Kyra Davis: “Thank You, Maureen Dowd!”

Kyra Davis was one of the many authors with something to say about Maureen Dowd’s anti-chick lit column over the weekend (I collated a lot of responses at my other blog, GalleyCat). Davis, who has appeared as a guest author here before, is the author of several novels for Harlequin’s Red Dress Ink and Mira imprints, including last fall’s So Much for My Happy Ending.

kyradavis.jpgWhen I read Maureen Dowd’s column, my initial reaction was one of gratitude and relief. It’s nice to know that, while chick lit books aren’t selling as well as they used to, the genre is still successful enough to tick off the literary elitists: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, animosity is a close second.

Once the giddiness elicited by Dowd’s harsh critique subsided, I started thinking about the issues raised in her piece. For instance, Dowd was indignant to find that her local bookstore had the audacity to put Sophie Kinsella’s books next to Rudyard Kipling’s. I can see her point. How dare they shelve their books in alphabetical order? Everybody knows that they should be organized in order of greatness. They should start with Lynn Schnurnberger’s The Botox Diaries and work their way up to Dante’s Inferno.

And of course she’s right to be horrified by the pink cover put on Romeo And Juliet. It would be awful if someone who wouldn’t normally read Shakespeare became compelled to pick up one of his greatest plays because of its new girly cover. Shakespeare’s plays should all be bound in black so that those who buy them can flaunt their somber attitude about literature, even if what they’re reading is a play about a guy with a donkey head being romanced by the queen of the fairies.

But perhaps I’m not going far enough. Maybe the classics should come with their own dust so they look like old collectors items and the chick lit books should be put in a dark corner somewhere in hopes of shaming those who dare to seek them out. No one has the right to look to literature as a form of escapism. If a woman wants to be entertained she should turn on her TV like a normal American. Literature isn’t supposed to make us laugh. It’s supposed to make us wiser and depressed.

And there’s no denying that Dowd was right on the money when she cautioned her readers not to put chick lit books in the same category as the books of Jane Austen. Austen’s books weren’t just about her characters; they were about the times those characters lived in. When we read Pride and Prejudice, we are treated to a new perspective on the societal norms and expectations of nineteenth-century women. But chick lit is completely different. How could a novel about a single, thirty-something woman struggling in her career and worried about her weight be in any way reflective of a time in which obesity has become an epidemic and women are working longer hours and marrying later in life than ever before? The very idea that these books have any cultural significance is preposterous!

So thank you, Maureen Dowd, for being brave enough to publicly ridicule chick lit. You are one of only a thousand or so people who have had the courage to do so. It’s refreshing to have an esteemed journalist of the New York Times give us all permission to judge an entire genre of books by their covers.

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11 February 2007 | guest authors |