Elizabeth Merrick: “We all need light reading, light entertainment from time to time–I’m certainly not against that. You will see me at the gym with Us Weekly now and then. But there is an amazing flourishing of women literary writers at the moment that is being obscured by a huge pile of pink books with purses and shoes on the cover. Women readers are having a hard time finding substantive reading material because of the dominance of these narratives.”
So let me get this straight. The minute that copies of the latest Zadie Smith or Monica Ali book appear at a bookstore, a blancmange-like entity made up of pink books wanders from the back of the stacks and blocks literary visibility with its slick flagstone epidermis?
Aside from the sweeping generalization that all chick lit is worthless, this is just as absurd as claiming that penny dreadfuls stopped Elizabeth Gaskell or the Bronte sisters from writing, much less capitalizing, upon their respective audiences. So long as there are women writers with literary ambitions and publishers looking for the next Sue Monk Kidd, the system will continue to produce its steady share of women writing literary fiction. I agree with Merrick that there’s a definite gender disparity in literary fiction (there is, as of yet, no estrogen answer to the Jonathans) which needs to be rectified, but if chick lit permits women to work their way to authors like Mary Gaitskill and Kelly Link, then what’s the problem here?
Could it just be possible that readers are more likely to purchase The Devil Wears Prada than Girly? Again, we have a situation here that comes back to this very obvious dichotomy. Literary fiction has consistently undersold popular fiction. But this is a commercial factor, not a literary one. And that’s just the way it is. Most book geeks (like myself) prefer the former, but to occlude the latter from one’s view, or to dismiss popular fiction without sampling is highly ignorant. (And isn’t it interesting that Merrick fails to cite a single example of books that she considers “much more poorly written [sic]” than Bridget Jones’ Diary?)