Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two solitudes in women's lit?

"Women's fiction: All misery and martinis?" from is a great read about women's fiction, and whether it's either dark and problem-based (Orange Prize juror: "If I read another sensitive account of a woman coming to terms with bereavement, I was going to slit my wrists") or light and airy as a caramel-flavoured rice cake (think: chick lit).

At right are four covers for Heartburn, a book which I suppose would easily be categorised as "women's fiction," (all the hallmarks: life changes, dastardly husband capable of "having sex with a venetian blind," food as therapy) but which is serious, thoughtful, and intellectual (a propos of nothing, really, the real-life husband, whose ability to have sex with inanimate objects remains unconfirmed, is journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame). At top L, the original cover; at top R, a later movie tie-in cover (yes, that's Meryl); at bottom L, a random reprint; at bottom R, the newest edition. I was embarrassed to be reading this edition from the library. I'm sure it was a marketing decision; I can just see publishers salivating over the demographic they can hook into Ephron's 1983 roman à clef (a demographic likely in diapers when the book originally came out).

To wit:
  • Author Jessica Duchen contends we write seriously because we want to make sure we aren't corralled into the chick lit market. As Salon phrases it, "Let one character crack a joke, and you risk inviting a candy-colored cover and all of the attendant derision."
  • Salon also does a great break-down of current bestsellers, and where they traditionally fit on the audience and genre spectrum.
  • Salon points out that women buy the majority of fiction, anyway, so "wouldn't it make sense to consider women the default buyers of fiction, and men the picky niche market?" That made me laugh.
  • A B&N blogger points out we would never dismiss books written by men, for men, as "men's fiction," so why do we ghetto-ise "women's fiction?"
So, as Salon concludes, what kind of women's fiction do we read, or what kinds exist? All kinds.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting!!! thanks for sharing!