The chick-lit versus ‘real books’ debate continues in the world, including over at Irish feminist blog The Anti-Room. I think Anna Carey’s response says pretty much everything I thought when reading that post, but I’ve also been thinking about ‘why chick-lit’ and come up with a definition that sums up what I like about the genre: “young woman finding and developing her identity”. It doesn’t mention men or shoes, which are presumed to be great staples of the genre, and when I hear that I kind of feel like maybe I don’t ever read any chick-lit, really. I must be reading the stuff that gets labelled as chick-lit but isn’t… surely?
Is Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters chick-lit? It’s packaged as such… but the main focus is the intoxicating and infuriating relationship between Vix and Caitlin. And Vix’s identity is tied to Caitlin’s – the rich girl whose family welcomes Vix in and changes her life forever. There are boys, sure; there’s also family members, roommates, friends.
How about Abby McDonald’s The Popularity Rules, which certainly has fashion, but also has, again, a complicated friendship between two women? Does it count if a heroine is behaving in a certain way with a specific agenda in mind – in a way that deconstructs a lot of female behaviour and society’s attitudes towards women? Or Amy Silver’s Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista, where the heroine very obviously sets pretty shoes aside in favour of a rewarding job and a life she likes?
And Megan Crane’s books – novels where identity and place in the world and what-kind-of-person-are-you-really is at the heart of the matter. Clothing is, I think, occasionally mentioned; what stays with me are the flawed-yet-compelling female characters, the nuances of friendships, the ‘growing-up-even-though-you-kind-of-thought-you’d-be-finished-that-by-now’ that happens in your twenties.
It continues to amuse me that J Courtney Sullivan’s Commencement is referred to as chick-lit, but I’ll gladly count it as such, and point to it alongside the collected works of Marian Keyes as why I am really okay with ‘admitting’ to reading chick-lit. Look at what it includes! Of course there are poor specimens of the genre out there – but there are triumphs, too, and triumphs of books are always worth reading, whatever section of the bookshop they wind up in.