

The fact is that "romance" has long carried a notorious reputation of corset-ripping, bosom-heaving, lords-n-ladies type of simply constructed novelling that doesn't even try to parade as literature. Writers like Weiner, Jane Green, Candace Bushnell, and Marian Keyes might get trotted out as Ferragamo-wearing sensationalists but the fact remains that they touch upon some heavy human subjects in terms of relationships and modernism. The backlash of feminism (unmarried thirty- or forty-somethings, career-driven women, attempts at balancing the drive for success with the overwhelming pressure of motherhood and how women are consistently asked to choose identities between the two) is an important topic that is given voice in these tomes. Dating in modern society; the shift from traditional to online dating, the frequency of forbidden office romances, and the difficulty of meshing one's cultivated autonomy with that of another are also all issues that modern women tend to face.

And, perhaps more importantly, because there are entire books dedicated to all of these things, women are given an arena in which to battle out the various consequences and demands of each. Just as male writers tend to grapple with modern ideas of masculinity, so do female writers attack and work through these feminist issues in their writing. The fact that it gets dressed up in stylized print and Technicolor covers should not- and, for anyone who frequents the pages therein does not- reduce the quality of the literature or the writing.

To be sure, I am not speaking in generalities. There is some chick-lit that is pure fluff. We know that. And we consume it the same way we do Krispy Kremes- as a treat, mostly in private, and discussed only with others who we know indulge likewise. But when genuinely brilliant writers get lumped into the same category and refused page or shelf space because of it, something real is lost.

Kudos to Weiner and Picoult for speaking out, and for writing in the first place. Their gifts to the literary world are real, and they have paved the way for future advancement for women writers.

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