Saturday, February 27, 2010
Chick Lit & Dick Lit
I think Phyllis called this a beach book! Time is a River by Mary Alice Monroe. She read it for a book group and enjoyed it. And Monroe has written several woman-centered books, including The Beach House, so maybe they are all beach books! But are they “chick lit”?
What is it that gets called “chick lit,” and is this primarily a fond term or a pejorative one? Is it a mostly a marketing tag, identifying its hoped-for and most likely audience, etc.? Is it feminist or anti-feminist? Or is it detached from the idea of labels as suggestive of any kind of evaluative determination, and primarily, instead, about fun?
As in, “Girls just want to have fun!” (Cyndi Lauper in your head now?) (By coincidence, I saw Baby Mama again last night, so she's in my head.)
Does chick lit have to contain shopping in general and shoes in specific?
Of course, the answers to all my questions of definition can easily be found in Wikipedia, or, with further research, in numerous articles by teachers, critics, and scholars of chick lit:
Chick lit has a self-determining female protagonist who is able to solve her problems with gumption and humor. Chick lit is indeed marketed to female readers, etc. Early chick lit writers, before the term was a term, are among the greats—Jane Austen, for example, herself ever popular among female readers. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding descends quite consciously and comically from Pride and Prejudice. Et cetera.
I ask partly because the other day I was pondering that thing that happens when a man is intimate or personal or sensitive in his writing, and the world goes, “Oh, he’s so brave!” etc., and a woman is intimate, etc. in her writing, and the world goes, “Poo, she’s so confessional!”
He talks about masturbation. “Bold!”
She talks about her period. “Yuck.”
He talks about his penis. “What else is there to talk about?”
She mentions her vagina. “Guffaw.”
And so on. And I think this is still happening.
So I wondered, “If there is such a thing as ‘chick lit,’ why isn’t there ‘dick lit’?”
And, of course, there is. Turns out I have read plenty of it: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, various books by Nick Hornby. Probably Lamb and so on by Christopher Moore. That’s, by extrapolation, according to some men who have posted lists at Amazon or thereabouts.
I have to tell you I was afraid to Google “dick lit” and then afraid to click anything with a dick in it. At Wikipedia, I only got an article about Moby Dick, which is not funny enough to be dick lit, and I didn’t click very far among lists and blogs, but I got the gist of it.
Dick lit is essentially chick lit for men.
(And you can check this out at Urban Dictionary. Where the younger male audience is specified, but the examples point to the older male audience for virile adventure fiction. Of course, I realize now, from handling a lot of pulp fiction and men's romance at Babbitt's, that there was plenty of dick lit before there was this term, as with chick lit.)
So if it has a sense of humor and is written by a man, it’s dick lit, and if it has a sense of humor and is written by a woman, it’s chick lit, as long as it has a self-determining protagonist who is male or female. (Next, we may get Pat lit.) At least there is indeed equal time for reproductive parts out there in popular literature.
So I ask you, is there anything you’ve read that you’d like to label chick lit or dick lit?
Who has read some “chick lit,” and why? For fun, for book groups, for a college class. And what are we/you looking for in that kind of book? Fun? A good story? Romance? Someone to identify with? Self-determination?
Have any men among us read anything that someone else calls “chick lit”? And would you be embarrassed to be caught reading it? If so, why?
I was embarrassed to click dick lit, but I was not embarrassed to read Hornby, Foer, or Moore. Is John Irving dick lit? Is Saul Bellow intellectual dick lit? What about Philip Roth? I’m pretty sure Portnoy’s Complaint is dick lit.