Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jane Austen v. Sophie Kinsella. A Fight To The Death.

Sophie Kinsella and Jane Austen are the most famous chick lit authors in the world. The degree of affection I have for latter is match by the disdain I have for the former.

I started reading chick lit in 2001 when I went in search of the literary equivalent to romantic-comedy movies. In short order I found Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding and the Marian Keyes novel Rachel's Holiday. Within a month of discovering these two wonderful books, I also discovered the scorn that is heaped upon the entire genre and its fans.

When I sit down to read I have specific needs:
1. a plot. I don't want a meandering narrative that delves into the universal truths of mankind and doesn't come to some resolution by the final page,
2. a heroine to whom I relate. Is she a stunningly beautiful specimen of humanity without a single physical flaw? Is she a teenager who loves a vampire? Is she a genius who never makes a mistake and has impeccable decision making skills? If have nothing in common with the main character, I will hate her from page one and not be invested in her life,
3. family, friends, career,  aka plot complications and/or a real life
4. life experiences. Translation: she needs to be a grown woman,
5. an adult male who makes me swoon, and
6. humour.

The genre that most consistently fulfills my criteria is chick lit. Good chick lit novels have a strong-willed, intelligent female protagonist who struggles to remain true to her nature while dealing with society's gender expectations, her kith and kin, and the day to day complications of adulthood (finances, employment, health, etc). The plot includes, but is not solely focused upon romance/sex/courtship. A good chick lit novel also doesn't take itself too seriously. For the very best samples read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. For the very worst read Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. Actually just read one, it's pretty much the same plot over and over again.

Here are some title and authors I enjoy:

Bridget Jones' Diary, by Helen Fielding
The definitive example of modern chick lit. The novel's plot more closely follows the plot points of Pride and Prejudice.

Can You Keep a Secret?, by Sophie Kinsella
The only one of her books I like. 

Staying at Daisy's, by Jill Mansell

Famous Last Word, by Annie Sanders

Queen of Babble, by Meg Cabot
True story: Meg Cabot is one of the few American chick lit authors I love.

Once In A Lifetime, by Cathy Kelly

The Nanny, by Melissa Nathan

Something Borrowed, by Emily Giffin
It takes a lot of skill to make your book's heroine a philanderer, and keep the reader from hating her. Well played, Ms Giffin.

Skipping a Beat, by Sarah Pekkanen
I never cry when I read books. I cried when I read this one. Translation: it is very good.

How Will I Know, by Sheila O'Flanagan

Rachel's Holiday, by Marian Keyes
There is a rule in our house: I'm not allowed to read Keyes books while I'm lying in bed and my husband is trying to sleep next to me. Evidently my snort-laughing disturbs his slumber.

Here are a few chick lit authors I dislike:

Jennifer Weiner: She can turn a situation fraught with comedic possibilities into something that is (at best) mildly amusing. Her plots are so sloppy and characters so uneven, I assume Weiners' novels are drafted and edited by a committee of editors, marketers and meth-heads.

Cecilia Ahern: Cecilia Ahern has never participated in a conversation. This is what I took away from PS I Love You. She can't write dialogue. Someone needs to tell her that when you are dealing with a character whose husband dies from a painful debilitating disease and his life is key to the plot and he's introduced to the audience via memories and flashbacks, you do your readers a disservice by not writing about his death. If you don't have the talent or the emotional fortitude for writing that kind of raw emotion you need to find another occupation. The same-named movie is only loosely based on the book and is much better.

Jane Green: She seems like a perfectly lovely woman based upon her blog, but I can't relate to any of her characters or plots. Also she uses "tony" as an adjective and this offends me for some reason.

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So, what should I read next? Any suggestions?


  1. I love Fiona Walker, especially Snap Happy and Between Males. Her later Oddlode series doesn't do as much for me as her earlier stuff.

  2. I've only read Bridget Jones' Diary, and loved it so much. I have never read any of those other ones, but I did read a Shopoholic book and didn't like it. Maybe I should give those a chance. I read Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner and it was okay, but I read it when my kids were babies and so I don't really remember much about it.

  3. Can't wait to use your list next time I go to the library. :-) Your requirements in a book are pretty much just want I want in a book. I have a post brewing in my brain about some age realizations/confusion that I've been having recently with regards to the female characters the novels I've been reading.

    Katie Fford writes light novels with fairly breezy plots. The protagonist always has a fun career and details in the book often are a mix of the plot and the fun career. I've read a lot of her books this year, but I can't seem to get enough of books that I can read with a British accent in my head.

    Elin Hilderbrand sets all of her stories on Nantucket, which is another lovely setting that I've found I can really enjoy. Her novels usually involve some sort of plot twist or unexpected character flaw. A little more drama than I usually read, but good.

    I've read two recently by Elizabeth Adler and enjoyed. They are a little more suspenseful than I usually choose, but I feel safe in the realm of chick lit so it's not too upsetting. :-)

    I'm curious, how do you feel about Nicholas Sparks? I'm not sure if that qualifies as chick lit...but I'd be interested to hear if you like his books or not.

  4. Also have you read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series? Most swoony man ever...

  5. Thanks for the recommendations - I enjoyed Bridget Jones but haven't really ventured much into "chick lit" beyond that, so I will have to look into these. I usually read fantasy, sci-fi, and crime... but good female leads are hard to find! :)

  6. @Kate -- I've only read Fiona Walker's Oddlode books and they haven't impressed me. I'll hunt up some earlier stuff. Thanks.

    @Nicole -- Generally when people tell me they hate chick lit it works out they've only read a single Shopaholic book. She gives the whole genre a bad rep.

    Omaha Mama -- Thanks for the recommendations. My library has a lot of Adler titles but I've never read any. I don't think I've read any Nicholas Sparks -- but I sure did like film version of The Notebook.

    @kate -- I have read some Gabaldon. I like her. And the audiobook versions are great.

    @Rachel Cotterill -- I like crime stories, too. But I haven't read much sci-fi or fantasy other than Star Trek novels. I find dystopian science fiction to be disturbing. I'm very delicate.

  7. Nope. I don't read much chick lit (I did like Bridget Jones). I'm with Rachel; I love dystopic science fiction. Plus I'm down with the meandering narratives musing on universal human truths. Um, maybe don't read my blog tomorrow. :)

  8. @Bibliomama -- I read in 5 or 10 minute increments. I want to pick up my book, read a few pages while my egg is poaching, or the kids are finishing a worksheet. So I need a reasonably straightforward story arch without a protagonist ruminating on the transcendental nature of his left testicle as it pertains to the fiscal crises in Albania in the year 2345 CE.

  9. I don't read a lot of chick lit, and i wouldn't actually consider Jane Austen chick lit. She's my favourite author overall, but I tend to read a fair bit of sci-fi/fantasy with a extra little love to give for dystopic fiction.

  10. I'm a Nora Roberts fan myself...

  11. Try Joshilyn Jackson. She's funny and wry and very Southern and her protagonists are crazy. In a good way. Plus they deal with real issues. I'm not a big Southern (USA) fan usually, but I really like her books.

    Also I once read the first several pages of Shopoholic Gets Married (not sure of actual title) in a bookstore and thought it was amusing. You're saying I should avoid the rest? Which so far I have...this was years ago.

  12. I can't wait to look for some of these at the library and I agree with you on Meg Cabot, I really enjoyed Queen of Babble.

  13. Meg Cabot's Insatiable!!! I finished it yesterday: I read it in a day and a half! Mind you, I'd been reading textbooks for a year, but I'm certain it was fantastic!

  14. Just came to find your list here. I was glad to see a chick lit category! I am trying to find a happy novel to read that will complement my summer mood and knew that you and I share a very similar taste in novels.

    Any updates? Any good current reads? Articles that I find on the topic suggest depressing and scary books, neither of which are qualities and that I look for in a leisurely read!