I've been meaning to post about this column by Maureen Dowd (linked to The Unknown Candidate's blog because only NYT subscribers can access columns on their webpage). I like chick lit as much as the next chick, but I agree with her that the stuff has become the literary equivalent of bamboo, choking everything else off the shelves. I mentioned last night that my boyfriend bought me a copy of Traveling Pants this weekend. What I didn't chronicle was that the original idea was just to buy me any book of my choosing (awww...he's so sweet) but that Barnes and Noble didn't have any of the books I wanted. I was going to get the new George Saunders, or maybe a book of short stories by Steven Millhauser (I liked the movie The Illusionist, and I like some of his other short stories, like "The Knife Thrower" and "The Barnum Museum"). It was just a sea of pink books with shoes on them in there!
Chick lit is an enjoyable distraction, and lots of fun. And there is definitely a range of quality out there. I myself enjoy Jennifer Weiner, Candace Bushnell, and the Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich. But then there are others, like Plum Sykes and Lauren Weisberger (The Devil Wears Prada), which will probably age as well as that 200-page book on how to surf the internet that I saw in the computer section of our local library.
But it would be a shame if chick lit choked out everything else. Novels can be so much more than an escape. They can give you a new perspective on your life, give you a window into places and cultures that you'd never experience otherwise, or even teach you stuff. I actually learned a lot about economics and finance from Sabin Willett's Present Value, for example. Yesterday, I went to the library to stock up on books to take to Florida with me next week. I wanted a serious novel and a trashy biography. It seemed weird to me to find them flipped: there were plenty of biographies of upstanding Americans who'd led inspirational lives (I wanted to read about a slutty, drug-addled star who turned up mysteriously murdered at the age of 30). And on the fiction side, it seemed to be all chick lit, or "dude lit" (new term, referring to books by authors like Tom Clancy and John Grisham). I wonder if this trend might help to save the independent bookstore. I haven't visited one just to visit it in a while now (I'm always looking for gifts for others). Maybe they, too, have succumbed.