Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chick lit/schtick lit/ick lit

There's a new book coming out by German author Charlotte Roche called Wetlands. According to an article in Maclean's the book is causing quite a stir due to its graphic nature - the book is about a woman recovering from hemorrhoid-removal surgery who "boldly charts her bodily secretions and sexuality."

Awesome. More woman-produced drivel. What happened to female authors anyways? Since when did women have to write either stuff'n'fluff chick lit about shopping and getting married or nausea-inducing explicit sex lit, which apparently shows women's liberation? You know, there's a reason Margaret Atwood has been writing for 40 years and is still writing; why Margaret Laurence wrote for over 30 years; why Alice Munro has 40 years of work behind her and may or may not have retired; why Carol Shields wrote for over three decades; and why all these women have received countless awards, honours and positive criticism for years. (Hint: it's because they're good. They can write. And it's worth reading.)

At one point, in the Guinness Book of World Records, the top three best-selling books of all time were written by women:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (what is it about women named Margaret who can write much good?)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
(Apparently in 2003, the Guinness Book of World Records became the best-selling book of all time, but I know I read about these women and their books around then, so their record must have stood until 2003.)

With this kind of history of women writers, why oh why oh WHY do we have so many Sophie Kinsella wannabes? I always considered Helen Fielding and Bridget Jones's Diary to be the starter of the chick lit phenomenon. And where is Helen Fielding's brilliant writing career? (Insert sound of crickets here.)

It saddens me greatly but I guess this is just a reflection on the nature of book publishing now. Ever since Dan Brown darkened the bookshelves of the world with the written-at-a-grade-one-level tripe that is The Da Vinci Code, publishers have been looking for the next "Da Vinci Code" or next "Shopaholic" or next "Devil Wears Prada". To me, this means it's about the quick buck and not about leaving a legacy of beautiful words and stories, of cultivating the next crop of brilliant (women) writers, of creating the classics that will be read two generations from now.

I understand that there will always be flighty, fluffy, beach-ready books out there (hello, VC Andrews and Jackie Collins) but where are the new literary voices? I really hope it's just because I'm out of touch enough with the book world to not know about them yet (since I work in the magazine industry, I could tell you more about staff changes at Rogers than about the latest and greatest from the book world) but I do try to keep up. It just feels like there's not enough material of consequence by women out there.

I've always had a bit of an aversion to chick lit, but it's gotten worse lately, mainly because I've been reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and it is just so beautifully written and engrossing and everything that The Da Vinci Code wanted to be and never was. I hope to find more books like it in the near future, written in the recent past, and to be fully enjoyed in the present, with nary a wedding dress, sale at Louis Vuitton or Vogue magazine in sight.

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