Inspired (if that’s the word) by a posting on Friday, 15 May 2009, by Maureen Johnson regarding "Chick-lit"
Ms Johnson is rather livid, in her post, about the term “chick-lit,” and what it might or might not mean, and whether it’s a helpful term or not. I encourage you to go and read her post, regardless of where you think you may stand on the term. Then come back here and read this, because it’s a response to her, more than anything else.
The term itself has three strikes against it:
One: “Chicks” are puffy, empty, little cute-as-a-bug’s-butt bits of fluff that have no particular value beyond the fact that they’re cute. If you wait long enough, they become hens, and then you can get eggs and drumsticks from them. Sure are cute little things, though.
Two: “Lit” is literature lite. We all know that AmLit is an easier class than American Literature. Just listen to the sound it makes! It has to be easier. AmLit. AmLit. Rolls right off the tip o’ your tongue, doesn’t it? Lit-er- cher? What’s that? What did you say? Lit-er-UH-cher? Well, if you can’t even say it . . . gimme AmLit any day.
Three: Put both words together and you get a cute little two-syllable rhyme, and anything that rhymes, right there inside its own name, must be a cutesy little fluffy thing, right?
Ok, I said three strikes, but I’m pretty sure it has four: it’s a label. Labels are handy because they tell you what’s in the can, but if the stuff in the can is beef stew, then labeling it “Beef” is like calling my daughter “my daughter.” It’s true, but it’s far from complete. I don’t think any kind of writing worth reading can truly be captured by any single label. And I can’t come any closer than Ms Johnson to giving you a definition of chick-lit, or the origin of the term, but I’m pretty sure that anything it describes to a T can’t really be worth reading.
On the other hand, I’ve read things that were described to me as “chick-lit” and loved them. Some of those things have made me laugh myself hiccuppy, or cry so hard I can’t go on, or go away wanting to write like that. But, then, I’ve been known to admit liking Sleepless in Seattle, too, and everybody knows that was just a chick-flick. (Oh, look! Another one of those labels that are derogatory by their very structure.) Like sci-fi (“sciffy”), YA, urban fantasy, and even the revered “literary fiction,” chick-lit defies any exact definition.
Whether chick-lit is all by women or not, I can’t say, although I do have one anecdote to offer: when an online acquaintance read my still-unpublished novel, Stubbs and Bernadette, her entire response was “Chick-lit? I expected better from you, Levi. I did kind of like it, though.” Now, that’s interesting because she knows that it’s “chick-lit,” so she has to admit sheepishly that she “did kind of like it.” This from a woman who had praised other, more “serious” works of mine. This about what I think is actually a rather strong piece of writing that deals with serious stuff, like the differences between who we think we are, who others think we are, and who we really are. This about a book that all four of my sons, two in their teens and two in their twenties, liked just as much as my two teen daughters and my, uh, not-teen wife (except in here, in my head; she’s still a teenager in here. Well, she’s maybe twenty-five, in here) did. So was it or wasn’t it? Is it ok for my boys to like it, or not? If they picked it up in a bookstore somewhere, and it had “CHICK-LIT” blazoned across the top, would they put it down and go find something with a sword on the front? Or a dragon? Or both? (Well, not Brandon – he only has one criterion: it has to be written in English. If it is, he’ll read it. And he probably already has.)
But it is undeniable that chick-lit isn’t what women authors are all about. If I were forced, at gunpoint (which is the only way I’d do it) to list my favorite six authors, three of them would be women. Ayn Rand, Anne Bancroft, Francine Prose, Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood, Andre Norton (don’t get me started about the pen-name thing), Enid Blyton . . . Who’s that one that always makes me think “Margaret Atwood” but isn’t? The list is far longer than I can think of at any given point in time, but that says more about me than it does about them. I have a mind like a steel trap, you know. Everything that goes in comes out all broken and mangled.
My point, if I have to have one, is that I read and enjoy what I read and enjoy. I don’t much care about the label. I open the can and start tasting. If I like it, I eat it. Doesn’t matter if the can says “Fillet Mignon.” If it’s more like “Fillet My Shoe,” the label won’t make me like it. And it might say “Chick-lit,” but I won’t know until I taste whether I’m going to like it or not. I don’t read back-cover copy, I don’t read jacket blobs, and I don’t read reviews. Page one, chapter one, sentence one, and keep going until I decide whether to keep going.
Ms Johnson, I’m sorry. I’ve never read any of your books. There are too many authors in the world, and not enough eyes on my head, and I hadn’t heard of you until today. I’m going to go get some, but please – ignore the DYMO LabelWriters in the world, and keep making people laugh, or cry, or sing, or think, or dance. That’s what it’s all about.