Sunday, August 19, 2012

Weekly Whine: Chick lit

I took a long hiatus from reading while I was in medical training, and when I returned, I discovered chick lit. I devoured books by Sophie Kinsella, Emily Giffin, and Jane Green, to name a few. I found a top 100 list of chick lit novels and eventually discovered something important:

Most chick lit sucks.

As I made my way down the top 100 list, I realized how many of these books are complete and utter crap. They were so cliched and uncreative. And the protagonists are often vapid and unlikeable.

This entry was inspired by reading a book by a chick lit novelist named Laura Zigman. Her first novel was called Animal Husbandry. It's about this woman who gets dumped by her boyfriend in a really cliched way, and the woman develops this really innovative theory about men that nobody has ever heard before. Get ready for it....

Men prefer having sex with a new woman to having sex with a woman they've already had sex with.

You're blown away, right? I mean, nobody's ever thought of that before. Moreover, the character doesn't change or grow. She just continues to be bitter until you're like, "Get the hell over it."

I was given a copy of her other book, Dating Big Bird, so I decided to give it another chance. I hated it slightly less, but the writing still irritated me and none of the characters were likeable. It was so pseudo-deep. Take the following exchange between the protagonist and her boyfriend:

"I could help you," I said.

He shook his head.

"I could," I said. "I could bring you back."

He shook his head again. "People don't come back from where I've been."


This is why I love Sophie Kinsella. She's genuinely funny, she doesn't take herself too seriously, her storylines are bizarre but at least they're not cliched, and she makes you really adore the male love interest. That's how every chick lit writer should write.

But clearly everyone doesn't agree with me, or else those terrible Laura Zigman books wouldn't get such great reviews.


  1. "Most chick lit sucks."

    The thing that I think this comment misses is that most fiction of any type sucks. The aphorism from SF by the author Theodore Sturgeon is widely acceptable. Known as Sturgeon's Law, it was originally: "Ninety percent of Science Fiction is shit." I think that is applicable to all fields of fiction. Movies, too.

    In my opinion, the key is to find authors one likes - and if one is really lucky - an executive editor whose tastes match your own - and grab as much of their product as you can find.

    The issue with unlikable characters is something else.

    I don't believe it to be unique to chick lit. Admittedly, exposure to chick lit is at the shallow end of the pool - I enjoy series romance for mental popcorn, but not the serious works. Precisely because I prefer to have protagonists that I like and enjoy.

    I think unlikable characters are a characteristic common to much of the fiction that achieves critical notoriety, wherever you choose to place them on a genre map. In my opinion there is an attitude fostered all the way back in most people's schooling that funny books are less important, less noteworthy, than tragic ones.

    Which leaves me with the belief that such top 100 lists are going to skew very heavily towards awful characters doing awful things, or experiencing awful things. Or both.

    I'm not about to deny the validity of such works. There are any number of excellent books that may be described that way. I just don't care to read all that many of them.

    1. That's so true. I used to read thrillers, then I eventually decided most thrillers suck, so I took a long break from reading. The most frustrating thing was that several writers that I used to like started writing shittily.

      I don't even mind an unsympathetic narrator, if that's the author's intention. I just think it's often not their intention and simply bad writing.

      Btw, I don't equate chick lit to romance. Chick lit may have a romance thrown in, but Romance is a whole other genre. I consider chick lit to be stories driven by a strong female narrative. For example, The Devil Wears Prada is chick lit, but the romance is very peripheral to the main plot.

  2. I rarely read anything that could be considered "Chick Lit", but I do love the old Jacquelin Susann books. They're just so goofy, all of the men either want to settle down and have a woman take care of them or want to sleep with a different woman every night, and all the women want a man to take care of their every need in return for sex, sex, and more sex. Meanwhile, they all scheme to manipulate and coerce each other to get what they want. I mean, "Valley of the Dolls"! It's a classic!

  3. I really like Cecial Ahern's work a lot, because she also has really unusual, interesting plot ideas.

  4. That's how I felt about Michelle Au's book. It was basically a pseudo-deep whiny cliche/uncreative chick lit piece that introduced this radical theory that "medical training is really hard, especially if you have a kid."

    I stuck through it to the end for some reason, but I definitely thought that it was the worst piece of medical nonfiction that I've ever read.

  5. I love your blog and don't usually comment but I had to this time - how about Jennifer Weiner?? She is really funny too, and a great writer - one of the few "chick lit" writers I really like. Her first few books are the best ("Good in Bed", "In Her Shoes", and "Little Earthquakes").