Today I read an interesting article over at Big Al's Books and Pal's on the topic of differentiating romance and chick lit genres. I think that Donna Fasano, the invited expert, explained the differences quite well. At least they made sense to me.
If I understood her correctly, while each genre may and generally does involve a romantic element the focus of each is different. In the romance novel the romance itself is the focus, whereas in the chick lit novel the romantic relationship is at most a factor in the protagonist's growth or journey. Donna says that in chick lit, "Whether the protagonist ends up with a man is not as relevant as the learning process she experiences through various situations that culminate in her resolving her issues..." See the full article for more: BigAl's Books and Pals: Chick Lit and Romance Fiction / A Defining Moment.
A lively discussion follows this article. I was surprised to find a comment attacking the genres for being 'silly' and 'boring'. For one thing, the comment was not on topic. No one asked for a personal opinion of the genres. Secondly, it was rude and arrogant. The attacker tried to impose his distaste for the genre on others. Third, it wasn't smart, since he is now an author with at least one less potential fan. But I digress.
The comment that the genres are silly and boring did start me thinking: Romance and chick lit have been mocked and belittled for ages, yet they are as popular as ever. No amount of eye-rolling or finger-gagging is going to change the fact that women love these books. But despite their popularity, have the genres truly been accepted as legitimate forms of literature? Yes, we read them, but how many of us are proud of it? Are we more likely to boast about reading a well-known piece of historical fiction or the latest chick-lit favourite?
Why can't we enjoy both without feeling guilty? Why do we need to sneak around to get our romance on, reading historical romance and romantic suspense novels, for example - forms of fiction that combine romance with a more accepted genre - in order to feel justified in our choice of book? Why is romance bad? There is a reason that most works of fiction - murder mysteries, science fiction, fantasy - tend to include a romantic element. Romance, love, attraction - these things are part of the human experience. We all want to have some amount of them in our reading. Some of us want to wade a little deeper into the waters than others. To each her own.
The majority of romance and chick-lit fans are probably women, but I'm certain there are men who enjoy these books too, or would if there weren't such a stigma surrounding them. Remember the depiction of a man reading a Playboy magazine hidden between the pages of something more socially acceptable? Now picture a man reading a chick lit novel held inside a Playboy magazine. Now stop ROFLing and come back to me. Seriously, guys, you deserve a good love story as much as we do. These days, authors are writing books for men that follow the same patterns as the chick lit novel. See Elizabeth Ann West's discussion of chick-lit for men.
To the critics of romance and chick-lit, I say this: You are entitled to your opinion, but examine whether it is in fact an opinion of the works within the genres, or a reflection of an internal conflict. All of the books in a genre can't be bad, and it's okay to like a book that falls within a genre that you wouldn't normally gravitate towards. I'm not sure it makes sense to criticize an entire genre for being silly or boring. I do appreciate the attacker's comment though, since it has opened my eyes to my own critic. I too have spent time, if only through my own feelings of embarrassment, shunning the romance and chick-lit genres. Well, no more!
A good book is a good book, no matter where it comes from. I am grateful to authors like Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes for accompanying me on what would otherwise have been seriously boring plane rides.
For more on Donna Fasano, please see her guest post on my blog: A Life of Comedic Plights.
Elizabeth Ann West is working on her first novel. Learn more about her by visiting her web site.
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