Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Freedom to Lit like Chicks

Image from the Bryant Library Teens (BLT) Blog - every library should have one
and their article on chicklit

My first week back from holiday is almost over and Mull almost a distant memory, but for the persistent reminders of long-haired highland cows.

Today was officially a good day. Some of the spread the happiness malarky must be really working because I was so chirpy in the office that the Chief asked if I was on drugs. Cynic.

The Chick Lit debate is raging on over at the Free Democracy blog in an article by Maureen Dowd. I find these kind of debates depressing, and about as futile as an academic discussion over whether or not a group of people like Eastenders. For the record, I don't care what anyone's reading - you can't judge a person by the book in their hand at any particular time.

Over the last week I've been reading:

Promethea - A graphic novel by Alan Moore (it was a recommendation in an article on Steampunk by one of the city librarians)
Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut (he's brilliant, it's amazing)
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (had no idea it was like an episode of Monty Python)
Hellish Nell - A biography of Helen Duncan, Britain's last witch (engrossing and fact-packed)
Are Men Necessary? - ironically, by Maureen Dowd (I posted on this last week)

Apart from Slaughterhouse 5 and Catch 22, which are both anti-war novels, my reading has almost nothing in common. I also have a penchant for young adult fiction and devoured, for instance the entire Buffy-like Mediator series by Jenny Carroll in one long and memorable week.

What is most notable to me about the categorization and dismissal of 'chick-lit' is how fundamentally self-defeating and utterly depressing it is. I would say it is probably a mistake to think of chick-lit (a label that I don't like personally because I think it screams Fiction Lite, but then anything associated with solely women will be associated with ditziness) as any more descriptive a category than Crime or Fantasy, into which thousands of entirely different books nestle.

And Dowd's point in this article that:

"“Looking for Mr. Goodbunny” by Kathleen O’Reilly sits atop George Orwell’s “1984.” “Mine Are Spectacular!” by Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnurnberger hovers over “Ulysses.” Sophie Kinsella’s “Shopaholic” series cuddles up to Rudyard Kipling."

Well since when was it news that books I don't like 'cuddle up' (careful Maureen, that sounds a little too feminine, people won't take you seriously) with books I love? And yes, aesthetically and intellectually, it does offend me that putting a little pink bow on The Bell Jar is a publisher's best attempt to sell it to more women.

But it also makes me laugh that those women will get one hell of a shock if it was the little pink bow that was the clincher in that deal - The Bell Jar is not a book to 'cuddle up' with! It's like selling a shark as a cuddly toy, and I think Plath would see the poetry in that. She was, after all, a rather feminine shark herself.

Wasn't the feminist movement about the right for women to express themselves? Shouldn't we start from the supposition that freedom of speech will also include the right to disagree with one another and to have different tastes? How is the slamming of chick lit any different to the glorifying of 'proper' or 'classical' literature - a genre which is conventionally dominated by men?

Any adverserial slam-dunking between women, especially in the name of feminism, has to be a step backwards.

I don't read Sophie Kinsella, but many of the women in the Ministry do. They went to see her when she came to Portsmouth on a book tour and they still talk about that night now.

Am I any less delighted to work in an office where half a dozen women can spend an hour or more talking about books (as Clarky would say....the stuff of dreams.....) because they're discussing Kinsella and not Tolstoy? No. Because I haven't read Tolstoy either.

A poem for Shonagh today, and final proof that not everything Plath wrote was depressing.


Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo's mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark, as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools' Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

Sylvia Plath

1 comment:

H x said...

Glad to have you back pretty lady, mummy C has done a great job, but i missed ya!! Good to speak to you the other day.

Catch ya soon x