I was at home this morning listening to CBC Radio 1 when I came across yet another debate about the place of Chick Lit within the literary world. The debate was between two authors, one of which went to the dramatic step of changing her pen name from Diane Connell to DJ Connell so that readers would take her book seriously as a valid contribution to the humour genre rather than lump her in with Chick Lit writers. For those not in the know about the term Chick Lit it basically applies to books which fall into the romantic comedy category that are written by women for a female audience. Some of the more famous Chick Lit books which easily come to mind are Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding or the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella. Though this phenomenon is a recent version of it, women have been writing novels in this style for centuries. Many books in this genre owe a large debt to Jane Austen, whose works shaped the romantic comedy model while still being considered pieces of great literature. Since Austen there were many female writers whose target audience was the literate women of the upper crust and similarly to some Chick Lit authors of today, their work was not taken seriously in literary circles.
And now for my opinion. When I was in university reading books considered to be good literature for my classes, I liked nothing better than to crack open a trashy romance novel or Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella in order to take my mind off the serious plots of my required reading. In the radio debate and in her written reply to DJ Connell's thoughts on the subject, author Michele Gorman makes some pretty good points about the validity of Chick Lit as a genre. I agree with her argument that there are terrible books written in every style and that people seem quicker to criticize the merits of Chick Lit books as opposed to mystery novels and science fiction thrillers. One of the main problems that critics have of Chick Lit is that it fails to address the serious issues that ordinary women face in their day to day lives. I've read enough dramatic realism to know that there are moments where you would prefer not to be transported to the generally dreary existence that is "real life". At the end of a tiring day sometimes I don't want to read about the very real problems that plague women and am sick and tired of hearing people put down books that allow me to unwind.
Now that I am not a student and haven't been for a number of years I can choose to read what I want, when I want and that freedom is empowering. I try to vary what I read in the same way I choose my food; a little bit of everything. There are times though, that I come home and I eat a bag of microwave popcorn. It's convenient and it is what it is without the usual surprises of my cooking attempts. I know what I'm getting with Chick Lit too, and am more than slightly peeved that I have to justify reading it in a way that I don't have to with crime or science fiction. Arghh!