Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Literary Life: Reading Relationships

Great news! Blogger tells me I can blog in Hindi now. This should DEFINITELY be useful! All I have to do is learn Hindi and I'll go from there!

I was thinking about something lately: the literary life. As I am wont to do, I began typing and typing and typing and well... what I wrote turned into something far too long for one blog post. So I've broken these ponderings into a 3-part series, to be posted over the next several days.

Do you remember awhile back there were some very angry words flying between women writers of "chicklit" and women writers of books that were not "chicklit"? I am pretty sure this was around the time Curtis Sittenfeld, when reviewing Melissa Bank for The New York Times, said that calling a woman a "chicklit" writer was like calling her a slut. Then, Sittenfeld proceeded to call Bank's book chicklit (therefore, I guess, calling Bank a slut). This is intriguing since I have heard Sittenfeld's books (PREP and THE MAN OF MY DREAMS) described as a variety of things, including: literary, coming-of-age, Young Adult, and yes, chicklit.

Chicklit, what is it? Ah, the eternal question.

Over the years, I have gotten to know a lot of writers of what's known as "chicklit" (a term which covers an ever-broadening range of books, I think, though they do tend to be light and entertaining). Some of them I know rather well and got to know them before our literary careers even began. Some of them I met via my blog touring co-op, The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. You'll often see these gals buzz through here with interviews when their books come out. Many (though not all) of the Girlfriends write "chicklit" or its older cousin,"momlit."

I sometimes wonder what these women thought when they heard I was a member--the author of the book pegged as "anti-chicklit." (!) However, since I am not sure what "chicklit" is, I am not quite sure what "anti-chicklit" is either. Silly me, I thought I had written a literary thriller with a sexy edge! Still, this wouldn't be the first time an author didn't know what she had written, at least in the publisher's eyes. I have a friend who thought she had written a work of urban fantasy and it got tagged as paranormal romance!

Anyhow, when my book was published, my publisher floated a few notions by me. The first one was that they wanted to pitch me as Chuck Palahnuik for the ladies. While I respect the man's writing and found the comparison flattering, I wasn't nuts about that idea. Does any woman really want to be known as the "female" version of ANYTHING, no matter how good? I'll bet Margaret Thatcher did not want to be known as the chick version of Winston Churchill. And I am sure Cecilia Bartoli does not care to be considered Luciano Pavarotti for girls. How about Nancy Pelosi; do you think she sees herself as the female reply to Tip O'Neill?

I don't think so.

As discussions went on, my publisher decided to package my book as the "anti-chicklit." At this I only shrugged. I definitely believe my book is more than just NOT something else, but I accepted that in the big bad publishing world, a book has to stand out. The Bitch Posse had to be packaged as SOMETHING, and I preferred "the anti-chicklit" than to be known as the girl version of a lone male author.

Despite this anti-chicklit banner I seem to have tied to my arm, I have actually enjoyed a variety of chicklit books. Oh, sure, not all of them. There are a lot of copycat chicklit books out there, and those bother me. And for awhile, it seemed every publisher wanted nothing but chicklit, 24/7. My character Rennie, also a writer, expresses this frustration throughout The Bitch Posse. (From what I hear, though, publishers' love affair with chicklit is cooling.) But I'm willing to give almost any type of book a go because to me, books are like food. And I looovvvee to eat.

There used to be a restaurant at the corner of 19th Avenue and Golden Gate Park that had dim sum. The menu was printed entirely in Chinese characters. And the waiters never, EVER translated the menu. They just looked at you expectantly and, if you a dolt who couldn't read the menu (like myself), patiently waited for you to point to it. Whatever you got would surprise and delight you, but it always would be totally different and unique. You might be presented with a many tentacled sea creature, or it might be some kind of dish made with, no kidding, tree moss. Then again, it might be a puffy pork dumpling, or some kind of dessert. You just never knew what you would get. Once in awhile I would get the mood to go there and be surprised.

So my reading life is like this restaurant. I will point to different spots in the menu and get completely different things, but I will enjoy them all for different reasons (even the moss). Sometimes I want to have my head opened up and put back together in an odd and interesting way. At those times I may pick up the work of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut. Sometimes I want to be disturbed and that's when I will reach for something by Mary Gaitskill or Jon Clinch. At other times I'm yearning for an edge-of-your seat thriller, and I'll grab a book by Lee Child or Donna Tartt. And once in awhile I want to do some great reading on spirituality and recovery and that's when Anne Lamott's latest or a classic by Melody Beattie fits the bill.

But sometimes, I want a light read for the bathtub or airplane. And that is when I may reach for chicklit. Some chicklit authors I have enjoyed include Becky Motew, Helen Fielding, Melissa Bank, Melanie Lynne Hauser, and Lauren Baratz-Logsted. These books are enjoyable. FUNNY as all get-out, mainly. Often the heroines are likeable fuckups. This reminds me of me. At least I hope I am likeable. Mostly. I have torn through these women's books at breakneck speed. Sometimes they even save me from having to consume extra chocolate. They're fun.

My Reading Life is like the rest of my life: varied. My moods are in every color, and that's true of the books I read, too.