Friday, January 27, 2006

book-wise, cover-foolish.

Last weekend I went book-shopping and picked up the first three books of G R R Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice, which is apparently gripping, complex fantasy of the sort that bewitches the mind, ensnares the senses and so on. I got cheap editions, packaged like almost all second-rate fantasy is - the glossy polychromatic covers, thin paper, small print, and embossed dragons/rings/crowns on the cover. Fair enough. I get to save money, I'm not complaining.

Then my eye fell on a heap of chick lit. I don't care about these books one way or another. I'm as shallow as the next corporate minion, but the levels of fashion consciousness they assume the average working female reader possesses is frankly ludicrous. I'll read them now and then, though, because I generally read anything that's funny and urban and doesn't have a protagonist whose raison d'etre is fixating on the opposite sex. It's not my cup of tea, but this is how modern educated womanhood gets its rocks off, and if they want to win at life in their Prada stilletos or whatever, they can go ahead and do it.

Why do they have to do it in between covers packaged like children's books? I went browsing after I got my Martins, and everything. EVERYTHING I saw, that was written by a woman, excepting A S Byatt (who doesn't even let on her real name is Antonia Susan, for reasons best known to herself) is pink, green, blue and yellow. Bright pink, bright green, bright blue and bright yellow. With comic, curlicued fonts. And chirpy cartoon art girls on the cover, as artificial as possible. It was like seeing a set of The Princess Diaries repeated over and over and over again along the bookshelves.

One accepts chick lit is about fantasy and wish-fulfillment. But in the post-Bridget Jones world, these fantasies are about money. They're about sex and power. They're not Mills and Boon yearnings for boys and white weddings and babies. These books cost as much as middlebrow, "unisex" LitFic. And still I get the feeling that you can't be a heterosexual, economically sound girl looking for a bit of wish-fulfillment in the post-feminist world unless you're willing to admit that your desires really belong to humans under the age of fourteen.

It's exactly the same way fashion ever since Twiggy has liked its models to remain as depilated, curveless, and defenseless as babies. Disgusting inclination, if you ask me. So now girls can go ahead and dream about being as rich and bitchy and cynical as they like as long as its loud and clear that this is not real, that none of this is coming true, that no Trudi or Kiki or Sophie is actually really going to displace her boss. Of course not. Of course she's kidding about not wanting babies. Of course she's kidding about having to break up with a boy because she doesn't have enough time for him.

I know, I know. It's stupid to get worked up about books that aren't even fighting the hard fights, that are, in the end, trying to make believe that empowerment is about making the same mistakes that capitalist white males have made. But, you know, these are adult choices, and if they are flawed, they are still coping mechanisms in the real world. I feel like I should be embarassed even making a case for them, but I can't be. My argument would probably be shot down in the real world of Judith Butler and headbutting hetero male criticism, but I honestly think the sort of freedom these books are trying to depict are byproducts of an ongoing feminist conflict, not missteps in a long straight line to equality.

This is a knee-jerk musing, not a rant. A rant requires a firm ideological stand and I don't really have one with regard to chick lit. I may or may not be shooting down anything I have said in this post by linking to Natasha Walter's piece in today's Guardian, in which she identifies the major issue with "new feminism": [N]obody is talking about how these things connect within a wider pattern of inequality, an inequality that persists through the generations and the classes.

And read a week-long debate conducted in September 2005 by journalists in Slate, on many delicious things, including porn, cultural criticism, and, well, the woman of today.

current musix: still with the benny goodman.


  1. "know, I know. It's stupid to get worked up about books"

    No, it isn't. Great post - you've articulated something that has been bugging me for a while.

    "current musix: still with the benny goodman."

    (Benny goodman, huh? Hmm...)

  2. Thank you. It seemed like such a little thing, really, but it bothers me all the same. Of course, it also bothers me that all these chicklit heroines can prance about in fourteen-inch Prada heels, but that is a rant for another time.

    Pum-pum-pum. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Anonymous10:02 pm

    I happen to agree with you about the apalling covers, but in this case, I am here to comment on the Martin books.

    The first 3 are very good. The fourth (just recently out) is half a story, not well told, and he shouldn`t have bothered putting it out when he did. (He did it to shut his fans and publisher up.) So read and enjoy the first three, and then go and get someone to give you the Coles notes version of number 4.

  4. Anonymous4:56 am

    Another good piece on chick lit:

  5. @ Anon #1: Thank you, I will take your advice and wait for a really cheap version of the fourth book to come out! Or have someone send it to me free of cost. But these books, they just don't get done. I mean, if I had 24 hours in a day to spare they get over very quickly, but its lovely to have read so much and still have so much to look forward to at this point in time.

    @ Anon #2: Thank you! That was a marvellous link, and far more articulate and comrhensive than anything I could ever say on the subject.