30 Books in 30 Days: 8.1.11

For my first post, I thought I’d write about the genre of books that has been taking up a good deal of my reading life–right alongside my more serious reads:  chick lit.  Now, that term is of course, reductionist.  A term created to allow easy categorization and perhaps sales.  Nonetheless, I use the term with great endearment as it applies to some books that have given me a lot of good reading pleasure because of their catchy plots, lively dialogue, and zippy prose.  And, what I keep finding in all of these books, is that encased in these popular titles are great descriptions of settings, humorous observations on dynamics between men and women, and really insightful, poignant portrayals of some of the traits of female friendships.  Yes, many of these traits are not always positive.  But, they are realistic.  For example:  the bossy friend, the popular friend, the mousy friend who gets the guy, the beautiful friend who is secretly insecure, the disloyal friend, etc.  Of course, often these rather negative traits are highlighted at the expense of the multiple OTHER traits of female friendships, and that might be why the term “chick lit” can get a bad rep.  Regardless, there is value in what these books depict.  Along the way there are some great portrayals of teenage life in the 80s and 90s, realistic portrayals of what happens when friends grow up, transitioning from middle school to high school to college and even into the 20s and 30s.

The authors I have been reading are:  Emily Giffin (over the past year, I read every title she’s written and am eagerly awaiting her 2012 title.); Jane Green, and Jennifer Weiner.  And of course there are others.  These are just the three who I have been reading in earnest in the last year.

Jane Green came into my hands this past spring when my then roommate offered me her entire Jane Green collection as she was cleaning out her bookshelves in preparation for her move to another state.  I took the books happily, excitedly thinking how they would start my summer off right.  The books she gave me are the ones Green wrote when she was living in England, her earlier titles.  These books immediately grabbed my heart because of their English-isms sprinkled throughout, phrases like, “that’s so naff!” and “we snogged”.  The English setting adds some charm and perhaps elevates the books above what might be a more familiar American chick lit novel.  Her characters also tend to fall less into the category of friends who are at odds with each other. In fact, most of the female friendships in these novels are sources of support and humor.  Her best novels so far as Jemima J and Bookends.  I am reading Mr. Maybe and also read Straight Talk, Dune Road and To Have and to Hold.  Some things I’ve observed about Green’s novels:  Her narrators are charming and usually flawed–girls who aren’t the most beautiful or the most popular, but have something in them keeping us loving them.  I have noted that every once in awhile Green uses a line or idea that showed up in an earlier novel. Does she assume that her readers won’t be reading all of her books?!

Just why did I enjoy Jemima J so much?  Oddly enough, it took me a few chapters to realize that this novel was indeed a modern-day Cinderella story.  The most familiar element that gave it away?  The main character’s two roommates who just really were completely obvious  stand ins for Cinderella’s two ugly step sisters. I guess, in the end, fairy tales like Cinderella work because of their archetypal depiction of the victory of the underdog.  We all love reading that!  Green’s novels are also endearing because her characters often work in some kind of literary job:  PR, journalism, a bookstore.  For Green’s readers, booklovers, reading about booklovers is just fun.  We see ourselves in her bookloving characters.

Time to sign out–tomorrow I will continue my musings on chick lit–perhaps covering Jennifer Weiner and a couple of other authors who may or may not fall into the chick-lit category but who, nonetheless, depict many of the same topics as the authors I have named.

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