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
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?