Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chic Lit: Marketing Gimic? Genetic/Existential Divide?

A while ago I mentioned a reading survey I gave my freshman. I asked them a number of questions about the books they'd read while they were in high school, both assigned and unassigned reading. I was surprised at how widely read they were, collectively, if not individually, and have been giving this considerable thought--how can I use this information in future classes?

I noticed that there were a number of titles that only the women had read, but none that were only on the men's lists. This held true by title and by genre. There were a few women who read sports books, adventure--but no men who read chic lit.

None. I admit that I'd not read any in that category myself. Not "Bel Canto", not "Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood," let alone the cheesier stuff... you know, the one's with pastel covers covers, photos of female bare feet 0(no one admitted reading Good in Bed, but given some of the other titles, I don't believe them).

So I asked... after pointing out this apparent difference in reading tastes, that is--I asked one of the women. Do you think the world would be a better place if the men you know had read the books in question?

The class exploded (well, not quite... ) but there was a spontaneous and enthusiastic and collective female YES!

So, I asked. If you had the power to require the men you know to read these books....

Publish Post

Hmmm... not having read any of these title myself, I had to wonder--what am I missing?


And if so, what in particular? Please enlighten me. What is going on here?


  1. Ha, funny. Yes I've noticed that women read men's books but men really don't read that particular brand of women's fiction. That's enough to tell me there is huge asymmetry between the sexes. Men for relaxation seem to like to identify with a tough guy killing people, whereas women tend to consider complex emotional problems. So there you have it. If you ever feel like delving into some emotional problems, which will have swift and implausible solutions, feel free to do so. But I won't think less of you if you choose not to accept this mission...

  2. Tough guys killing people scare me. Being a guy, I suppose that predisposes me to by not fitting the template, to prefer complex emotional problems... the more so, being myself a complex emotional problem I've not come close to solving.

    But I still don't read market chick lit... should I?

    You've written some fine reviews of books I would tend to file in that category. My women students have gotten me thinking about this... though I suppose it's too late to do me much good, understanding-women-wise.

    I don't know... I loved Jane Austin in my 20's. It didn't help much. Maybe it's not just the books, but how we read?

  3. Jacob: I found your blog through Princess Haiku and I hope to spend some time here now and then.

    I can see that we are guys of similar tastes -- I love Bach and native flowers, too, and I don't see anything unmasculine about it.

    As far as chiklit, seems to me the answers that your students gave are a huge wake-up call, to us guys.

    Books are a window into the mind and if we guys would even begin to comprehend the complex, amazing, beautiful, wonderful mind of Woman, it behooves us to read some of the books that They write and that They read.

  4. I have yet to find anything labeled Chick Lit that delves into complex emotional problems. I'm not sure if I'm unnecessarily harsh but I don't find any merit in chick lit...but I think your question is valid and one that interests me. I held onto this post and came back today hoping that someone else might have left a comment with an interesting perspective. I think Chick Lit functions as light, breezy entertainment. And at least for women in American society (which includes me, even if I don't live there anymore) it's sold in much the same way as other easy entertainments - its facile and kitsch.

  5. Verbivore,

    I can't get past the pastel jackets--so I can't judge by experience. I had in mind something broader (ahem, NPI) than the market trash.

    Reading habits do seem to differ. My guess is that men who might otherwise balance the Chic Lit readers don't read books. They look for other forms of escape. You can see that in popular magazines, too. There are a hundred aimed at women for every one targeting men. That in itself is interesting... why? Let the none-reading male Escapists cancel out the Chic Litter Bugs--I wonder if there's still a discernible difference in preferred reading matter? From the titles covered by Sunday Salon bloggers (most of whom are women), I would say there is.

    And the books named by my women students weren't the Barefoot in Bed trash... more on the order of Lovely Bones and Bel Canto--books that seem to take somewhat higher aim.

  6. Here's the link to the Bukiet article:
    And here is where I discussed it a bit on my blog:

  7. Found your blog through VerveEarth ... and this is an interesting post. However, I beg to differ that you would classify Bel Canto as chick lit. Chick lit is actually past its prime and no longer sells. Literary fiction, which is what Bel Canto is, is still in demand. Bel Canto happens to be one of the most beautiful, poetic books you can ever read about a group of hostages. That's a far cry from single girl living in the city working at a magazine ... struggles with career, falls in love and ends up with a guy in the end.

  8. Chic Lit was not my real concern--it was rather the larger question of reading preferences for men and women. Chic lit is market exploitation of the LCD. I mentioned Bel Canto because it's not chic lit: is this a book more likely to turn up on woman's reading list? Is there something here beyond market exploitation?

  9. Being a language arts teacher myself, I too have noticed the great divide. I teach 13-18 year olds, and I think reading preferences start there. It may come down to something as simple as marketing, as you mentioned in the title of theis blog entry.

    I laughed out loud when you mentioned you wouldn't pick up a book with barefeet on the cover. This marketing technique has been popularized by Sara Dessen's publisher. Dessen demended neutral covers that did not show faces, so her readers could imagine that they themselves were the ones in the book. A new Dessen-esque cover on Judy Blume's "Forever" (The afformentioned barefoot cover) has re-launched that title, at least in my classes. A guy in my classes would not be caught DEAD reading a book that had a cover like that, no matter what was inside. Even "guy centered" books like John Green's "Looking for Alaska" and Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" become hard sells because of title and cover choices. In my classes they have to read four books in a semester. When you are picking only four, they often are picked by their cover. Would you risk a "bad cover" when there are 250 other books to choose from?
    Perhaps the real question might become, what types of COVERS appeal to guys? Come up with that one, and maybe we'd make millions!
    PS: Don't discount the fact that 90% of "Chic Lit" books, especailly the ones by more pulp authors, contain really terrible, stock male characters. I read a ton of chic lit and I am tired of the macho jerk and the sick date rapist.