Thursday, February 19, 2009

In Defense of Chick Lit...

Today, I was going to write this blog about romantic comedies and the annoying art of the 'chick flick'. I was going to muse aloud at how those movies always have actresses playing 'normal' girls when the actresses never, for one moment, ever look unattractive in the film. Even when they're supposed to look bad, they still end up looking as good as most of us normal folk do on a good day. I was going to also muse about how, in these movies, someone always goes to the grocery store and emerges with one of the brown grocery sacks packed beautifully with the fresh veggies sticking out on the top with a perfectly placed baguette sticking out of the bag. Have you ever tried to get a loaf of bread to really do that? I have. I've tried. It's all about stuffing the bag so much that the baguette can't move and it still wobbles over, catching on things so that you wonder if it's still edible. Yet in these films, the bag only contains a few items and the bread stands perfectly up, all on its own.

I also wondered who really runs around a corner to punch the air in excitement when she's about to have sex with a good looking man. Also, where are these brilliant, beautiful, broody men who seem to be waiting for the right misfit girl to come around the corner and fall in love with them?

Then I realized that I was just musing about romantic comedies, I was also musing about chick lit books. If you haven't read any of them, you may be unfamiliar with the genre. Yet think of books like Bridget Jones' Diary, or Confessions of a Shopaholic, or any book you see in a bookstore with hot pink on the cover or a pair of legs with fabulous shoes on the feet or a pretty girl obscured in some fancy modern art way. They're usually books about single women seeking their prince charming. I confess, I enjoy reading these books sometimes. Some of the authors are actually very good writers: Marian Keyes and Jennifer Weiner come to mind. Both of those authors manage to take what could be a fluffy story but deepen it, make it more real, wound it a little and give it scars.

Yet not all of the books do. Most of them follow a certain formula. Basically an slightly-insecure woman (with or without a few extra pounds) who is struggling to find herself (usually by working in a magazine or a public relations firm)* meets a man, obstacles arise, misunderstandings happen and, yet, always our insecure heroine lands Mr. Perfect and wrestles him from the arms of someone stunningly sexy and beautiful.

*(side note: I have always wondered why these women only ever work for magazines or do P.R. I mean, there are other jobs out there. Then again these are the jobs that require women to dress up, go to fancy functions and be exposed to a glamourous world, I suppose. Still, I'm very bored with those worlds now, thank you).

As I've said, I do enjoy these books. To me, they're like going to the grocery store after a bad day at work. You skip the good, healthy foods and, instead, grab a frozen pizza, ice-cream, wine, salt and vinegar potato chips and a jar of maraschino cherries just because they're good to eat straight from the jar. Then you go home, put in an old-but-cherished movie, and slowly work through your buyings. When you're done, you feel full. You feel guilty because now you're probably going to have to exercise to get rid of the badness you just ingested. Yet while you're eating all of that crap, it tastes perfect. It's not food for your body, it's food to soothe your poor bruised soul that just needs to be loved a little.

Chick lit and chick flicks are just like that pile of badness you buy from the grocery store. You know they're not good literature or cinematic works of art and yet they have their place in the world.

As a writer, you'd think I'd resent these books particularly at the volume they're getting published. Every time I go to Borders, there are more, piled on a table, the bright, vivid perkiness of the fonts on the covers screaming their genre without me really needing to read the back cover. If you go to the library, the spines of the books jump out from the more somber works that surround them, their vivacity calling out to be read, to be that binge you secretly crave.

Yet I don't resent them at all. In fact, I think they're necessary. They're good beach books. They're excellent airplane books. It's hard to read on a plane anyway. There are always babies crying, flight attendants bustling by, rummaging in the overhead. There's always the person in the row behind you who grabs the back of your seat as they stand up to go to the bathroom and you suddenly feel your head being jerked back and forth. Fluffy books are easy to read. If you lose your place, it's easy to find again. Little brain power is necessary to comprehend the words that are written on the page in front of you.

For you, it may not be a chick lit book that serves this purpose. I know that men have thier own brand of 'male lit' (known by the cruder term of 'dick lit'). It's a lot more masculine than a woman seeking her perfect evening gown and usually involves guns and explosions. Then there are the Louis L'Amour westerns, tales of rugged cowboys fighting for their survival, their women, their land on the great American frontier. And yes, actually, I have read some Louis L'Amour, thank you very much. My father is a big fan and it was hard to grow up and not be politely coerced to read some of them.

As a writer, I've thought about writing a chick lit book. I don't think it would be too hard. Yet the market for them is flooded and there's a lot of competition. They're not as easy to write as you'd think, anyway. As I've mentioned before, my attempt at a light romance turned into a dark and twisty tale with elements of abuse and the pain of a broken heart. So I think I'll leave it to the Sophie Kinsella's of the world, the Helen Fieldings, the Jane Green's. They're good at what they do. I may try again someday. I think the problem is that although I'd love my life to be a romantic comedy complete with the perfectly packed bag of groceries, the baguette sticking out on top, I know that life isn't really like that. In real life, the grocery bag would split, the bread tumbling out on the filthy street, no longer edible or, just as bad, the store doesn't carry baguettes, just soft, floppy old loaves of bread that just don't look as glamourous.

I do sometimes wish I did live in a chick lit book. I'd love to meet my Mr. Right, to banter with him wittily instead of blurting out sillyness, bordering on a stutter. I'd love to go to glamourous functions and somehow be able to afford a $500 pair of shoes (although, knowing me, I'd probably go to TJ Maxx for the shoes and use the rest of the money for bills). I'd love to just know he's Mr. Right and not mind that he might be a workaholic and that he has an ex-wife who looks like Cindy Crawford. I'd like to not mind that he has flaws and be able to ignore them because otherwise he's perfect, the way he is in the books.

Unfortunately, life isn't like that. It's probably better that way, it makes it more interesting even if the polished finish isn't so glamourous and shiny. Granted, at heart, I think most women wish that Prince Charming existed but it's probably better that he doesn't. It's better that we can live out our fantasies on paper because in real life, they're never as simple. So I will continue to sporadically escape into the world of Shopaholics, Commitmentphobes, neurotic women who supposedly represent me because somehow, when I start reading about them, they kind of do.

Happy Thursday.

No comments: