introducing readers to writers since 1995
April 26, 2005
Guest Author: Lauren Baratz-Logstedby Ron Hogan
When Publisher's Lunch reported the sale of This Is Not Chick Lit, "a collection of original stories by America's best women writers," which is to say Francine Prose, Myla Goldberg, Vendela Vida, Aimee Bender, Curtis Sittenfeld, Jennifer Egan, and Samantha Hunt (among others), the reaction from chick-lit writers was not a happy one. Jennifer Weiner tore into the authors for "turning up their noses at their fellow women authors' more commercial efforts," particularly after several of them had signed onto the letter begging Oprah Winfrey to save contemporary fiction from oblivion (about which Jennifer is equally scornful). Lauren Baratz-Logsted let me know how she felt about the anthology as well, and asked if I'd be willing to share her thoughts with you. (Now, before we get too far into this, I should acknowledge up front that the editor of This Is Not Chick Lit, Elizabeth Merrick, is an acquaintance through my intermittent attendance of the Cupcake readings she co-directs, and I'll probably run her side of the story before too long, if she wants to tell it...) Lauren's chick-lit all the way; her third novel, A Little Change of Face, will be coming from Red Dress Ink this summer.
This Is Not Chick Lit, Eh?
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
It's interesting to me that these women are defining their collection with a title that declares what it is not, bitch-slapping the subgenre of chick-lit while at the same time exploiting those two much-maligned words in an attention-grabbling bid that is bound to garner more notice than if they simply called the book "America's Best Women Writers," which leads me to my next point...
Where do these women get off naming themselves "America's Best Women Writers"? Was there an election where they failed to notify most of us? As the old Monty Python and the Holy Grail skit goes, "Well, I didn't vote for you!" Sincerely said, some of the writers in this collection have produced work I've greatly admired, yet I find this self-declaration to be--hmm...what's the word here?-- hubristic. It's the kind of claim that, as a former reviewer, I can honestly say gets reviewers sharpening their knives even before they've cracked the spine on the book. Those better be some great stories. I mean, they better be the best.
For a long time, I fought the good fight. I stayed above the literary v. commercial fray, insisting that there were really only two kinds of books: good/well-written books and bad/poorly written books. I still stand by that. But I'm tired of getting bitch-slapped every time I turn around. I'm tired of women pitting themselves against other women, of needing to make "The Other Side" somehow less than in the hopes of causing themselves to be perceived as being somehow greater. (Parenthetically, there is a problem in the world of novels that I never hear anyone else talking about, that being that there are a whole slew of novels that slither into the designation of being literary--accruing automatic respect--merely by being nongenre.)
I think when people dismiss chick-lit as being a waste of time, one of two things is going on: 1) they haven't read widely in the field or sometimes even at all; and 2) they are not seeing the bigger picture: The reason chick-lit sells in such great abundance is that it provides readers with a reliable form of entertainment. Is there something wrong with this? In a world where, on the most killingly beautiful September morning in memory, the two largest buildings in New York City both crumpled to the earth within 102 minutes after being attacked, I don't think anyone should have to apologize for providing readers with a reliable form of entertainment. And now for my own gauntlet...
Did I mention that I'm really mad? I'm really mad and I'm tired of taking it. So I'll sit here and dream of putting together a response collection called This Is Not Lit-Fic: Angry Chicks Strike Back and Kick Butt or some other title and hope some publisher loves the idea. And I'll take the January Magazine review saying my book's "what Jane Austen might have written if she were working today" and my starred Kirkus and cheerfully go toe-to-toe with any writer in This Is Not Chick Lit. Bring it on, babies.
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