Sunday, September 3, 2006

Do it for your country!

Apparently, Chick Lit is Hurting America. D'oh! And here I was, acting like the dumb popular fiction reader I am, blaming W, Iraq, the National Debt and Haliburton for our current sorry state of affairs.

But, no. According to a former editor who hasn't even got the guts to sign her name to her ill-considered screed, Chick Lit is hurting America by squeezing literary fiction - real fiction - out of the marketplace. Ron at Galleycat has already poked some lovely holes in the ripe Swiss cheese of this writer's arguments, which leaves me free to engage in a bit of a rant.

Ah-hem: Chick Lit is hurting America?!? Goodness, gracious! How could I have missed the signs? My simple-minded, anti-intellectual reading habits must have blinded me to this stealthy assassin of rigorous, rational thought that has slithered like a serpent into our midst, poisoning the hearts and minds of innocent American women against the virtue and necessity of reading fiction that imparts BIG, IMPORTANT lessons about life. If only I had spent my hard-earned money and leisure time on Improving Literature instead of the sort of titles that make anyone who reads them in public " look like a dateless loser" I would posses the keen powers of social analysis necessary to blame the present decline of literary fiction on dumb women who don't know any better than to buy and read what they like.

Ms. Anonymous made her living off the publishing industry, and now she's ranting because people won't buy what she wants them to buy. Do I smell an unpublished literary novel? No, that's mean of me. It's probably just something I stepped in while walking across my lawn.

Unlike romance or sci-fi, chick lit is a genre that is in direct competition with literature because of its price point and packaging...chick lit premiered in hardcover and then moved to trade paperback. And though they're all about boys, there are seldom any boys on the cover. Brilliant! The genre succeeded exactly because it looked more literary than its embarrassing romance counterpart. You could take Bridget Jones's Diary on the T and not look like a dateless loser.
Yup. That has to be it. Blame it on the covers. Because it's not like people buy books for the content. It's not like books come with little blurbs that describe the plot. Oh, no. It is all about pricing and covers.

Ms. Anonymous seems to think that we poor dumb women get so confused by the pretty, non-lurid covers of chick lit that we buy a copy of Jemima J when we really meant to plunk down our money for The Corrections. Lady, anyone that dumb is probably still working her way through Goodnight Moon. Didja ever stop to think that maybe people just buy what they like?
...what's dangerous about chick lit is that it fills trade slots at publishing companies that used to be given to literary fiction...
I'll take that as a "no". So, let me get this straight: publishers should publish more books that sell less, and fewer books that sell more? Out of the kindness of their hard little capitalist hearts? Because it's good for the country?

The mind boggles.

If anything, Anonymous's less-than-well-thought-out rant is just another example of a culture that demonizes anything people do purely for pleasure. Ms. Anonymous seems to think genre fiction should have covers that will distinguish such books from "real" fiction - lurid covers, perhaps, with poorly-drawn aliens, or "bare-chested hunk monkey" covers that immediately mark their readers as "dateless losers". Anonymous wants those of us who don't spend all our money on literary fiction to be punished - branded, even - for reading what we like. (What say we ditch the hunk monkey covers and skip straight to sewing scarlet letters on our sweaters, eh?)

This is not WW II. Literary Fiction is not War Bonds, scrap metal, or ration stamps. If my money goes to Jennifer Weiner instead of Elizabeth Merrick, that does not make me Anti-American or anti-intellectual. Anomyous's disingenuous, "rah-rah America" argument against chick lit is as characteristic of "the Bush-styled propaganda" she comdemns as anything I've heard on Fox News.

Are my reading habits hurting America? Hell, no! The great thing about this country is that, taxes aside, no one can tell me what to do with my time or with my money. Funny how critics always seem to forget that particular nugget of Americana when they're pointing the finger of doom at popular culture.