Confessions of a Former Book Snob

Chick Lit

You know what I’m talking about – the pastel covers, the swirly titles, the images of generic ‘girly’ items (handbags, shoes, lipsticks etc.), plus love hearts and flowers all spiralling off in different directions…

Yeah. What a load of fluff. Probably about some over-privileged “kooky” woman who just can’t bag herself a man until Mr Right turns up. People say “don’t judge a book by its cover” but I (like almost everyone else) still totally judge a book by its cover.

I didn’t want to read chick lit. I’ll admit that I didn’t want to be seen to be reading chick lit. I didn’t want to adhere to the girl stereotype and read the books for girls. I’m interested in things besides romance and shoes. In fact, I’m not really interested in romance or shoes.

My confession gets worse: at this point, I had never actually read any chick lit. I didn’t want to, because I knew that they were all about the same thing (finding a man) and I didn’t want to read about that.

Then my hatred worsened. Every time I spoke to someone about the novel I was writing, they would nod and say “ah, so is it chick lit?” I was furious at the assumption.

Did my novel sound like chick lit when I was describing it? I mean, I never mentioned shoes and handbags. Or romance for that matter.

Sure, it was a little bit about relationships, but not romance, not finding Mr Right. I was writing a novel with a female protagonist that was also about relationships. Did that, by default, make it chick lit?

When I started writing something new, I decided to actually read some chick lit – to be sure that I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again and accidentally write fluff, and I picked up  Sophie Kinsella’s  The Undomestic Goddess. I finished it within a day (unusual for me, I’m a slow reader) and several things occurred to me:

1. I enjoyed reading it.

It wasn’t the best book I’d ever read or anything, but yeah, I enjoyed it. It was a good story with interesting characters. Truth be told, there are loads of other books in other, more ‘respected’ genres that fail to deliver either of these things.

2. In no way did the pastel cover with a handbag full of cleaning items, flowers and lipsticks bear any resemblance, whatsoever, to the story.

The cover was obviously created by someone who hadn’t read the book, but had heard the title and was told it was for the chick lit market.

3. The story was very well structured.

That seems like a throwaway point to make but it isn’t. So often I’ve read books where absolutely nothing happens, sometimes for several chapters at a time, sometimes it’s the entire book. Each chapter left on me on a cliff-hanger, the book had multiple narrative threads and had a great pace.

4. It was funny.

It really was funny. I mean I wasn’t rolling around on the floor laughing, but it was funny and observant of real life situations.

5. The romance element was totally incidental to the main narrative.

And this is the most important bit. Okay, so there is a love interest and, yes, he’s the usual impossibly handsome and mild-mannered man you might expect, but the romantic storyline only compliments the over-arching narrative.

After realising that I had been wrong about chick lit for many years, that I’d been a snob with an unfounded prejudice, I started to wonder why this might be.

For starters the very term “chick lit” makes me a bit snarly. It’s a derogatory term and whoever thought of it has a lot to answer for. Secondly, what qualifies a novel as chick lit, anyway?

Is it the female protagonist? Is it the romance? What specifically deems a novel as lit fit only for “chicks” rather than commercial, contemporary fiction?

Next, the book covers. Remember when novelist Polly Courtney famously ditched HarperCollins for marketing her book It’s a Man’s World as chick lit?

She raised a similar argument – what was it about her books that defined them as chick lit rather than contemporary fiction?

Or maybe it’s that the genre sells well, and so anything that can vaguely fall in to the chick lit category does so, and is marketed as such. And so I can’t help but feel like we’re stuck with the pastel covers because they represent the genre.

I’m not saying that chick lit is for everyone, in the same way fantasy isn’t for everyone’s cup of tea, or that historical fiction might not float everyone’s boat, but I am suggesting that maybe we’d be more inclined to give it a chance if we phased out the term “chick lit” and binned the fluffy, pastel book covers.

Has anyone else had similar snobby feelings towards chick lit? What are your thoughts on the way chick lit is marketed? What qualifies a novel to be chick lit, anyway?

Image via Enokson

Jo Throup