Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I Am Woman, Hear Me Rant

I really was going to do some work on my novel in progress last night. Honestly. Then I saw this article in The New York Times, and my rant switch came on. (If you can't get to it--the article, that is, not my rant switch--try using Bugmenot.com.) The gist of it is that thanks to Ellen Archer and Pamela G. Dorman, publisher Hyperion is starting a new imprint called Voice. According to the Times's Motoko Rich, "Voice is specifically focusing on women from their mid-30’s and older and will have a resolutely anti-chick-lit bent." Rich adds that 10 professional women will meet twice a year "[t]o help Voice pinpoint what women want."

Well, I'm sure some highly paid consultant has told the women who came up with this idea otherwise, but judging from how much of it is in bookstores, what quite a few women want is chick lit. My own tastes don't run toward it, but I don't see it as something that women need to be saved from reading, any more than we need to be saved from reading romance novels or historical fiction or any other type of genre fiction. The fact that the saviors riding to our rescue are other women doesn't make me one iota more grateful for their intervention. It seems I ought to be grateful, though, because Dorman is quoted as saying, “'People are overwhelmed by choice, and what they want is someone who is self-selecting for them.'”

So what have the folks at Hyperion self-selected for all of us women over 35 to read instead of all that chick lit being written, edited, published, and read by so many misguided women? First on the platter is The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts. "Ms. Bennetts argues that women who 'opt out' of careers to raise children forfeit the financial, intellectual, emotional and even medical benefits of working outside the home."

Well, I'm going to save Hyperion a little market research now. I'm over 35. I'm a woman. But I'm not going to be buying The Feminine Mistake, because frankly, I think the last thing the publishing world needs is another book by a woman telling other women that there's something wrong with them because they choose to live lives that are not exactly like hers.

Now, what am I going to do with the money I save by not buying Bennetts' book? After resting up a while (that choice is just so overwhelming), I'm going to go to the bookstore and look for a book that has a great big shoe on it. Or a great big purse. Or a great big shoe and a great big purse. And I'm going to buy it. Then for good measure, I'm going to find a book with a hunky, barechested guy wearing a kilt on its cover. The boldest, most plaid, most manly kilt there is. And I'm going to buy it. Because I don't like being told by women how to spend my hard-earned book money any more than I like being told by men how to spend it.

As the chick lit ladies know, shopping can be such fun.


Gabriele Campbell said...

You go, girl.

There are actually some chick lit books that are fun, and I'm not normally into the genre. And those Scottish thingies can be fun in that OMG This Is So Bad-way.

Carla said...

Funny, but I can't remember the last time I saw an article earnestly delineating what men want to/ought to read.

Sarah Johnson said...

I've actually read some chick lit recently, and it wasn't half bad. Some of it was pretty funny.

You want chick lit or novels with men in kilts, though, I can send them by the boxload. That's what publishers seem to be sending me an awful lot of, lately.

Frank said...

These ladies can tell you all about books with men in kilts on the cover:

Eric Avebury said...

I haven't been reading fiction recently (ie for the last 30 years), but would be interested in a true life of my 21G grandmother Elizabeth de Clare.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Eric, nice to see you! You should get Frances Underhill's For Her Good Estate: The Life of Elizabeth de Burgh, a nonfiction account of Elizabeth based on her household records. Fascinating!

You all have any suggestions about some chick lit I can read to bug the folks at Voice?

I've never seen an article telling men what they ought to read either. I really can't recall anything by men complaining of what women read either--all the chick lit backlash seems to be women telling other women what they should or shouldn't be reading.

Frank, that site's a hoot. Have you ever seen the World of Longmere, where the webmaster's put made-up titles on real romance novel covers? Hilarious!

Margaret Porter said...

Sing out, Sister!

I read a fair amount of chick lit, but not the sex & shopping ones so much. Most of the authors I read are British.

My recommendations:

Katie Fforde. She's my favourite addiction. I particularly like Living Dangerously, an earlier book...and if you're in a mood for Scotland, Highland Fling is nice.

Rebecca Campbell. Slave to Love knocked my socks off...not at all what I expected, a quieter tale about staff in a London auction house. Another of hers, Slave to Fashion is quite different, far more chick-litty than the first--sharper and sassier and cynical.

Carole Matthews. For Better for Worse is my favourite of hers. A modern-day romp: English girl comes to the US for a family wedding. It kept me laughing out loud during a London-Boston flight. People across the aisle were staring, seriously.

Megan Crane. English as a Second Language. About an American grad student at a British University (based on York University, where I studied one summer, so I could definitely relate.)

I loved Carla's point about the lack of study about men's reading preferences. Oh, so true!

Kathryn Warner said...

Eric: it's really interesting that you'd like to see a true life of Elizabeth de Clare, as I've often thought I'd like to write one! Which of her husbands are you descended from?

That article is incredibly irritating, not to mention patronising. I haven't read any chick lit for a while, but I think I will now, just to spite them.

Susan: I really like Marian Keyes, who's Irish - her novels are set in Ireland and/or England (and one in LA). And they're very fluffy, but I adore Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series!

Carla said...

Boris Johnson had some highly dubious things to say about women's reading preferences in the Daily Telegraph (where else?). One can never tell with Boris whether he intends to be taken seriously or whether he's just poking a stick into an anthill for amusement (see the Comments thread appended to the article).

Susan Higginbotham said...

Margaret and Alianore, thanks for the recommendations!

Enjoyed the link, Carla! I took the Johnson article more as poking a stick.

I wonder if there are studies showing whether women read more than men? Everything I've heard tells me they do, but I can't cite a source.

Carla said...

So did I :-) I rather think Boris Johnson has stepped into Alan Clark's immaculate shoes.

Good point - the source ought to be market research, but that's rarely (never?) made public. It might just be Proof By Repeated Assertion.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I don't trust in someone who would not look misplaced at the front door of a disco.

Sarah Johnson said...

One chick lit/mystery I really enjoyed was Kathleen Bacus's Calamity Jayne. It's hysterical. The sequel was pretty good, too.

I keep hearing the genre-readers-are-70%-female figure bandied around, but I've yet to hear a specific source for this info mentioned, either.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Sarah!

Carla said...

Since there seem to be some experts here, or at least people with more knowledge of the genre than I have, can someone tell me if these opening scenes are typical of chick lit, or has Evil Editor selected an unrepresentative sample?

Susan Higginbotham said...

For the sake of chick lit, I hope they're not! None of them made me want to read further, to put it mildly.

Carla said...

Oh good - so I'm not alone! They all had that effect on me, too. Think I will stick to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle :-)

Gabriele Campbell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gabriele Campbell said...

Susan, they are just your average chick lit examples. Terrible, I know. :)

As I said, there's little good chick lit, and the only one I remember on spot is German. ;) If you want fun, murder and mayhem, and still some chick lit elements, try Janet evanovitch' Stephanie Plum books. One for Murder had me in stitches during some scenes.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Maybe it's better in the UK than in the US?