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Genre-Bending: A Literary Trend to Loathe

There is a new literary trend upon the land and I would like to register my disgust. Call it the emergence of the Nonre - the Genre formerly known as "Novels" or "Literature" or "Fiction" (or, in some cases, as we shall see, "Pets.")

The Nonre tends to be made up of meaningless books about meaningless people who do meaningless things. "Chick Lit" is a perfect example. Women gripe about their sisters, their jobs, their bosses, who they're sleeping around with, their shoes, and their crappy roommates. This is literature? People spend money to read this?

Here's a hint: Stop by the ladies' room of any "hip" bar, especially downtown after the corporate workday has let out, hang around for half an hour, and you'll save yourself $24.95. I mean, sure, these books may provide an occasional laugh, but more and more, I see women reading just Chick Lit, and this alarms me. It's fluff. It's junk food. It's killing their brain cells. It's the equivalent of reality TV or Twinkies, and it's created because people who work in the entertainment industry, whether it be television or publishing, have figured out that they don't have to make us think to keep us entertained and interested and that, my friends, that should make us afraid.

A real-life anecdote: I suggested to a friend that her book club read Michael Chabon's incredible and award-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. When I asked her how it was going, she grimaced. "Honestly, everyone found it really difficult to read. They just didn't get it. I think I'm the only one who actually finished it. We ended up choosing something a little lighter instead." Their choice? A brainless Chick Lit novel so insignificant I neither remember its title or author.

Why not just do away with the books altogether and just meet for martinis and Sex and the City reruns?

Ironically, Chick Lit is now seen as reading fit for "smart girls" as defined by Debra Pickett's Chick Lit-centric "Smart Girls Book Club" column in the Sun-Times, which I suppose is true if you define smart girls as women who don't read much. If the definition of smart has become figuring out whether he dumped you because your shoes were out-of-date or because he's sleeping with your roommate, kill me now.

Although big-box bookstores prominently display Chick Lit all over, we can at least be thankful that only one Chick Lit book is currently among the top 15 New York Times bestsellers - at number 15. Jennifer Weiner (author of such craptastic novels as In Her Shoes) is doing quite well with The Guy Not Taken: Stories. What could be better than a novel about shoes and disastrous relationships? You got it: Short stories about them.

The other Nonre category that drives me crazy is the Pet Memoir. For God's sake, Marley and Me is Amazon's third best-selling paperback, and it's been in print for well over a year. Hasn't everybody who cares already read it? It's the latest excuse my sister-in-law is using to block my well-deserving niece from having a dog on her own, her theory being that if a dog can be as horrible as the main character in this emotionally manipulative piece of garbage, it will be just her luck to get such a dog.

People who see me with my own dog often ask if I've read Marley and Me and the answer is a resounding "NO!" Why the hell would I want to set myself up for inevitable heartbreak by reading about a dog who is incorrigibly bad (but lovable all the same, of course), when, in the end, right about the time you get attached to the rotten dog, it dies? I'd rather read something that's enlightening or enriching or has more value than a cup of Ramen. Great, the author achieved catharsis. What the hell was in it for me?

I could crank out chick fic and pet memoirs all day long. It might even fund more serious writing projects. But I would hate myself for it.

There are great books out there. They're a little harder to find these days, but they're worth looking for. In the meantime, ask yourself if you really care whether the Devil wears Prada or Nikes?


Posted on November 2, 2006

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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