In Praise of Chick Lit

by Mira

What chick lit is, some really good chick lit reads, and why American chick lit doesn’t quite fit the bill.

We all have guilty pleasures. One of mine is chick lit. It started unawares in the summer of 2009, when I bought Sophie Kinsella’s The Twenties Girl and Emily Giffin’s Heart of the Matter in an airport, looking to spend some currency I had no use for anymore. So I bought a British chick lit book and an American one, without having any idea what the books would be like. I had heard a lot of good things about fanfiction and chick lit from a friend though, and wanted to give it a try.

What I couldn’t have anticipated was the extent to which this so-called, rather disparagingly, chick literature would reveal a wonderfully quirky, fresh, and fun side to British English and British characters. Very soon, Sophie Kinsella and Catherine Alliott became some of my favorite chick lit authors. Then I went on to discover other authors’ British humor and sharp wit. At a time when authors like Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Love, Pray, felt slighted by people labeling her books chick lit, I was beginning to appreciate how smart and fabulously talented the bestselling chick lit authors were. Of course, in order to do that, I had to set myself the task of learning British English. It was and is an arduous task!

Bridget Jones's Diary

In some form of another, chick lit has been around for a while. It really took off, however, after the publication of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, which was a tremendous success. By 2006 it had sold 2 million copies, and a popular movie with Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and Colin Firth was released in 2001. In 1999 Helen Fielding published a sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which was also made into a film, in 2004, graced by the same three protagonists as the first one. It was fun, but didn’t win nearly as many awards as the first one.

June 14, 2013 update. I'm only now reading Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, as my eye fell upon it at the British library a couple of weeks ago. It's supposed to be fun but I much prefer other heavyweights such as Sophie Kinsella.

So what's so great about chick lit? Read on and you'll see.

Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones's Diary
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Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays (Paperback Edition)
The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays: Lady Windermere's ...
$10.62  $5.44

Oscar Wilde

I learned British English from reading some classics of British literature. While Oscar Wilde, one of my favorites, was funny in a wicked and irreverent way which appealed to me a lot many years ago, his kind of funny never made use of peculiar British words and expressions, or Cockney slang and humor. Oh God, it sounds like I’m putting down Oscar Wilde. No, I love him, but I’m too much the product of the twentieth century now and Oscar Wilde’s aphorisms seem too aesthetic. In fact, when I read Frédéric Beigbeder’s attempts at Wildean aphorisms (as in Love Lasts Three Years), it all felt very dated. (The good thing is that Oscar Wilde is not only about aphorisms.)

Where Writers Could Benefit from Reading Chick Lit

What feels fresh is some of the chick lit out there. Combine that humor and sharp wit with serious reflections, and you can get some popular powerful literature. “Serious” literature, no less. Unfortunately, too much of critically acclaimed literature is drab and devoid of humor. Maybe it could do “serious” writers good to read some British chick lit.

American Chick Lit Offers Some Nice Reads, but It's Not Exactly Chick Lit

Oh, I’m not putting down American chick lit either. I do wonder though whether it’s rightfully called “chick lit.” It’s more like light reading on serious subjects. Which is fun but not quite as fun as British chick lit. And it doesn’t inspire you the way “serious” literature does, either. Still, I do enjoy Emily Giffin’s writing, and have enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s novels Love, Eat, Pray and Committed as well. But when it comes to contemporary American literature, I prefer to read John Updike, Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, Amy Bloom, Marisa Silver, Ha Jin, and other greats or greats-in-the-making, including certain science fiction authors. (I've been getting my dose of American humor on TV but I’m becoming more and more interested in discovering contemporary American writers with a comedic style. Been reading about it.)

Light Reading

At the moment my light reading comes from this side of the ocean. I also found Australian writer Toni Jordan’s book Fall Girl to be a treat. And yes, as much as I love chick lit, I am not done enjoying American lighter fare in the shape of “American chick lit” or great biographies, such as Charles S. Cross’s book Heavier than Heaven about Kurt Cobain, for instance.

Favorite Chick Lit Books

But this page should be about chick lit, so here are some of my favorite chick lit books, British, American, and Australian.

Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl

As I said, Twenties Girl was the first chick lit book I read. It’s still probably my favorite. Much better than the popular Shopaholic series, which I gave up on rather fast. If you’re new to chick lit, start with Twenties Girl and you will be hooked forever to British chick lit. It includes a ghost character that only the woman protagonist can see. This makes it fun when other people are present. There’s also a touching love story to root for. I enjoyed every page and twist in this book. It’s fancifully, over-the-top funny, but in a smart way that grows on you instantly. I found it highly captivating on account of both the plot and the author’s writing style.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (Paperback Edition)
Twenties Girl: A Novel
$14.85  $9.0
Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess

I then went on to read The Undomestic Goddess. Still funny, but not magical.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (Kindle Edition)
Twenties Girl a Novel
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The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella (Paperback Edition)
The Undomestic Goddess
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Catherine Alliott's The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton

Another very popular British chick lit author is Catherine Alliott. The first book of hers that I read was The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton. It’s a touching story and yet the main character is ditzy and quite fancifully put together, and that whole combination doesn't work perfectly throughout the novel. Catherine Alliott's style of over-the-top comedy also gets tired after a while.

While I enjoy Catherine Alliott's writing, what I didn't appreciate was the way in which, despite the variations in plot, they end up rather formulaic in terms of settings and characterization. Her female protagonist had a job in the city, met her husband, moved to a nice place near the city, had children, and then separated from her husband and moved to the country. She pulls off some great moments, whether laugh-out-loud or heartfelt, but after a while I found myself reading her books more for her descriptions of English life in the countryside.

The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton by Catherine Alliott (Paperback Edition)
Secret Life of Evie Hamilton
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The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton (Kindle Edition)
Secret Life of Evie Hamilton
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Books by Catherine Alliott

Of all her books, I read The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton, Not That Kind of Girl, A Married Man, and A Crowded Marriage. Also started Olivia’s Luck. I find the titles terrible, but don’t judge these books by their titles. Sometimes they are imposed by publishers, and as much as the authors cringe, they have to put up with them.

I learned a lot of British English from Catherine Alliott. Probably not that much compared to what I still have to learn, but a lot compared to where I was before I started reading her books.

A Married Man by Catherine Alliott (Paperback Edition)
A Married Man
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A Crowded Marriage by Catherine Alliott (Paperback Edition)
A Crowded Marriage
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Not That Kind of Girl, by Catherine Alliott (Paperback Edition)
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Emily Giffin's Heart of the Matter

Okay, moving over to the US now. The first American chick lit book I read was Emily Giffin’s Heart of the Matter.

Emily Giffin writes well. She writes softly from a place of deep feeling, beguiling you from one sentence to the next. It was one of the books I couldn't put down because of her mellifluous writing and her treatment of the main characters, and yet all the while I was reading I kept wishing for more narrative lines, more humor, and more development of even the main characters.

Still, the story stayed with me and somehow seemed as real as life. It felt like spending time with a mother and child going through a dark time. The romance was wonderful too. Mature, deep, and moving.

True, the way the book is set up, with chapters dedicated, in turn, to the story and viewpoint of the two women protagonists, Tessa and Valerie, is too easy, and not carefully thought out: if the narrator's voice is Tessa in the Tessa chapters, then how come she's omniscient about Valerie? Also, the story is rather simple in the end. While I like a simple story if it’s done masterfully, as The Catcher in the Rye for instance, when you have light reading without too many twists and turns, The Heart of the Matter seems too facile even for chick lit. Did I mention the book is low on the laughs? But then again, that’s American chick lit for you.

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin (Paperback Edition)
Heart of the Matter
$11.34  $5.0
Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin (Kindle Edition)
Heart of the Matter
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So What Is Chick Lit Then?

As I said, I have no idea why Emily Giffin's Heart of the Matter is called chick lit. Elizabeth Gilbert and many female American authors are right to question the label. They do it as far as it might apply or not to their own writing, but the crux of the matter is that there really is no chick lit in America. American writers could adapt the British chick lit model to American-style humor but for some reason they don't.

While there are American women writers with a comedic mind out there, those who set out to write about young women, their love life and relationships, and their life at work don’t do it humorously and lightheartedly enough, which is what makes chick lit chick lit. So, there you go, I managed to define chick lit eventually. And no, there’s not a lot of sex in it. Chick lit is about humor and relationships and love and keeping things light.

Toni Jordan's Fall Girl

A fun and smart book that I wish more people knew about comes from Australian writer Toni Jordan. It’s called Fall Girl. Toni Jordan has done her research on con games and takes you with confidence into the world and psychology of con artists. The energy of the writing is restrained, carefully dosed. It’s a very good read, intriguing and entertaining. Quite different than other chick lit I’ve read, as it’s chick lit with a twist.

Fall Girl (Paperback Edition)
Fall Girl
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The above are chick lit books that I recommend wholeheartedly, even as I’ve criticized them in part. I have read others as well, but found so many faults with them that I’d rather not write about them at all. I would rather present here only the better books. Hope you’ll enjoy them as well.

If I come across other great chick lit books, I will add them to this page.

Now pick a book and find out for yourself why so many women (and men) love chick lit!

P.S. I see I forgot Cecelia Ahern, who's Irish by the way. I read If You Could See Me Now and one other book, I think. If You Could See Me Now is about a single adoptive mother whose six-year-old son, Luke, befriends an invisible guy, Ivan. Then Elizabeth sees Ivan and she falls in love with him. I know, it's all very out there, but the writing is really nice! So see, there's a whole range of chick lit out there -- enjoy!

If You Could See Me Now, by Cecelia Ahern (Paperback Edition)
If You Could See Me Now
Only $6.97
Updated: 01/29/2017, Mira
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Mira on 11/29/2016

I haven't read chick lit books in a while, but yes, I do learn more British English every time I do.

DerdriuMarriner on 11/29/2016

Mira, Very nice! One of the appeals of chick lit, in book and film form, well may be the vignettes of current events, language and style.

Mira on 11/30/2013

I haven't seen P.S. I Love You. Haven't read the book either. Now that you mentioned it, I'll look for both. But it may take a while now that I came back with 15 extra books from the fall book fair. (And I'm not a fast reader, or better said, I have to pause after a number of pages.)

Mira on 04/04/2013

Yes, please do. Among other books, I'm reading now Remember me? by Sophie Kinsella, and enjoying it so far :). Not all British chick lit books are fun reads, so it's important to choose well before you buy one such book.

BrendaReeves on 04/03/2013

Mira, I have never read British chic lit. I do love the British TV programs. I'll have to take a look at these.

Mira on 02/19/2013

Then for them I recommend anything but / except Catherine Alliott or Emily Giffin.

katiem2 on 02/19/2013

I've shared this with my daughter and they too are eager to read a good chick book. :)K

Mira on 02/14/2013

You're welcome! Enjoy! :)

katiem2 on 02/14/2013

Hmmmm you may well have just enlisted another fan of Chick lit. Good literature is a treasure. Thanks for the intro to chick-lit. :)K

Mira on 02/13/2013

I've seen books in some cafes and some guesthouses. I took the books in the cafes to be mainly for decor, and the ones in the guesthouses to be there for people who came with no books at all. But now that I actually think about it, I think the latter were for people who wanted to exchange books as well. I rarely read while on holiday myself, so I never thought much about it. But speaking of holidays, these chick lit books are often thought of and marketed as holiday books, beach reads, etc.

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