Think chick lits are all fluff and no substance? Think again. Here, Stylist staff pick out their favourite summer reads - and explain why they’re so much #morethanchicklit
Chick lit has long been a dirty word in literature. For most it describes a genre filled with silly, giggly prose centered around superficial women, with little depth and little impact. The usually pink and glittery covers that case its pages don’t usually help either, as pointed out recently by JoJo Moyes.
The best-selling author, who has penned successful novels such as Me Before You, spoke to the BBC about how the out-dated stereotype attached to this genre is holding back female authors and discouraging a potential readership from discovering the brilliant writing beneath a misleading book cover.
“So many women who write about quite difficult issues are lumped under the ‘chick lit’ umbrella,” Moyes explained. “It’s so reductive and disappointing - it puts off readers who might otherwise enjoy them.”
She continued to explain that previously, demands from supermarkets have forced publishers to pick easy-to-categorise covers for books they’re promoting, but this has a limiting effect on the audience.
“The boundaries are being blurred with women writing domestic noir and thrillers. I want to see covers that are a bit more gender neutral. Supermarkets wanted things that are easily categorised, but people don’t want to read something pink and glittery.”
And we whole-heartedly agree. For too long has chick lit been considered the fast food of fiction. After all, the overwhelming defining characteristics of these books are that they are written with a female reader in mind, and boast women as central characters, which is a great thing.
Although some are undeniably frothy, many tackle much more hard hitting topics and give arresting analysis of interesting relationships. Dismissing chick lit on principle means missing out on laughs, complex stories and eminently loveable characters.
To prove the lasting impression that these books can have, nine women tell us what they love about their favourite chick lit title.
The Rosie Project
Rosie Conroy, writer
“For some reason there’s a snobbery around chick lit that doesn’t seem to permeate into the realms of films Why are chick flicks okay but chick lit is looked down on? Sometimes when you’ve had a hard day using your bloody brain all you want to do is switch off and indulge in a little bit of what I like to call ‘light reading’.
My reasoning is that surely that’s better than watching the Kardashians (but if that’s what you wanna do after work, you do you – no judgement here). Also after looking at a screen for eight hours at my 9-5 I love not having to look at another blue-light again all evening. My mum says they’re bad for you.
Disturbingly I seem to be quite an egocentric character so when there’s a book with my name on it, I’m going to read it aren’t I? If you’ve not read The Rosie Project then it basically equates to a man, Don, trying to find himself the perfect wife by issuing out a series of questionnaires. Spoiler alert: His love interest turns out to be a gal called Rosie. Great name choice, think we can all agree.
The Rosie Project was one of those books that you could read cover-to-cover that didn’t really upset or challenge your moral stance or understanding of the world. It was indulgent in the way easy literature is, but well-written enough to keep the reader hooked throughout. I adored the apparent simplicity of finding a partner through a scientific experiment (although had Don been aware of Tinder at the time I’m sure things would have progressed a lot more quickly for him) and the character development on a man with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome offers up plenty of laughs and just enough awkwardness to keep you feeling ever so slightly nervous.
Ultimately it’s about how we behave in relationships, how we shape-shift and move to fit with our partners, but it’s also about the importance of maintaining your own authenticity. In a world of Instagram it’s a lesson we should all be reminded of every now and then. For a speed-read, a good peppering of lols and a subtle self-improvement message I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. The sequel however, not so great.”
Eat Pray Love
Susan Devaney, writer at stylist.co.uk
“Like Elizabeth Gilbert, I visited Bali. And India. I cycled around the Gili Islands, flew up the east coast of Australia, jumped on a train ride around Sri Lanka and ate pasta in the piazza in Rome, and then went home.
Not only did I want to live a life like Gilbert, but I wanted (and still do) to be friends with her.
And I’m well aware that I wasn’t the first, nor the last, to find inspiration in the pages of Eat, Pray, Love. Reading the words of Gilbert turning a lens on herself as she traveled, ate and prayed away from her home in New York City, in turn caused other women to pursue similar experiences. In droves.
If that’s the rippling effect caused by ‘chick lit’ that makes women wander the world with complete freedom in the form of a backpack, then I’ll have more of what Gilbert’s having.”
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing
Katerina Grassi, civil servant
“A series of short stories focusing on the life of one Jane Rosenal, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, is a work of fiction, and yet I have never read a book I have felt more truly connected to. In no particular order, Melissa Bank takes you on one woman’s journey. She muddles her way through the world, from sarcastic teenager to wisened, and somewhat weary, adult.
While the primary focus is on romance, and the various unsuitable suitors Jane gets involved with, it’s her quick wit, inner sardonic commentary and general attitude to her life and the people in it, that hooked me from the first page.
I’ve never laughed out loud so much while feeling so thoroughly in tune with her emotions; from juvenile troubles to adult tribulations, I felt attached to Jane in a way I haven’t for many (if any) other protagonists.”
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Abigail Maden, wedding stylist
“Chick lit is one of my favourite genres and undeniably, Bridget Jones’s Diary is at the top of my list.
One of my most notable memories of reading this book is re-telling Bridget’s fancy dress nightmare to my friendship group, as if she was someone I actually knew.
I related to Bridget and felt for her, as I believe all women will. We’re rooting for her from the very beginning. She’s un-apologetically real and ‘female’. I love that she’s lays herself bare and yells her ‘flaws’ from the rooftops, because actually those ‘imperfections’ as she recognises them, are the reasons we all adore her.
By using her diary to track her success (or in her view, her lack of) when it comes to dating, dieting and quitting smoking, author Helen Fielding artfully exposes Bridget’s problems in a way we can all relate to.
This book makes us feel human and maybe even interesting for being; single, occasionally failing, hungover, annoyed by our families, confused by expectations or in the wrong job. The book has a strong “you’re not alone” message, delivered with a hysterically relatable overtone.
Sometimes I feel like if I’m not seeking self-betterment from a book, I should be spending my time on something more educational or particularly topical that would teach me more about what’s going on in the world. But for me, there’s no better form of learning than learning to embrace the funny looks I get on the train when I’m throwing my head back, laughing out loud.”
Valley of the Dolls
Kayleigh Dray, Editor of stylist.co.uk
“It took me a very long time to fully embrace chick-lit. In fact, it wasn’t until my first year at university that a friend forced her copy of Valley of the Dolls into my hands and demanded I stop being such a literary snob. The cover – an extreme close-up on sparkling glossed lips biting down on a candy-pink pill – positively screamed “light and easy” read. And, while there’s no denying I read it in a single, feverish sitting, I certainly wouldn’t call it “light”. Or “trashy”. Or “kitsch”. Or any of the other less than favourable adjectives I’d immediately ascribed to it upon reading the book’s synopsis.
Some 30 or 40 pages in, I discovered that the ‘dolls’ of the title didn’t refer to the women at the centre of the story (one a model, one a singer, one a sex symbol and actress). Instead, it referred to the arcane showbiz slang for tranquillisers, uppers and sleeping pills that help our three young heroines navigate ageism, body-shaming, maternity leave, abortion, female friendship and sexuality. The dialogue sizzles. Wigs are flushed, friendships are shattered, hearts are broken. Nobody is nice. Everybody is a mess. And the male characters who pass fleetingly through the pages do their best to dictate women’s relationships, appearances, careers and lives.
Yes, it’s a brilliantly bold and brassy romp of a novel – but it hits you in the gut, stops you in your tracks and makes you think. Hard. Because this isn’t just a book: it is still, even all these decades later, the perfect mirror for today’s society.
Happy reading, folks!”
Kyri Levendi, writer
“The book, which is the last installment in The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series, picks up with the four friends as they near their 30th birthdays.
While the earlier instalments are riddled with teenage angst, the last book shows an accurate portrayal of just how hard it can be to figure out life in your twenties.
At the heart of the book is the unbreakable bond between these four friends. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and want to call up your girlfriends for a catch up by the end.”
Circle of Friends
Hannah Rose Yee, writer
“I still remember the first time I read Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy. The book, which tells the story of three childhood friends desperately trying to forge a new life in the big city, felt like it had reached inside my soul and scooped out my innermost, unspoken hopes and dreams, aspirations for beautiful boys and career success and a sprawling life beyond the confines of the place where I grew up.
It was the first chick lit book I read but definitely not the last. I raced through all of Binchy’s back catalogue before moving onto Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot, Plum Sykes’ Bergdorf Blondes and the ne plus ultra of the genre, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary. At its heart chick lit deals expressly with what women really, really want. Because of that, these novels are frequently dismissed as small and unimportant, when really they are often full of ambition and yearning and comfort, a hand held tightly in the dark.”
The Sea Sister
Megan Murray, writer at stylist.co.uk
“On first glance, The Sea Sisters looks like a book classic of the chick lit genre. The alliterative title makes it pretty clear from the offset that story pivots around the relationship between two sisters, and from the mermaid-esque cover, you’d be forgiven for imagining a fantasy narrative where the family are secret mer-people or something.
But this incredible story delves so much deeper than a stereotypical portrayal of a female sibling dynamic, based on petty arguments of the ‘you didn’t ask to borrow my skirt’ variety. In fact, it’s actually pretty dark.
When older sister Katie is delivered the news that her little sister Mia has committed suicide in Bali while on a round-the-world-trip, she refuses to accept the police’s postmortem and retraces Mia’s steps using entries from her travel journal. The journey forces Katie to relive the truth of their strained relationship and the potently descriptive language brings every place she goes to life.
I love books that explore the complexities of the important relationships in our lives, particularly those focused around women, and as an only child I found the connection between the sisters fascinating. Both of the women in this book embark on a journey of discovery, not only physically of the world around them, but emotionally in themselves which really resonated with me and inspired me to take a trip on my own, too.”
The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic
Alessia Armenise, Picture Editor for stylist.co.uk
“I think I picked up The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic during the summer when I was still at university. After a long exam session, the only thing I wanted to read was a light, funny and carefree novel like this one. I remember buying it in a little shop just before heading to the beach and finishing it by the end of the day.
After that, I just wanted to know what Rebecca Bloomwood was up to! It was already a couple of years after the book was first published so I was able to binge-read the next four (Shopaholic Abroad, Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Shopaholic & Sister and Shopaholic & Baby) during the summer months and I had a blast. After a year reading Hemingway and Miller, the adventures of Becky were the only thing I was interested in.
I think it’s unfortunate that chick lit – just like chick flicks – are considered a ‘guilty pleasure’. There is nothing to feel guilty about, our brain deserves a break and Sophie Kinsella’s books are a great option. I tent to slide a chick lit book in my reading list every 2 or 3 ‘heavy’ reads and her new book, Surprise me, is definitely in there.”