Friday, October 13, 2006

This is Not Chick Lit, Edited by Elizabeth Merrick

I’ve been seeing this around, and was curious. Ms. NonAnon, who blogs at Nonfiction Readers Anonymous calls the chick lit controversy the “Great Chick Lit Smackdown.” Like Ms. Nonanon, I have no desire to engage in labeling, or in condemning people for their reading choices. That said, I fail to get the appeal of chick lit. I want to like these books; the covers are so appealing! But I’ve tried several titles, and have found very few that were good enough to even finish. The predictable plots and poor writing make me cringe. They seem to take no skill or originality to write, and that angers me.

So why were the stories in this book collected under this title? After a certain amount of dancing around the issue (“What’s wrong with a little light fluffy reading?”), Merrick makes this point in her introduction:

Chick lit’s formula numbs our senses. Literature, by contrast, grants us access to countless new cultures, places, and inner lives. Where chick lit reduces the complexity of the human experience, literature increases our awareness of other perspectives and paths. …Chick lit shuts down our consciousness. Literature expands our imaginations.

I just have to agree with her. Merrick also makes the point that the stacks of pink covers on the tables at Borders are in danger of obscuring the real literary works of women writing today. In response to this, Merrick has collected the stories in this book as examples of the kinds of groundbreaking literature that women are writing right now.

I found these stories to be uniformly high quality. Some were more interesting to me than others, but all were original, unexpected, highly creative, and extremely well written. Authors range from older, established writers such as Mary Gordon and Francine Prose, to younger writers like Curtis Sittenfeld.

For me, the book will serve as a guide for selecting the next batch of authors that I want to read. The first author on my new list is Judy Budnitz, whose story Joan, Jeanne, La Pucelle, Maid of Orleans, is just brilliant, and certainly one of the best things I’ve read all year. I just love it when my reaction to a book or a short story is one of awe and amazement that anyone could be so creative and skillful to think up the plot and spin out the tale with such subtlety and imagination. Several of the stories in this collection generated this response from me, but Budnitz’s story was the highlight.

You can read more about this book here; this is just one article out of many. To find more, search for "Merrick chick lit" in Google.
(Book 44, 2006)


Anonymous said...

Yes, Elizabeth Merrick. I just don't know what to do with Elizabeth Merrick. I got this book, I even read and enjoyed several of the stories, but in the end I just couldn't stand her "holier than thou" tone. I get the feeling I'm her target audience, as I try to read a lot of "literary" fiction and nonfiction, but at the end of the day, I don't want to be seen with people who really think chick lit is the biggest problem facing literature and feminism today. Not to mention, um, that authors like Curtis Sittenfeld (and Merrick, in her anti-way) profit in a big way from the chick lit label: have you seen the colors of Sittenfeld's books? Chick-lit-esque bright pinks and greens abound, so in my opinion, she and Merrick should parallel park their old high horses and stop making women feel bad about what they choose to read.

Becky Holmes said...

It's interesting that you should make that comment about Curtis Sittenfeld, because I avoided reading Prep for a long time because I thought it was Chick Lit! It's got a pink belt on the cover! Then I realized that it was about high school, and that turned me off even more. However, after reading her story in TinCL, I decided to give Prep a try, and so far, it's kind of interesting. I'll let you know what I think.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you know, I've tried Curtis Sittenfeld, and am not a fan, but that may be because she wrote a really harsh (and unwarranted, in my opinion) of Melissa Bank's "The Wonder Spot." Let me know what you think...I may have to re-evaluate her.

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