The Entertaining Truth Behind Chick Lit

Truth is, after a long day, or when you're vacationing with your family on a relaxing island, sometimes all you really want is to pick up something familiar, with characters that remind you of your best friends.

Jan 24, 2014 at 2:30pm | Leave a comment

While there's something to be said for having read a certain breadth of classics (think Twain, Dickens, Austen, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Dostoevsky), it's not always what I'm in the mood for.
 
On a recent vacation, I brought with me Chad Harbach's "The Art of Fielding." When my partner discovered that it was about baseball (albeit in the same way that the critically acclaimed series "Friday Night Lights" is about football), he took to picking up the heavy paperback book whenever it wasn't in my grasp. One day, we took fifteen minute turns each with it, me hastily scanning through the baseball-laden scenes and him rushing through the romantic ones.
 
I don't read chick lit, per say, and I don't like romantic comedies (screw cheesy sentiment; I like movies that make me bawl) but after reading an intriguing piece in the January 13th issue of "The New Yorker" about author Jennifer Weiner's "quest for literary respect," I decided that I ought to learn more about the genre I disdained. Once I started researching chick lit in greater detail, I realized that I had read a lot of the major recognized titles--and subsequently seen the movies!
 
When Weiner's novel, "Good In Bed," debuted in 2001, I read it with great enjoyment. Yet later, when I'd gotten turned on by such female authors as Jumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Louise Erdrich and Alice Munro, I felt I'd graduated to more serious books. And when I moved to New York and had to pare down my extensive book collection, it was titles such as "The Nanny Diaries' and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" that were tossed out first.
 
Interestingly enough, most of the books on our round up of chick lit titles--a genre that New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead says arrived as "the hapless and approachable half-sibling to what was then called the 'shopping and fucking' novel"--never received any critical attention from "The New York Times," but nearly all of them enjoyed numerous weeks on "The New York Times" Bestseller list. Mead explains that most of Weiner's readers (and readers of her sisters in the field) seek out her books because of their "casual prose, happy resolutions, and lovable heroines." She goes on to say that "it is unlikely that literary critics will ever applaud Weiner's work for these qualities, because literary criticism, at its best, seeks to elucidate the complex, not to catalogue the familiar."  
 
Whether or not you agree with this statement (and I happen to agree with it), it doesn't mean you can't appreciate the genre with a bum rap. Furthermore, it says nothing of your intelligence, something I once worried about when company came over and studiously perused my bookshelves.
 
Truth is, after a long day, or when you're vacationing with your family on a relaxing island, sometimes all you really want is to pick up something familiar, with characters that remind you of your best friends. So, go ahead, be a chick and embrace the literature made in your honor. See below for twelve heartwarming and hilarious reading selections.
 
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"Beaches" by Iris Rainer Dart
1. Before Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey commanded big screen attention with their heartwrenching story of a best friendship through the years, Dart captured the tale in a book that'll likely make you laugh, cry and then cry again.
Beaches
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2. "Sex and the City" by Candace Bushnell
The smash hit television show came after Bushnell's frank and bold book based on true stories of her and her friends' experiences with dating, work and friendship debuted. It was a real page-turner-- witty, honest, sincere and at turns borderline crude-- but it was every bit devourable. Read it and then indulge in a SATC marathon re-watch!
 
 
3. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
Often labeled as the first of a long list of novels written to entertain the ladies, Bridget Jones's character is far from perfect, not always sexy (remember the granny panties?), and yet entirely loveable in her familiarity.
 
 
4. "Confessions of a Shopaholic" by Sophie Kinsella
Becky Bloomwood, the series' protagonist, likes to shop--a lot! The UK author has managed to create a light and entertaining read that women everywhere can understand and enjoy.
 
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5. "Mr. Maybe" by Jane Green
Remember the dating butterflies you used to experience before you met and married your husband? For a reminder of this often tender period of your life that you'd probably rather never return to, check out Jane Green's comical take on the single gal's experience searching for true love. - See more at: http://www.elizabethstreet.com/node/10419#sthash.3WKsFRAp.dpuf
 
6. "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult
One of the more serious choices in this roundup, Picoult tells the story of two sisters, one of whom must face a difficult dilemma. Picoult is a prolific writer--writing about a book a year, sometimes more. If you're new to her elaborate tales of woe and hardship, start with this suspenseful read. 
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7. "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" by Terry McMillan
Escape with this thrilling story of a woman who takes a spur-of-the-moment trip to the sultry island of Jamaica, where she falls for a man half her age. Even if it's a life we could never imagine living, it sure is fun to read (and fantasize) about.
 
8. "Bergdorf Blondes" by Plum Sykes
With a narration style similar to Bushnell's Sex and the City, Sykes's tale delves into the elite world of well-to-do Park Avenue women. Its light, satirical nature makes it a worthy beach--or lazy Sunday morning--read. 
 
9. "The Devil Wears Prada" by Lauren Weisberger
We know very few people unfamiliar with this truly hilarious story of a powerful editor and her assistant (recall Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in the film version). Totally worth a read for its fast-paced writing and pretty good (if somewhat exaggerated) character portrayals. 
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10. "Good in Bed" by Jennifer Weiner
Weiner is an author who has repeatedly defended the extremely likeable female characters she consistently creates. Cannie Shapiro, the plus-figured heroine in Weiner's first novel, isn't necessarily attractive by Hollywood standards, but she is confident and knows what she wants. Writing with a sensitive and humorous touch, Weiner strikes chick lit gold here.
 
11. "Godiva" by Nicole Galland
A recreation of the famous tale of Lady Godiva, Galland's historical work of fiction presents an entertaining look at courtly intrigue, deceit and romance, sure to satisfy readers of traditional romance novels as well as readers of history. 
 
12. "The Nanny Diaries" by Emma Mclaughlin & Nicola Kraus
Because the authors are former nannies, the book has a ring of truth to it as it takes a close look at the world of Manhattan's upper class. The nanny in the novel wants a life outside of her job but finds that the balance she seeks is a hard bargain. 
 
Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Street. Want more?