Friday, August 11, 2006

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest

Alternet has an article and an interview about chick lit and a new anthology called This is Not Chick Lit. The anthology includes stories by Jennifer Egan, Mary Gordon, Francine Prose, Curtis Sittendfeld and a host of others. I am quite conflicted by the whole thing. On the one hand I dislike those horrid pink chick lit covers and the stories within them. Supposedly they are about me life, but I don't live in New York, hate shopping (except for books), hate shoes, and am not looking to catch a boyfriend or a husband. I know I am way over-generalizing here and have actually read a few books that could be deemed chick lit, but for the most part, if a book is sold as chick lit I will not buy it. I should be the perfect candidate for the anthology, right? But the anthology bothers me too. I don't think there is anything wrong with chick lit even though I don't like it. There is nothing wrong with books that tend to fluffy escapism. I like a good escapist read, my taste just runs fantasy or science fiction. Elizabeth Merrick, the editor of This is Not Chick Lit put together the anthology because serious women writers are not promoted and get pushed off the front tables of bookstores by the chick lit, making it "harder and harder to find literary works by women." Her intention is to draw attention to women who write literary fiction. This is all well and good, promoting women writers of literary fiction especially since, as Merrick mentions, women writers have "few bylines in our major American literary publications. You need review space, and review space is still very biased toward men and bylines at our literary publications. Look at Harper's or The New Yorker. It's a very good week if there are 25 percent or 30 percent female bylines." Here's my problem. Instead of fighting for a bigger piece of the pie for all women writers--more bylines and review space at the literary publications, chick lit vs literary fiction sets up a dynamic pitting women writers against each other for the same small piece of pie. This is so old-school. Has everyone forgotten what we learned from the feminist movement? I'm not looking for chick lit and literary writers to band together and get all kum-ba-ya or anything, that's plain dumb and naive. But it's even dumber for the two genres to fight against each other especially after acknowledging there is a bigger issue involved. If literary women writers want more publicity there are others ways to get it than slamming chick lit writers. Making fun of chick lit is of course easier than changing the dominate literary culture. But making fun of chick lit is not going to encourage readers who enjoy the genre to give more literary fiction by women a try. If anything, it will make them feel insulted and turn them off of it entirely. And in my opinion, that's the dumbest thing of all.