Readers’ Panel: What does chick lit mean to you?
By Jade Craddock
Readers are at the heart of the book industry, choosing which titles to read, helping to shape authors’ destinies and deciding on the next big thing. So who better to ask about what makes a good book, what they’re looking for in a character and what they love and hate in a book than the readers themselves. So here at weheartwriting.com we’ll be running monthly readers’ panels, with readers of all ages and from across the globe who share a love of reading and passion for chick lit. So welcome our first ten readers aged 20-55 who will be sharing their views over the next four months, kicking off this month with the fundamental question: What does chick lit mean to you? ♥
Lee-ann, Australia: Essentially, a contemporary light-hearted romance. I expect the setting and characters to be contemporary. I know some people have tried to include classics into the chick lit category, but I disagree. As a general rule, I wouldn’t class anything published before the nineties as chick lit. Books published before then might feature some chick lit aspects, but they would not have a contemporary enough feel for me to really place them in the chick lit genre. Even if there is a historical (I adore the time travel trope) or paranormal/scifi/fantasy feel about the book, I expect the characters at least to have modern ideals. I don’t expect racism, homophobia, or sexism from the lead characters. I expect chick lit to be light-hearted with humorous touches sprinkled throughout. If I wanted to read a deep depressing book, I wouldn’t chose the chick lit genre. I expect and want a lot of comic situations and lines. Quirky was a word invented for chick lit! Of course every book must have conflict, and tears might happen occasionally, but overall I expect a smile on my face whilst reading the genre. Romance goes without saying! Chick lit definitely means a happy-ever-after ending. Call me old-fashioned, but if I don’t like the romance of the book, I won’t like the book as a whole, no matter what other important themes are explored throughout. I readily admit I want my heroines to end up in the arms of Mr Right. I’m happy with a world where everyone meets their perfect match. All problems are solved by the last page. Shiny happy people holding hands! Chick lit also means a quick easy read; language I can relate to, and don’t need to read twice or Google to understand. This is another reason why I don’t categorise the classics like Austen as chick lit. Such literature can take a lot of concentration and thought to follow, despite the chick lit situations that may occur in them. Chick lit means I can read it whilst enjoying a cup of coffee at a cafe or a shopping centre food court with thirty people nattering around me. I can be completely ‘female’ and do two things at once with a chick lit book in my hands – watch TV, supervise homework, check my Facebook feed … all whilst still reading chick lit.
Fiona, England: Holiday read. Relaxing. Not taxing on the brain. Pleasant. Feel-good factor.
Trish, Ireland: Chick lit, for me, is essentially romance or romantic comedy. It is not ‘women’s fiction’ when it’s taken to mean any fiction written by or appealing to women. Jojo Moyes , Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks are often considered chick lit authors but to me they are very wide of the mark – issue driven, maudlin or melodramatic; usually with a nice line in misery going on. I’d hive them off into the Popular Fiction or Women’s Fiction category & away from chick lit. Most importantly they’re no fun and for me chick lit means fun. It has to have romance as the core of the story which means the hero and heroine should spend a lot of time together; talking, flirting and yes, hopefully having sex or at the very least really, really wanting to have it. My point is there has to be a sexual spark, sexual tension between the characters. The reader should fall in love with the hero. A few years ago I got completely disillusioned with chick lit when it became all about shops, clubs and teacups. Titles like The Twee Tiny Coffee Cup Shop and The Chocolate Cupcake Club in all their endless variations bring me up in hives at this stage. In all of them some business or contrived ‘list’ project took centre stage with the hero as an add-on, almost an afterthought. I gave up and decamped to Twilight fanfic. Read twenty or so Georgette Heyers. Went back to Mills and Boon. I was lured back by the smart, sexy, singleton tales of Sarra Manning and Gemma Burgess, both on another planet to most chick lit but sadly not very prolific. I loved Fifty Shades of Grey. Why these? All had one boy, one girl, thinking about each other, talking to each other, falling in love with each other. All conveyed the feeling of fascination with another person that’s central to falling in love. They had serious moments but essentially I read them all with a smile on my face and was never in doubt about a happy ending. When Fifty Shades of Grey (which personally I count as chick lit) came out I thought ‘Great, this will shake up chick lit – more sex and romance, less Principles of Marketing and business start-ups’. Instead chick lit authors and bloggers sniffily consigned it to the erotica ghetto and went on writing about cake, and redemption through selling designer handbags, as if sex has nothing to do with love and romance when surely it’s an integral part. I’m kind of close to despair. If I hadn’t discovered Rebecca Chance a year ago I fear I’d be reading Nordic Noir crime fiction by now. This is not a good thing.
Katrina, Scotland: Chick lit to me is a form of escapism, written by ‘young’ women about young women’s lives and loves.
Chanpreet, USA: Chick lit means a number of things to me. It can be an escape to another place, a journey in someone else’s shoes, or a must-have that drains my wallet and lots of shelf space. Chick lit means camaraderie, friendship, and connections across the country and the world that would not have existed if I didn’t read chick lit.
Nicole, Australia: Chick lit means to me that the books are geared towards women. I can relate to the story, the characters and their experiences.
Natalie, UK: Chick lit to me means escapism, adventure, love and life. It allows me to escape reality for a while and enjoy whatever it is that is going on in a book at that time.
Pheobe, USA: I’m always saddened by the dismissive way ‘chick lit’ can be regarded, as opposed to the kinder, less pejorative ‘women’s fiction’. I think the connotation is that women’s fiction is very serious and momentous, and chick lit is a bit frothier? (I worry that it always connotes shoes, chocolate, etc.) Anna Quindlen versus Helen Fielding, perhaps. I’m a great lover of both, but I’m not sure I’d divide them up, actually. Look at someone like Jennifer Weiner or Lolly Winston or Emily Giffin – I think authors like this straddle that line, and to slot their books into one or the other category seems to falsely limit their appeal, I think. For me, chick lit is fiction with a focus on a woman’s journey, and I guess the part that makes it “chick lit” rather than women’s fiction would be yes, that I perceive some humor in it – not necessarily that it’s a funny book, but that the heroine isn’t relentlessly somber; she has some self-awareness that lets her step back and laugh a bit at her situation, I suppose.
Kevin, Malaysia: Chick lit has never let me down. It’s a fantastic genre which has multiple sub-genres and in my opinion, it is the most diverse genre today. You have the really heartwarming boy-meets-girl love stories, the darker side of chick lit which deals with more emotional themes, like loss, death, etc. All I’m saying is, chick lit is home. Reading a chick lit book offers me comfort and adventure, be it a journey of self-discovery or an epic love story, it’s my favourite genre, forever and always.
Kat, Scotland: Chick lit counts for the majority of my reading. It has the ability to make me laugh and cry in equal measures, whilst also providing a welcome dose of happiness when I need it the most. When I read other genres, I always come back to what I know and love.
Look out for next month’s Readers’ Panel when we’ll be asking what readers look for in a chick lit heroine. (Anyone who would like to be involved in future readers’ panels can drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org).