On August 1st, "This Is Not Chick Lit" proudly and defiantly hit bookstores, and on September 1st, "This Is Chick Lit" will proudly and defiantly follow. Today on HuffPo we've got a face-off of sorts between the two, as "This Is Not Chick Lit" editor Elizabeth Merrick and "This Is Chick Lit" contributor Rachel Pine each write about their reasons for participating in their respective anthologies and their decision to reject/stand behind the categorization of "Chick Lit."Here's the good news: We've got two amazing anthologies featuring the work of some truly terrific women writers on both sides of the "divide." I put that word in quotes because I've never felt particularly strongly about whether or not something was "chick lit" per se as long as it cracked me up and engaged me. That's the litmus test of me and really any reader, no matter what the packaging or how pink its cover. What bothered me most about chick lit, frankly, was how the term was used to dismiss a huge chunk of the bookstore as silly, girlish prattle. I wrote of this last fall in response to an excellent and thoughtful piece on the subject by Salon's Rebecca Traister, which cited Canadian literary lioness Margaret Atwood saying "There's good, bad and mediocre in everything ... So...if it's about young women we're not supposed to take it seriously?" Said Traister:
It is the fear of not being taken seriously that surely undergirds the urge to blast chick lit. Female critics -- the genre's most frequent, and thus its loudest -- are understandably afraid of having their entire sex tarred with the same "frothy" brush as their chick-lit writing counterparts. When Curtis Sittenfeld wrote this year that calling a book chick lit is akin to calling a woman a slut, she also asked, "Doesn't the term basically bring us all down?"...This fear is valid, especially in a cultural atmosphere in which "women's magazine" is a derogatory term but Esquire routinely wins National Magazine Awards, in which Weisberger and Bushnell merit a combined review but a first novel by a man about a single guy in his 20s looking for love and professional fulfillment gets lauded in a full-cover review on the front of the New York Times Book Review.
So where are we almost a year later, now that Sittenfeld's second novel is out, called of all things "The Man Of My Dreams" and featuring a cartoonish frog on the cover with a crown on its head, ready to be kissed into Prince Charming? That's about as chick-litty as a cover can get (barring Manolos and martinis) and yet Sittenfeld has positioned herself firmly as far less "chick" than "lit." I'd say that's a plus, and I'd cheer Sittenfeld for pushing the envelope on the assumptions if the pushing was less at her fellow women writers and more at the easy and dismissive labels that pigeonhole them. That is, fortunately, beside the point, because a year later we're in a place where "This Is Chick Lit" and "This Is Not Chick Lit" can coexist side by side, each making their own arguments for why women writers can be funny, serious, smart, goofy, sexy, literary, poetic, or alternatively a guilty or not-so-guilty pleasure. This, as it turns out, is discourse — and as long as it's showcasing some good, smart, accomplished women writers, then I think it takes us that much closer to turning the chick lit frog into a prince.