I love Chicklit–over the weekend, I read books by Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, Melissa Bank, and Emily Giffin

I’ve been pretty stressed out lately. I definitely wish I was still eighteen, so my parents could stage-manage my cross-country move and college matriculation. But, since I am an adult, I have to do the bulk of it myself (err, other than forcing them to fax me my immunization forms). Anyway, this move (I’m going to begin driving cross-country on July 4th) has added a whole raft of new commitments to my calendar. Not only do I have to dispose of all my belongings and say all my goodbyes, I also feel this need to keep doing all the other stuff that I normally do (write, read, work, blog) and keep making progress on various summer activities.

So how did I handle all of this stress and work?

I took a vacation.

Not a vacation from doing things, but a vacation from seriousness and productivity. I maintained the forms of my life (the bare activities) but dropped the intent (the desire to produce good work; live life to the fullest; etc.)

Yes, it was a very slapdash weekend. When I was pondering how this mental vacation would affect my reading, I originally considered reading some epic fantasy novels or something. But the thought of men hitting each other with swords just filled me with this terrible ennui. Instead, I went online and conducted an exhaustive search on Google, Amazon, and Goodreads to find the absolute most popular chicklit novels.

Actually, I’d already consumed a fair number of them (The Nanny Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada, Good In Bed), but there were also a fair number of highly popular titles that I’d never even heard of. I assiduously jotted down the titles that showed up on the most lists and then acquired them.

The books I read this weekend were:

  • Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
  • Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
  • The Girls’ Guide To Hunting And Fishing by Melissa Bank

All of these books are mega bestsellers. As a sidenote, I just really love books that are popular (as in, bestsellers). Popularity is such a well-defined attribute. If a book is popular, that means that many millions of people have read it: a popular book has a solid place in the world. Even if I don’t like a popular book, I at least have the consolation of knowing that I’m learning something about all the millions of people who do like it. And if I do like it, then I get this really warm and fuzzy feeling, as if I’m communing with the beating heart of America.

Hmm, maybe I should’ve read Fifty Shades Of Grey instead.

Actually, my googling revealed that the general consensus is that chicklit is “over”. It’s been replaced by paranormal romance and YA. Chicklit had such a brief reign: a bare ten years. It truly is a cautionary tale for all genres. Actually, I’m not sure what the fable is. Chicklit is still super awesome. I hope it’s not actually dead.

Chicklit seems unique* to me in that it’s a genre which is defined entirely by its protagonist. Almost every chicklit novel has a protagonist who is: a) female; b) between the ages of 25 and 33; c) lives in a city; and d) has some kind of aspirational, upper-middle-class job (usually in the media).

On some level, these protagonists, with their similar socioeconomic backgrounds and sassy voices, kind of run together, so that the entire chicklit genre can come to feel like one large series in which the same protagonist goes on an endless variety of adventures and finds an endless variety of loves.

Chicklit novels do have some other plot and structural conventions, too. They’re usually told in the first person and there’s usually some kind of romantic plot. However, my weekend reading really drove home that they vary tremendously in their structure, tone, and thematic concerns.

For instance, Confessions Of A Shopaholic is basically a parable of addiction. I mean, there’s a perfunctory romance plot, but the story is mostly a harrowing look at compulsive spending behavior that is slowly driving the protagonist to bankruptcy and ruin. I mean, it’s all done up in a very amusing way. But that perhaps makes it more honest and frightening. The protagonist just bops along, shopping every so happily, while she gets more and more letters from her banks and has to tell more and more lies and makes more and more moral compromises. You can really sense the undercurrent of panic that runs through her life. I was particularly haunted by this passage about going on a spending spree in a store:

Every time I add something to my pile, I feel a little whoosh of pleasure, like a firework going off. And for a moment, everything’s all right. But then, gradually, the light and sparkles disappear, and I’m left with cold dark blackness again. So I look feverishly around for something else. A huge scented candle.

And then there’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, which uses the diary form as an ingenuous way to avoid talking about the major romantic and professional developments in the protagonists’ life (these mostly happen on-screen). Instead, the diary entries describe prosaic details and minor conversations and little annoyances. The joy of the book is not in its hackneyed romantic plot (it is quite up-front about the fact that it is ripping off Pride and Prejudice), but in its playful description of a certain kind of life (this is the joy of many chicklit novels, actually).

Actually, chicklit seems, to me, to be one of the more detail-oriented genres of popular fiction. Actually, I guess most types of popular fiction have, in one way or another, some kind of obsession with detail. In science fiction novels and thrillers, it’s the details of technology. In historical fiction and fantasy, it’s the details of history and culture. In YA, it’s the details of youth culture (i.e. whatever it is that separates teens from adults). I guess chicklit is a bit like YA, but for yuppie twentysomethings. We peer into these novels in order to see something of ourselves and our times and our culture. And it’s definitely there. For instance, in the shopaholic book, the protagonist at one point has a fantasy about winning the lottery that is almost exactly the same as one that used to pass through my head.

This new thought transfixes me. I could be a secret winner! I could have all the money and none of the pressure. If people asked me how I could afford so many designer clothes I’d just tell them I was doing lots of freelance work. Yes! And I could transform all my friends’ lives anonymously, like a good angel.

Umm, and that’s all I have to say about chicklit for now (but I think I’ll have more to say on Wednesday).

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