I’ll be honest here – I can’t get enough of books. All of them, from the hoity-toity perversions of Nabokov to the cultural phenom of “Harry Potter.” I’m also an absolute un-fan of books written poorly (read: anything by Nicholas Sparks). Who is this guy and why does he sell thousands of books when his main character in every novel is a man who has somehow fallen tragically in love?
But chick lit, an arguably recent genre in the world of books, is different. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. A couple of years ago I argued in a column that it doesn’t matter what you love to read as long as you truly love it, as long as it does something for you that affects you – and I don’t mean affects you in the “Whoa, Dan Brown has awesome anagrams” kind of way. But what about books like “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” books of that ilk, with candy-colored covers and kicky cartoon renderings of every woman’s foot treading lightly on the words of the title? The problem with these books, as I see it, is that they basically do nothing. They don’t move you when you’re reading them, they don’t frighten you or excite you and they most definitely don’t educate you – unless you by some chance don’t know who Jimmy Choo is. You might get a good education if that’s the case.
So what is the consequence of this nothingness? When I’ve closed the latest, oh, I don’t know, “Confessions of a Vocally Talented Librarian Leading a Secret Life as a Private Detective who Falls for the Bad but Good at Heart Boy,” what have I wasted, or won?
Well, I’ve wasted my time. But really, it’s complete and harmless fun to read about Liz McNormal’s latest shopping spree, culminating, of course, in a chocolate binge. And I haven’t wasted much time, have I, simply flipping pages leisurely while I tread the mill at the gym in my coordinated jogging suit?
No. But the real danger of chick lit is that it is precisely chick lit – books that purport to tell stories about women, plots littered with real-life details and an appropriately over-the-top description of sex. But these aren’t real women. These are women who are either impossibly thin or become impossibly beautiful, whose “ordinary” looks still somehow manage to snag them the rugged businessman who turns out to be a millionaire. These are women whose highest aims seem to be saving enough money for that newest Chloe tote, whose personal crises revolve around relationship issues and who are soaked in the ice-cream-coated stereotypes of women’s problems. These aren’t real women. But do reading these books make us believe they are?
A lot of people say that books like these are escapism – stories that purposefully draw readers out of the colorless and mundane routines of their daily lives into a pastel rainbow room of designer clothing and handsome men. But what escapism? After I read something like this I usually end up wishing that I was that thin, that pretty, that gutsy and regretting somehow that I don’t have $1,000 to buy the latest Louis Vuitton. Women like this must exist somewhere, living in a beautiful bubble of facials at Bliss and casual sex with no worries – a little like “Sex and the City.” And I do, believe me, do, love shoes – but I’ll let you know the next time a pair of shoes will keep me from making a nice addition to my IRA.
What women are like this? Which “chicks”? And what kind of women – young women, girls, even grown women- are reading books like this and thinking that this is what they must be in order to be beautiful, popular, accomplished? When did it become OK for a woman to tell another woman that simply owning the right shade of lipstick and piddling around in a secretary’s job will lead to that ultimate of all dreams, marriage to a desirable man? And why is it so popular for women to believe this?
Reading chick lit is one thing. But the real danger? That reading chick lit will lead to wanting to be chick lit, or worse, actually being chick lit. Because women really aren’t the stiletto-shod mall goddesses that lurk in the pages of a $7 paperback. Because real life doesn’t allow for perfect twist endings or life changing revelations. And mostly, because you aren’t going to learn anything from Sophie Kinsella that you can’t learn from living real life.