I have, what I consider to be, an awesome MacBook decal. It depicts Snow White in zombie form. Now, while I adore this, I have seen others react with horror when I open my laptop and reveal the full, bloody, glory of my zombie princess MacBook.

The look on their faces is similar to the look on my face when someone suggests I read a book in a certain genre. Therefore, I have decided to challenge myself. This February I shall be reading three randomly selected books from the genre I avoid at all costs. Chick lit.

What is chick lit?

BJD

The chick lit I’ve read – I tore through dozens of them in sixth form – revolved around women and their problems with relationships, work and shopping. They are Heat Magazine in book form.

I don’t think that all books written by women are chick lit. I think men can write chick lit books – I’d argue that David Nicholls’ One Day could be classified as a chick lit book.

The politics of chick lit

There’s been a bit of a backlash against the term chick lit, as it’s seen as terminology that is used to deride the work of female writers as a whole. While the genre may not get much critical acclaim, I hear that it’s one of the most profitable genres for authors. (I guess that part of the image problem could lie in the glut of chick lit books on the market, like the reality TV of fiction, they’re quick and easy to produce and make a tonne of profit.)

Why do I avoid these books?

I have a visceral loathing of rom-coms (and not just modern rom-coms, all of them). If the primary source of conflict in a book is a romantic relationship, or a battle with your love for chocolate cake versus a set of scales, I will usually look for the nearest window to fling the book out of. (I’m fine as long as there’s romantic conflict, and a horde of zombies / Orcs / Death Eaters etc.)

In short, I’m more of an action/conflict reader. I’m not saying reading horror, fantasy or sci-fi is in any way high-brow – it’s just a matter of taste.

What I’ll be reading

I know nothing about modern chick lit (although I did hear that something untoward has happened to Mr Darcy). I browsed through the covers on Goodreads and picked two books at random – a friend recommended the third. This month, I’ll be reading:

  1. Just a Girl, Standing in Front of a Boy, by Lucy-Anne Holmes
  2. Don’t Tell the Groom, by Anna Bell
  3. It Would Be Wrong to Steal My Sister’s Boyfriend (Wouldn’t it?), by Sophie Ranald

Want to find out more about the genre?

This CiF piece, by Lucy-Anne Holmes, discusses the genre and the language used to describe it, but I find the comments just as interesting. (I don’t agree with all the comments of course, but I have to say, I found Bridget Jones’s Diary more annoying and vapid than funny.)

Jessica Grose wrote an article back in 2012 explaining why she’s proud to have written a chic lit book. This goes into the gender bias argument in more detail, asking why, for example, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom got so much publicity when female authors have a hard time getting the spotlight. The thing is, Freedom felt more like literary fiction (it was boring as hell) than lad lit, and I don’t think true lad lit (which I’d equate to NUTS Magazine) gets any worse treatment than true chick lit. Female authors do get press coverage – they just have to be damn good, like Hilary Mantel good.

Another point, is that as chick lit focuses more on what are seen as private sphere / women’s issues, it’s not taken as seriously as it should be, despite the sales figures and the size of the market. I think marketers will always try to do what works best. Search for chick lit in Google Images and you get a sea of pink, pastels and high heels. It doesn’t help the image of the fiction, but if it didn’t sell, they wouldn’t do it.

I may not usually choose to read chick lit, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from reading it, and it doesn’t mean that all books in the genre suck.