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Customer Discussions > Literary Fiction forum

Chick Lit--are women lowbrows?

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Showing 1-25 of 60 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 29, 2012 6:13:50 AM PST
Mandogirl says:
As a former English teacher, I would have been happy if my students were reading almost anything versus sitting passively in front of a tv set. Trash reading is better than nothing, at least people are having an experience with the written word. I am not equating reading trashy books with being an intellectual, you are. It is an exercise of certain parts of your brain that use visual language and that's important. One thing about Jane Austen that you don't find with a modern writer of chick lit is that Miss Austen was a social satirist. She despised that women were placed in the position of relying on finding a rich husband. You probably realize that she never married. If you've read her books, you can understand why.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 29, 2012 5:39:00 AM PST
Mandogirl--Don't worry about Miss Austen. She was the chick lit of her day and still is. She is a "classic" only in the sense that her works have been enduring. However, like all chick lit writers, she is obsessed with the simplistic needs of the unmarried female. No great truths emerge from her work unless you consider the necessity of finding a rich husband who will put up with you a great truth. Obviously, most women for centuries have agreed. Nowadays, men are looking for a woman with the same attributes. The pendulum swings. Trash reading is entertainment and if that qualifies "using their brains" then we would a nation full of intellectuals. I think not.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012 12:01:24 AM PST
Mandogirl says:
Interesting discussion. I'm wondering if Jane Austen was the chick lit of her day.
I think there are different levels and purposes of writing. Romance novels probably aren't that challenging, but readers like them because they are entertaining. I recently wrote a book that I might describe as women's fiction because there is a romantic element to it. But it doesn't obey the usual rules of romance novels. Both the heroine and hero are flawed in some ways and have to deal with the consequences of their behavior. I think this just makes it more real. Do people want to read about reality? Sometimes. All in all, I think the good thing is that people are reading and using their brains to a certain degree.

Posted on Nov 20, 2012 8:21:50 PM PST
If a book is specifically targeted to women readers, that implies the author is making a certain set of stereotyped assumptions about what women like. But "women" is a ridiculously broad demographic: it's half the people on Earth.

It's one thing to talk about books that have a strong female protagonist. I'm a man, and there are any number of novels I've enjoyed with a strong heroine as the main character. But talking about a category of books that is supposed to appeal to women across the board is such a sweeping generalization that it can scarcely help but resort to stereotypes that many women will find condescending.

Women are just as diverse a group as men. While many (perhaps most) books by male authors display a vague male bias, virtually the only time you will see books specifically directed at male readers as a group is when it's something so sophomorically macho that many men would feel embarrassed to read them. Nobody expects such books to be high literature. But these are a small minority of books, whereas there are loads of "chick lit" books published, and they are theoretically held to a higher standard. But by their nature, they must play to simplistic stereotypes about women--which I assume is the exact opposite of what readers calling for good women's literature actually want.

So, I guess my advice to authors (of either sex) who want to write "women's literature" is to just write what you think is a good story, and don't worry so much about whether it will appeal to women as a demographic. That's too wide a target to mean anything, and it risks diluting whatever more focused and meaningful literary statements you have to make.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2012 7:20:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 6, 2012 7:44:38 PM PDT
bleach says:
I wouldn't dismiss the graphic novel in that way. Many graphic novels are incredible works of art, with beautiful illustrations and gripping, meaningful stories. And graphic novels are certainly *not* comic books. Habibi and Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (both this and the second one) are in no way comparable to witless romantic novels.

In reply to an earlier post on May 20, 2012 9:19:12 AM PDT
Can't find a book entitled, "It's Not a Wonderful Life" on Amazon. Is that the correct title? Can you provide the author's name? Thanks

In reply to an earlier post on May 18, 2012 9:26:41 PM PDT
Quinton Blue says:
Thanks much. Another one for my to-read list.

Posted on May 16, 2012 5:35:22 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 16, 2012 5:36:12 AM PDT
In fact, Emile Zola was the best-selling author in his day all over Europe. So was Dickens, Hardy, Thackeray, and a host of others. Your theory that good literature did not sell in the past is simply incorrect. In the 20th century, things muddy a bit because literature became "experimental" much like modern art and most people were turned off by it. Still, these writers did "stand the test of time" despite the reading majority rejecting it. However, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis all made fortunes writing mainly because they did not stray too far into experimental territory. Popular fiction has always been around. True. But publishers have shifted from presenting literary fiction to genre books of which, chick-lit is prevalent. There simply is not enough shelf-space for serious lit.
As for your previous post, I adore your characterization of Jane Austen and I reservedly agree, but the Jane Austen Society has 100,000 members! And she is thought very literary indeed.
You've made another factual error as the basis of your argument. Novel writing between 1750 and roughly 1840 was considered the exclusive domain of women writers. Men preferred the "loftier" areas of poetry and drama. And, because of writers like Jane Austen, women writers after Dickens showed up were thought too frivolous but contrary to high school english teachers perpetuating a sexist myth, women were still published but not always under their own name because a sexist public remembered too well the likes of Jane Austen. What has occurred today is the flip side: men have difficulty getting published and are now reduced to writing genre fiction "for men" although I've found no stats as to which sex actually purchases trash producers like Patterson. My own opinion from having been forced to review his stuff is that it is designed for women.
I truly wish you are correct about the pendulum effect. But I don't believe it any more than I would believe that in 1915 horses would make a comeback. (altho with oil prices, this might be true!). My guess is that in 10 years there will be no chain bookstores and even small local bookshops will simply linger ineffectively and unimportantly like coach makers after Henry Ford showed up. Important? Very much so because "browsing", the last possibility that a serious piece of fiction will surface, will be impossible.

In reply to an earlier post on May 15, 2012 5:19:17 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 15, 2012 5:45:14 PM PDT
Kate says:
"You only know about Zola and the like because time has sifted through the crap for you."

This is a good point that I forgot to make. It might seem like we publish mainly crap now, whereas in decades past our standards were higher. That's completely untrue. Most of these "high brow" books that we consider important works of literature today were never best-sellers. People of my grandparents generation probably didn't read them with much frequency. The only reason why they stand out today is because they've stood the test of time.

Everyone today has probably heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. A hundred years from now I'd bet that no one remembers it. It's the current "it" book, but it's junk and poorly written. College professors and literary scholars will never assign this in lit. classes. It won't "age" well as time moves on. People will forget about it and time will move it into the "obscure crap pile" along with fluffy romance novels of the past. How many women under the age of thirty have read a Danielle Steel novel (fourth best selling author of all time, by the way)? Probably not many. How many have read a Nicholas Sparks novel on the other hand? Like every other one. These are trendy authors. They'll go away in time and what you'll be left with is quality works of fiction that have previously been obscured in a sea of crap.

In reply to an earlier post on May 15, 2012 4:58:48 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 15, 2012 5:42:32 PM PDT
Kate says:
"Fifty years ago, the best-seller lists were dominated by literary fiction written by men. That is a fact. And whether I'm a frustrated writer or simply someone who sees the decline of American culture as the fault of a female-dominated media does not change that. Silly woman. Research will often help an argument. Try it."

You are completely cherry picking your "research" here. I have seen lists of best selling authors from decades ago (it's on Wikipedia... you don't have to really "research" too deeply). Best-selling authors from the 1940s and 1950s are a mixed bag of genres, authors, and quality. In 1944-1946 the three best selling books were written by female authors and two of them were romance novels. You keep referencing Faulkner, but in 1964 his novel The Reivers, for which he won a Pulitzer, was only the tenth best selling book of the year (the best-selling book was by a female author). A Fable, his other Pulitzer winning novel, was never a best-seller. His most popular books, including The Sound and the Fury and As I lay Dying, were never best-sellers near the times they were published.

When you ACTUALLY look at the bestsellers from history, you'll still find a lot of crap that people today have never heard of because it was junky "pop-fiction" (written by male and female authors), which doesn't last long after the movie adaptation has been made and the hype wears out. People of BOTH GENDERS have always, and will always, enjoy crappy watered down pop-fiction. People have always enjoyed trashy romance novels. Barbara Cartland (the third best selling fiction author of all time, by the way) was a best-selling author in the 1920s... she wrote romance novels. As I said before, most PEOPLE (not women or men specifically, but all people) prefer crap because most PEOPLE are pretty dumb and like whatever cheap thriller or romance is being hyped up at that moment.

Since the very start when books were being published on a large scale and sold to everyday people as entertainment, commercial fiction has ALWAYS been more popular than literary fiction. You also mentioned the difference between the "literature" section and "fiction" section in bookstores. That doesn't mean anything. Not all bookstore chains do that (it was really mainly Borders who did this) either. Barnes and Noble does not have a separate "literature" section in their bookstores. All that means anyway is the "literature" section in a Borders, for example, was were they stuck their "classics". I bought The Count of Monte Cristo in the literature section of Borders (I'm sure of this because Borders was my preferred bookstore (since we don't really have local stores around here) before they went out of business). The Count of Monte Cristo was, in fact, the "pop-lit" of its day. It was not, by any means, considered "high brow" literature. People loved it because it was an action packed thriller. Charles Dickens was mainly a pop-fiction author. Jane Austen was basically the Danielle Steele of her day. These authors will also be found in the "literature" section, but they're still popular fiction. "Literature" is mainly a marketing term and is used as an alternative to "classics".

As far as men dominating the market in publishing fifty years ago. Seriously? Anyone with half a brain can figure this one out. Of course there were more male authors fifty years ago. Most women were not encouraged to have careers or go to college (other than to get her "MRS" degree) fifty years ago. Of course men dominated the publishing world, as they dominated all professional careers. That doesn't change the fact that fifty years ago most books were still crap. In fact, I think that further proves the point that men enjoy crap just as much as women.

Despite women dominating the publishing world for such a short time, if YOU even bother to do the "research" you would see that among fiction authors, none of these authors (like Faulkner) that you keep name-dropping even make it to the top best authors list (ever, of all time, not just the past twenty years or so) except for Leon Uris. You know who does though? Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, and Dean Koontz among others. These are all male authors, who write for a male audience, who sell a crap ton of books, and most of those books are absolute crap.

The point of all this is that MOST MEN LIKE JUNK. Men will actively seek out junky crap just as frequently as women seek out junky crap. Men and women both like junky mind numbing crap. They ALWAYS have. They always will. People (men and women) who prefer a higher standard of fiction have ALWAYS been in the minority, and they always will because... once again.... most people (men and women included) are uneducated mouth breathers and like simple characters with straightforward plots with enough action/cliff hangers/steamy romance scenes/promises of surprise twist endings to hold their attention.

The fact that "chick-lit" is so popular now is simply because that's the latest fad. Fads come and go. That's just the way it is and always has been. Nicholas Sparks got really popular, and now suddenly every publisher wants to publish Nicholas-Sparks-like books. It's the same reason why teen fiction is now being dominated by vampire/warewolf/ghost/angel novels. Twilight got hugely popular and they are rabidly jumping on that cash cow before the fad wears out. You are also completely wrong when you say the books written to a male audience (the "action-adventures") are now rare, or in a minority. They aren't. As of right this very moment there's yet another action-adventure turd by David Baldacci on the NY Times Bestseller list, as well as a James Patterson, and John Grishom's lastest phoned-in effort. There are plenty of bad male-centric books on the market.

Posted on May 12, 2012 12:35:21 PM PDT
seaayre says:
My mistake, Quinton. I must have had Elizabeth Gaskell on my mind. :) Try Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. :)

In reply to an earlier post on May 12, 2012 8:58:47 AM PDT
Quinton Blue says:
I don't know if the problem is gender as much as class. The jobs are low paying but superficially prestigious and require at least a college education. That's a recipe for drawing people who have never seen the inside of a machine shop and don't understand people outside their narrow world. When I read books nowadays, I start but don't finish most of them. Once I figure out the author is well-schooled but nothing else, what's left? The MFA programs have given us a slew of these writers and most of them are weak. ... I'm curious about Elizabeth Fromburg Schaeffer. When I cut and paste and put in Amazon book search I get nothing. What did she write?

In reply to an earlier post on May 12, 2012 2:28:47 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 12, 2012 12:45:24 PM PDT
seaayre says:
Awful can be subjective. Women got the short end of the stick in publishing for many years, and had to publish under such names as Acton Bell, George Eliot, and Andre Norton. I think it is fun that what goes around has come around. :) It should also be noted that most jobs in the publishing field are rather low paying as these things go in this day and age, and many men are not apparently willing to settle. They have apparently abdicated the throne and gone into banking or become attorneys. Writers like Hemingway and McCarthy simply do not appeal to me, and no, I do not consider myself a low-brow. I just dont care for the dreary plots, the old boy networks, and the violence. So sue me. :) These things are not relevant to me and I don't enjoy reading them. One of my favorite authors just passed away. Her name was Elizabeth Fromberg Schaeffer and I always believed she was highly underated. Joyce Carol Oates can be uneven, but I find she much to offer. I tihink everyone should llighten up and read what they like. I remember a time back in the 60s or early 70s when the number one book was "The Valley of the Dolls." There have always been crappy books out there.:)

Posted on May 12, 2012 12:58:34 AM PDT
Erica Bell says:
Forgive me if someone mentioned this before, but maybe the explanation as to why so many awful books are being marketed for women now is simply that popular culture, like water, seeks a level, and women are the only ones currently buying books.

I don't think either is "always" true, but it might be a start.

In reply to an earlier post on May 9, 2012 7:39:57 AM PDT
Thanks for your contribution, Quinton. Unfortunately, the proliferation of female-oriented literature (and movies & TV) does displace other more serious literature. Publishers are in it for the money--nothing wrong or complex about that. But formerly, they published and promoted books that were "serious' and not always niche-marketed. Just research on google older Times best-seller lists and you'll see what I mean. My favorite example of how this process affects the system is Cormac McCarthy. His early books are masterpieces of "literary fiction." Blood Meridian was his most notable. They did not sell at all. So, he cranked out All the Pretty Horses. I think the title comparo sums it all up. Joyce, Faulkner and Hemingway all sold poorly. But their publishers did not press them to write for sales, which in this case would be "chick-lit." A notable and literary female writer whose name escapes me (Alice Walker, I think) brought a suit against her publisher because they put out her very serious novel in a pink cover! Which she thought was reprehensible and unrelated to the content of the novel. What can you make of this? It isn't good, whatever else it may be.) The fact that the internet allows people to find books that are not readily available conventionally, proves the existence of the problem.

Posted on May 9, 2012 12:15:50 AM PDT
Quinton Blue says:
It's not as if chick-lit displaces anything. The book market is broader than ever because the Internet has made even out of print literary books easier to find. I recently read Elaine Gottlieb's 1947 novel "Darkling." Thirty years ago, it would've taken a major effort to find it.

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2012 5:23:46 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jun 6, 2013 8:53:17 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2012 1:55:12 PM PDT
The irony of poor Larry's post is that he is simultaneously condemning fiction aimed at a female audience--and most of the contributors to this forum, while outing his own books--sorta like running an Obama ad on Fox News. I'm not certain that this is the tragedy of modern publishing or its hope. At least he can reach a few readers here. It's just hard to imagine the greats of lit past touting their own stuff. (Although a few, notably Sinclair Lewis, did quite a good job at it.)

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2012 1:48:29 PM PDT
Au contraire. You're certainly no book snob. You're just not literary. This discussion is about fiction and the art of literature. Your comment would be akin to saying "I enjoy blueprints, pie charts and maps; why waste my time on Picasso?" Yipes. When people say that humans are not keeping up spiritually with technology, your comment makes the point.

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2012 1:02:45 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jun 6, 2013 8:53:02 PM PDT]

Posted on May 2, 2012 4:31:03 PM PDT
Whoa... I'm a little turned off by the title of this discussion: Chick Lit--are women lowbrows? No. Not all women. Sheesh that's a massive generalization. I would have rather the title read, "Chick lit - does it suck?" to which I could much more confidently answer, Yes! I think so, but that's what's great about writing, there's room for any and all tastes.

Larry Nocella
author of the novels Loser's Memorial and Where Did This Come From? available on Amazon.

Posted on May 2, 2012 8:42:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 2, 2012 8:45:50 AM PDT
Kokabiel says:
All these comments about fiction are exactly why I eschew fiction almost entirely--I read books about history, anthropology, astronomy, etc. And I wouldn't touch a chick ANYTHING with a 10' pole. I'm a female too. (and no, I'm not mannish! lol) I have a couple female friends who like serious reading as well, but I have to admit--not many females seem to be serious readers, but I've not met many men who are either,'s a societal thing, I think--I blame television.

Posted on May 1, 2012 1:37:53 PM PDT
No one should think this is serious. It is the same as men reading or looking at pornography.
Just less graphic.
There are not a lot of serious readers. There never was.

Posted on Apr 27, 2012 5:49:44 AM PDT
I think you've got the final word on this topic. My only exception to your well-reasoned statement is that chick-lit is not a genre anymore. Thrillers, horror, romance are niche markets. Chick-lit is THE lit. My original question was: is it the publishers fault for pandering to what they think women want or is it that women really do want junk-lit? Keep in mind that women dominate the publishing trade. This is a very recent development. And the combo of female buyers and female sellers is what is, in my opinion, sinking the ship. However, I realize this sounds sexist. But it is no more sexist than blaming teenagers for liking the Twilight series. But put some tweens in charge of Random House and watch what comes out. Reversible? I think not.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2012 12:45:17 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 29, 2012 8:53:14 AM PDT
Wando Wande says:
You keep shifting goal posts. You say real literature isn't published anymore. Someone points out the contemporary literary fiction authors. You give this, "when I ask where is today's Thomas Hardy or Emile Zola or Joyce or Faulkner, the response is Don DeLillo!" In short, these authors don't measure up to YOUR standard of excellence. This is hardly a debate anymore. This is thinly veiled screed for the good ole days of literature. And you blame women for the low-brow deluge.

You only know about Zola and the like because time has sifted through the crap for you. There is crap now as there was crap then. Why do you only think of the chick lit crap? Why not the thrillers, the fantasies, the sci-fi, mysteries? Why single out chick-lit for the decline of literature? Chic-lit doesn't dominate the fiction sales. Seriously how does this matter anyway? The division of reading tastes isn't a zero-sum game. All those chick-lit readers aren't suddenly going become Faulkner readers. Go find the literary fiction readers. Don't complain that people would rather read fluff than questionable tomes on the 'human condition'

Literary fiction is a hard sell, even then more women than men read it. Jonathan Franzen bemoaned this reality, explaining his misgivings about Oprah recommending his book for her book club. What can I say? I just don't think that all of sudden if men read more, we would get a bigger market of literary fiction. In fact, I would wager men would shrink from it even more because literary fiction has a reputation of navel grazing fiction, the books where nothing happen. And men tend to prefer the plot heavy, action type books.

Anyway. I do understand your point somewhat, not the blaming of women though. Publishers have become more cut throat and less forgiving of authors who aren't profitable. In past, they could grow authors, accept moderate losses and in the hope that the authors would grow an audience and break out with something good eventually. Note, even then low brow stuff subsidized that sort of patronage. But now, giving the shrinking of the book business, publishers are more interested in the next sure thing than in taking gambles over literary stuff. The next sure thing is easier had in fluff, be it chick-lit or police procedurals. And being an author of literary fiction becomes a lot harder than before.
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Discussion in:  Literary Fiction forum
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Initial post:  Dec 5, 2011
Latest post:  Nov 29, 2012

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