Brainy Broads Cheapshot Chicks; Blog Blowhard Blurts: "Baloney!"

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This Is Not Chick Lit, a new anthology from "America's Best Women Writers," sets out (finally!) to overthrow the tyranny of the anti-woman book business and kick out the bimbos who have consigned reading gals to a softcover Abu Ghreib of designer handbags and unreliable boyfriends.

Among the serious belles of belles lettres who are fighting this uphill battle: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Aimee Bender, Judy Budnitz, Jennifer S. Davis, Jennifer Egan, Carolyn Ferrell, Mary Gordon, Cristina Henríquez, Samantha Hunt, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Dika Lam, Caitlin Macy, Francine Prose, Holiday Reinhorn, Roxana Robinson, Curtis Sittenfeld, Lynne Tillman, Martha Witt. You can see why these women are so motivated. I mean, how long has the male-dominated literary establishment conspired to keep Francine Prose from publishing? Why does Hollywood stubbornly refuse to adapt any of Egan's books for the big screen? And Sittenfeld? What kind of world are we living in where the media refused to make a single mention of her obscure cult novel Prep?

Poking holes in such deluded self-regard should be easy enough, but Scott Stein (the Scott Stein) shows there are still some interesting things to say on the matter:

Women are hardly oppressed by the publishing industry, the critics, or the literary establishment. Women publish serious books and are taken seriously; they are reviewed in major publications and taught in university courses; they write bestsellers in every genre; they hold many major positions as editors and literary agents; one of them (Oprah) owns the most powerful promotional vehicle for books that has ever existed; their most commercially successful author, J.K. Rowling, could probably buy and sell a dozen Dan Browns and still afford a few John Grishams to mow the lawn.

Women are also certainly not oppressed by the reading public, since women are the ones who buy most of the fiction, which is why publishers cater to women by publishing chick lit. Gloria Steinem's problem is that women don't make the choices that she wants them to. Not enough women are buying the right kinds of books. Too many of them want to be entertained by something light and amusing and not substantial enough. Too many women–writers–are making too much money by giving other women–readers–exactly what they want to spend their money on. There are men involved in the industry, too, but I would guess that the majority of editors and agents involved in publishing chick lit are women.

Calling a collection of serious stories This Is Not Chick Lit isn't an act of rebellion or a political statement. It's a marketing strategy. "Hey, over here," it says to serious readers, "be seen reading this book. You'll feel better about yourself and will impress people." Or, less cynically, "Hey, if you don't like chick lit, try some literature written by women."

There's also a good discussion of the way book-cover semaphore does the work of genre creation and author stratification.

I wish America's greatest women writers luck with their marketing strategy, but there's another element at work here—one of class. The writers above are the literary equivalent of Oscar winners, and as such they'll always be at a disadvantage, in terms of artistic license, against an acknowledged low genre like chick lit—which has already shown its literary value through the kind of borderline-insane experimentation only a low genre can carry off.

That having been said, I like Francine Prose. But for another view, dig Alan Charles Kors' big red F-grade for Prose's campus-PC burlesque Blue Angel.

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  1. Embarrassingly enough, I’ve never heard of any of those authors. I must be part of the anti-woman buying public that’s oppressing them.

  2. Don’t feel bad, AC. I haven’t heard of them either, and I’m part of their double-X target audience.

  3. At least women are reading. My demographic, males 18-34, is one of the lowest in terms of number of readers. That’s if you don’t count FHM, Maxim, etc.

  4. As a follow-up, here are some stats:

    Literary Reading by Gender

    Men:
    1982 – 49.1%
    1992 – 47.4%
    2002 – 37.6%

    Women:
    1982 – 63.0%
    1992 – 60.3%
    2002 – 55.1%

    http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/e-resources/ebooks/records/efe2981.html

  5. I’ve never heard of any of these writers, and I have an MA in English. Then again, the only 20th Century lit I studied in grad school (’93-’95) was Tennessee Williams. Since then, I’ve stuck primarily to “low genre” stuff like Charlie Stella, Victor Gischler, and Vicki Hendricks.

  6. There’s a chick named Curtis?

  7. There’s a chick named Curtis?

    Yes.

  8. read some shit by real authors, not dumb biddies…
    like philip k dick, terence mckenna, tim leary and neil gaiman.

  9. Here are some Americam female authors who are not “chick lit”: Kathy Acker, Amanda Filipacchi, Lisa Carver, Kate Braverman.

  10. Maybe dudes would read more books by old women if they stopped writing stories about falling in love with one legged germans during the war.

    ooooh ‘the love that dare not speak it’s name’.

    Boring…..

    If you are female, and want to be a novelist, take Mark’s advice:

    1) Write about spaceships
    2) Include teleportation as a key plot construct
    3) Give at least one character gills

    If you include all of the above, and you still don’t make it, it’s not institutional sexism within publishing, it just means you suck.

  11. The stats show less reading by men and women.
    So why are Borders, etc. so jammed? “In the day”
    bookstores were tiny, few (in suburbs) and rarely visited. Even the public libraries today have more traffic, it seems, than in my youth.

  12. So why are Borders, etc. so jammed?

    Magazines mainly. And chick lit. Also, to grab a coffee. Plus, I think those places give people an injection of ‘intellectual confidence’ so I reckon you get far more browsers as opposed to purchasers in stores like borders.

  13. So why are Borders, etc. so jammed?

    You know, reading material isn’t the only thing picked up at Borders.

  14. The stats show less reading by men and women.
    So why are Borders, etc. so jammed?

    The stats mentioned showed fewer people reading “literature.” That doesn’t include the folks looking for self-help books and the “<X> for Dummies” series.

    1) Write about spaceships

    Old news. Even in SciFi the current trend seems to run toward:

    1. A ball-buster heroine.
    2. The only hero who can tame her.
      • Bonus if hero and heroine are the same sex.
    3. TLHEA.
      • Cutting edge does not require the happy ending.
  15. Bonus if hero and heroine are the same sex.

    Has sci-fi gone gay? I’m impressed; I would have thought that sci-fi would have been the last stronghold of desperate single heterosexuals.

  16. why dont these chicks get real jobs instead of writing and then bitching that no ones buys their crap.
    i’m sure there are plenty of places that need some secretaries or high school english teachers.

  17. >Calling a collection of serious stories This Is Not Chick Lit isn’t an act of rebellion or a political statement. It’s a marketing strategy.

    Absolutely, and the authors involved are well aware of that. There’s a competing anthology out,

  18. I will do my part by buying everything by Ann Coulter.

  19. Funny how her books get marketed as nonfiction.

  20. Funny how her books get marketed as nonfiction.

    Coulter’s books are nonfiction. Fiction is telling a lie to illustrate the truth. Ann’s books do the opposite.

  21. She’s a work of metafiction and an amusing character in her own life.

  22. Just today I was remembering how much I enjoyed Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century.
    That book should be mandatory reading for all mopey teens.

  23. I read a lot and never heard of any of them either. Though I prefer (not in any particular order) James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Lee Child and Lisa Scottoline. I do not like Chick Lit.

    Gloria, like all feminazis, can’t stand that women do make their own choices, but those choices include reading romance novels, stripping and being hookers. The whole point in equality is choice with responsibility.

  24. I Amazoned a random sampling of these writers and wonder what’s the difference between them and “chick lit.” Their stuff all seems to be depressing douchewater about victimhood and breeding/family drama with a smattering of romance and betrayal, “set against a backdrop of “.

    Um *kaff* that’s CHICK LIT *kaff*. Yawn.

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