Friday, September 08, 2006

Destroying American Culture

I've never been the rebellious or revolutionary type, but apparently I'm at the forefront of a movement aimed at bringing about the downfall of Western culture. Cool! I wonder what one wears to bring down an entire society. Probably black, or maybe olive drab military style wear, accessorized with a dashing bandanna. I'll have to go shopping.

What did I do to become the scourge of the American intellect? I read and write (gasp!) chick lit.

For those who aren't entirely sure what chick lit is, other than "those books with pink covers that have cartoons, martini glasses or shoes on them," chick lit could possibly be considered a cousin of romance, or else maybe a post-modern romance. In these books, the focus is on the heroine's personal journey as she figures out her place in the world. Part of that may be learning to tell the difference between Mr. Right and Mr. Wrong and to figure out how to make things work out with Mr. Right once she finds him.

According to some increasingly loud voices lately, these books are bad for America and are undermining Western culture. You see, the popularity of these books, which leads to them being not only (horrors!) published in trade paperback form and shelved in general fiction where serious readers might actually stumble across them (I guess these people don't worry about the romance section because, of course, they'd never think of going there and they can pretend it doesn't exist), but they have the audacity to take up space on those coveted front tables in the bookstore (I may faint). If people are reading these fluffy books, they're not reading real literature, and because these books do sell, it means valuable publishing spots are being used up on worthless drivel instead of deserving literary works. Because of this, the brains of American women are turning to mush, and deserving female literary authors aren't getting the fame and fortune they deserve.

These deserving female literary authors have gone so far as to publish a collection of stories given the charming title THIS IS NOT CHICK LIT, just to prove their point that this is what you should be reading, and now they're blogging, writing columns and doing interviews everywhere they can to preach the word that fun books by, about and for women are going to destroy America (you may think I'm exaggerating, but check this out).

If anything is hurting America, it's the fact that people aren't reading much. There's so much competition for our leisure time, with TV, the Internet, movies, DVDs, video games, and the like. Turning books into the literary equivalent of Brussels sprouts isn't going to help matters. A lot of the people who aren't reading as adults had enough books about death and injustice forced on them when they were in school that their impression of books is of something boring and depressing. If these people find something they do like reading that makes them feel happy, whether it's chick lit, romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery or anything else not on the list approved by the Literary High Command, criticizing their reading choices isn't going to turn them into serious literary readers. If you make people feel bad about what they're reading, they might just not read.

Let's hear it for books of all kinds! The act of reading engages the imagination, increases the vocabulary -- and according to some research, it may help prevent Alzheimer's disease. People can find their own meaning in anything they read, whether or not the author intended it. In fact, something that engages them emotionally may be more likely to have a lingering effect. If it makes you laugh a little and cry a little, it might just make you look at life in a different way. So, don't let anyone make you feel guilty about what you're reading or writing. It's all good.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go put together my dangerous revolutionary wardrobe. I'm thinking a pink bandanna with an all-black catsuit and pointy-toed stiletto black boots.


Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

We all know what people should be reading, Shanna: THIS IS CHICK-LIT and Shanna Swendson's books! :)

Nancy said...

You go girl.

JoAnn Ross said...

I think one of the problems was that publishers all jumped on the chick lit bandwagon, which wasn't broad enough to handle all the books they flooded the market with. Unfortunately, every time they do that -- which is always! -- they tend to wound genres and draw a lot of negative response. (In the case of chick lit, it's probably also the fact that they're books written by women, edited by women, and read by women, that tends to get literary critic's panties in a twist.)

Good books will always find readers and personally, I don't believe most readers give two hoots about what people think about their reading habits. It's those of us who write the books who tend to get caught up in the arguments. Along with a very small handful of vocal readers -- small compared to our entire market -- who gather together on line.

As for your outfit, wow, what a coincidence! UPS just showed up thirty minutes ago with those exact boots. Mine have sexy silver buckles on the side. :)

Lara said...

Hmmm... I think world domination calls for camouflage... purple camouflage!

I have to say it seems that every month, some area of romance is destroying life as we know it. Last month it was erotica, this month it's chick lit, next month it'll be something else.

Remember a few years ago when the harbingers of doom were ranting about the Goosebumps books? Ohhhh, our children will be tainted by bad writing... waaaaaah. And what did they graduate to? Harry Potter. And from there? Tolkien. Huh. Yeah, I can see the doom in that... at least kids are reading.

I'll tell you one thing... telling me what your book ISN'T is just going to turn me off, and only partly because I don't know what the book *is*. And the excerpt I read from This Isn't... depressed the crap outta me. I can't say I'll be signing up for more.

Karyn Lyndon said...

Undermining any civilization calls for red patent stilettos (which, by the way, I've learned to spell thanks to Chick Lit.)

Shanna Swendson said...

I have the red patent stilettos! But they're not good for sneaking around and running in, or scaling library walls, or anything like that.

And I do think that some people can be made to feel good or bad about what they read. Look at the Oprah effect -- she declares that a book is a must-read, and they run out to get it (and then they wonder if maybe they're stupid when they don't "get" it). Enough articles in magazines sneering about how silly and shallow a kind of book is, and some readers might feel that they've been labeled silly and shallow. There are people whose self image is influenced externally. They have to wear the right labels and read the right things.

JoAnn Ross said...

Wow, I just went and read the article. It's true. You really ARE destroying America! Bad Shanna!

Seriously, I never listen to people who aren't willing to put their name where their views are and neither should anyone else. :)

Shannon McKelden said...

Brava, Shanna! Total world chick lit domination! :-)

pam said...

Nice response...but I wonder if this article even deserves this level of attention?
I live in the Boston area, and the 'weekly dig' is barely a blip on the radar. No one I know has heard of it, or read it, so I wouldn't waste any energy over this ridiculous 'essay', especially as it's written by an 'anonymous' author. In my opinion, one who doesn't deserve to be paid attention to...if she's going to slam a whole genre this way, at least have the guts to sign her name!

Nancy Morse said...

My guess is these people are really the Saudi Arabian religious police masquerading as literary types. The Saudi holier-than-thou patrol (comprised of men, what a surprise) recently proclaimed that no self-respecting Saudi should purchase a dog or cat as a pet. Too symbolic of the infidels (us, in case you are wondering). Or maybe they're actually the Saudi king himself who recently proclaimed that Saudi newspapers should show no pictures of women. That's right, none whatsoever, even when the articles are about women's issues. He claims seeing pictures of women covered from head to toe will lead Saudi male youth astray. Yeah, right. These are the really scary issues folks, not chick lit, but maybe those bozo's who look down their noses at chick lit should try living in Saudi Arabia. I'd give them a week at most before they came running home screaming for some chick lit.

Sandra K. Moore said...

I don't see chick lit as anti-intellectual. It's entertainment.

I remember when Forrest Gump became a hit. Intellectuals and ivory tower types came out en masse to talk about how horrible the film was because it devalued education and intelligence.

Uh, no. It's actually a somewhat Buddhist film about living in the moment. Had the intellectuals been more, I don't know, intellectual, they might have realized that.

And I suspect American culture will survive the chick lit phenomenon as easily as it survived Forrest Gump.

Julie said...

Blech! I read this article last week because someone started a thread on the Myspace Book Club and it is being HOTLY debated. I tried commenting there but was quickly run over by the "literary police". I have laughed and moved on.

Michele Dunaway said...

The thing that is ruining America is that people can voice their opinions anonymously. I mean, don't we have free speech for just that reason, so that you can stand behind your words? At least Ann Coulter does that. So did most of our founding fathers, at the risk of treason.

My two cents--if you are going to say something, at least have the balls to sign your real name to it.

Oh wait, she doesn't have balls. Or maybe then again "she" does. Either gender--no guts.

Michele Dunaway (yes, my name)

Anonymous said...

The problem really is America values one extreme or the other. Now there's such a back lash against chick lit, they swing the other way - now you have to be a literary writer to get published in women's fiction. Chick lit could have opened so many doors to other types of stories but still have the "voice" of chick lit. But chick lit or maybe the "anti chick lit" movement - who knows - closed those doors. As always, I'm somewhere in the middle and there's no place for that in America. :)

Kalen Hughes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kalen Hughes said...

I thought a lot about this topic last night. Couldn’t get it off my mind really. Let’s take a look at what this person is really saying: Popular fiction is garbage and its publication is choking off access for more deserving literature. (let’s not get into what makes some fiction more deserving than other fiction).

If we accept this premise Pride and Prejudice, Gulliver’s Travels, and Tom Jones should never have been published. The crude and popular works of Shakespeare and Dickens should never have seen the light of day (the ink of print?).

Is it wrong of me to want to hit back with the accusation that literary fiction writers can sometimes be whiney babies? If only those nasty chick-lit novels weren’t crowding the shelves readers would discover my wonderful story of heartbreak and loss! Why oh why won’t the masses throw aside their Stephen King and buy thousands of copies of MY book?

Anonymous said...

Wow, just read the article. Sounds like she's also trying to worm in an anti-George W. political message.

I think the bottom line is who cares? I read what sounds interesting to me, whether it's chick lit, literary or the back of the cereal box.

I don't base my reading choices on what critics of one particular genre think.

Life is too short to get all bunched up over what someone else is doing.

Jana Oliver said...

I'm not a fan of chick lit. Never have been. I like my books to be dark, edgy and sobering (except for Terry Pratchett's works.) But not everyone prefers a book that goes well with single malt scotch. The same 'dumb down' theory was slapped on science fiction, fantasy and Penny Dreadfuls. We only 'dumb down' when we refuse to read and to question.

Madison Chase said...

>>If anything is hurting America, it's the fact that people aren't reading much. <<

I agree with that 100% and I think that this is the issue people should be discussing. Once you get a majority of the adult population reading (or able to read for that matter) on a regular basis, say 1 book a month... then you can start hving discussions about what they're reading.

I have the same feeling about Harry Potter. I've never read Harry Potter and don't really have an interest to and that's my personal choice. I read plenty of other books, articles, and yes, my cereal boxes. :) My issue is with local schools in my area banning Harry Potter from the library. This isn't even required or recommended reading. It's simply the school library owning a copy. And some parents taking issue with that and trying to have the book banned. So long as the book isn't detailed instructions on killing someone or building a bomb, I say whatever the kid wants to read he should read. If the parent takes issue, talk with the kid. But overwhelmbingly, Harry Potter seems to have been doing good. It's getting kids to read again. And that is a very good thing.