We all know by know that high-heeled shoes, shopping addictions, and the search for Mr. Right is what most people think about when pondering the much denigrated women’s literature genre, Chick Lit. And this is exactly what British author Polly Courtney does not want her potential readers to think about when they see the cover of her book. That is why, at the launch of her latest novel last month, It’s a Man’s World, Courtney chose to publicly dump her publisher, HarperCollins, for misrepresentation. Courtney claims that the cover art did not accuratly reflect the content of her novel.
“I’m not averse to the term chick lit, but I don’t think that’s what my book is,” Courtney stated in a Guardian.co.uk interview adding that “a lot of chick lit patronizes women.” However, some disagree with her and suggest that Courtney may be suffereing under an illusion about her writing. One such opponenet, Leah of chicklitreivews.com, wrote, “No matter what Polly says, she writes Chick Lit. That’s the long and short of it…What Polly doesn’t realize is that her comments are patronizing. Women aren’t fooled by beautiful pink covers.”
Yet, in a segment with Channel 4 News titled, “Does the ‘Chick Lit’ Label Dumb
Down Women’s Fiction?” Courtney expressed that she wished to avoid the “wrong people” reading her novel. She hoped that by regaining control of her branding through self publishing that she will be able to attract the “right reader” to her novels.
All of this has lead me to question what a “typical” chick lit novel looks like and who the “right” or “wrong” readers are for an author. Courtney writes that she “does not labour under any illusion,” adding that her “novels are not literary masterpieces – but nor are they chick-lit.” If she is writing commercial fiction about young women struggling to define themselves in their career and personal lives but also acheives this with irony and humour, is this not chick lit?
For me, the short answer is Yes.
But what is this “typical” chick lit novel? At one point in her peice, Courtney recounts an email from a reader who had given up looking for novels in the women’s section because all of them were about sex and shopping. I hate to break the news but I think statements like these are coming from people who have never read a chick lit novel. This is exactly something I would have said before my own chick lit conversion. Let’s assume that “typical” means the most popular titles/authors, Bridget Jones, Devil Wear’s Prada, Sex and the City; Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella. Having read these books or work from these authors I find it difficult to believe that the only topic of interest was shopping. As a matter of fact, I don’t think these books would be best sellers if that is what they were about.
Every chick lit novel I have read has been about women making their way in the world. This is what makes them relatable and interesting. I have to agree with Leah that women aren’t fooled into reading books because of shoes or shopping or the colour pink. The reason chick lit novels sell are because they are talking about lived experiences. Now, are we all 20-somethings trying to make it at a magazine in New York or L.A.? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in these candy coated novels that appeal to women’s experience of self, career, relationships, or social issues.
I think the “typical” chick lit novel about shoes and shopping is a myth used to derail conversation about women’s literature. The “typical” chick lit novel is either held up as an example of how useless women’s literature is or is used as a way to clamour for elevated status as an author or reader. Sadly, this means stepping on the backs of other women and giving them a kick in the face while grasping for the top.
I belive in the reclaimation of words and standing in solidarity. Chick lit may not be someone’s prefered reading or writing style but I don’t think this means it should be used as a punching bag.