Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Breaking Out In Pink Spots

Oh dear God. There's a sexually transmitted disease I need to tell you about and it's called Chick Lit. Although it's not new, I feel compelled to point this out to everybody as the signs are not, as previously believed, totally bleeding obvious.

Once upon a time it was assumed that by avoiding books featuring cover designs of stilettoes, handbags, or soft-focus photographs of attractive blond women, you were safe from the Chick Lit disease. That if you made it a rule to never buy novels written by anyone named 'Plum' or 'Candace', you could be quite certain that you weren't purchasing a mind-numbing 'story' that read more like the Stockist's Directory at the back of Vogue magazine than a piece of fictional narrative. Well, not so, not so anymore my friends. Apparently, Cosmopolitan magazine's Cosmopolitan Chick Lit club (it does what it says on the label) has decided to nominate Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as one of the books on their Must Read list.

Far be it for me to comment on the average Cosmo reader's, uh, reading tastes. Hey, I love trashy magazines as much as the next dog. But let's take a moment to consider a) the definition of 'chick lit', and b) Mr Safran Foer's feelings on having his indie lit cred smushed out in the time it takes to thumb a big, pink, sticker on the front cover of one of his books.

Indulge me while I get all etymological for a second, but isn't the term 'chick lit' a shortened form of 'chick literature', with 'chick' being a common colloquialism for 'woman'? Ergo, QED, etcetera., it is a label to classify works of fiction which supposedly are written by and appeal specifically to women. Using this definition, how on earth does Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close warrant its induction to the Cosmo club? It's a novel written by a man, from the viewpoint of a young boy whose father was killed in the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. In other words, it's about as masculine as you can get.

Unfortunately the chick lit label comes with some other (some say spurious, others obvious) associations, for example, a certain vapidity, and a narrow (if not exactly unpopular) selection of themes revolving around unfulfilling relationships and fashion. One really wonders, then, how the author himself, a darling of the literary circuit and winner of multiple prestigious prizes such as the Guardian First Book Prize, the National Jewish Book Award, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Prize, as well as being named as one of Rolling Stone's "People of the Year", feels about this sticker. I'm going to ask him, and let you know if I get a reply.


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