In This Issue:
A Guy Reads A Bunch Of 'Chick-Lit'
By Alex Nall
Whenever someone asks me, “Hey, what did you read this summer?”
I become infuriated because my initial response is always “Not
enough!” That was the case this summer, yet again. I made a vow
to myself at the beginning of summer to read the classics:
Hemingway, Kerouac, maybe some Homer if I could squeeze it in.
This plan changed when a friend handed me a book and said, “Read
this. You’ll like it.” The name of the book was
The Girls’ Guide
To Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. I looked at the book and
rolled my eyes, but not wanting to be rude, said I would “try it
The book’s protagonist is Jane, who throughout the seven stories
in the collection, ages in a non-linear model. At the beginning,
she’s fourteen observing her brother’s torrid relationship from
afar, then she is in her mid-twenties, dealing with the woes of
her own relationship issues, and in the last three stories she
moves in and out of a decaying relationship with an older man as
On first look of the book’s synopsis I only had one phrase in my
head: Chick Lit. That fabled genre of pseudo-prose infused with
slop dialogue and ridiculous situations (Twilight fans can stop
reading now if they wish). At least that’s the impression I went
in with when starting out on this new literary adventure.
Surprisingly, I was enthralled by Jane’s commitment woes, her
scandalous and even saucy relationship with an older man, her
struggle with saying goodbye to her terminally-ill father and
the short terse sentences that spoke bluntly to her audience:
“That night, alone with all those empty beds, I couldn’t fall
asleep. I’d finished Gatsby and I looked out at the lagoon,
hoping to see a green light. But nobody’s dock was lit up. Only
one house had any lights on, and the light was just the blue of
a television set” (43). It was dialogue like this that spoke to
me as a person, rather than a male reader. I was able to
identify with the anxiety, confusion and bursts of joy in Jane’s
sporadic life. So I continued to read more “chick lit” and see
what else I could find.
I returned to a novella I had read in high school only because
it’s author, Steve Martin, was a really funny guy who was really
funny. The novella was Shopgirl and much like Bank’s story
collection, the prose was short, but formulated a deep sense of
awareness of the loneliness in all humans: “Weekends can be
dangerous for someone of Mirabelle’s fragility. One little
slipup in scheduling and she can end up staring at eighteen
hours of television” (23). The image of Mirabelle, waiting at
the counter at the glove department at Marcus Neiman’s, hoping
something will happen that will make her life start, stays
instilled in my head for its haunting universal outreach. I
wondered, after quickly revisiting Mirabelle and company, if the
male reader has completely misinterpreted the definition of
chick lit. Surely, all these books focused around contemporary
women’s lives couldn’t all be about the hardships of loneliness.
Once again, I found that this seemed to be the cause in Sylvia
Plath’s The Bell Jar, an autobiographical novel so emasculating
the reader is left haunted by Esther’s total lack of faith or
sanity in herself or the figurative “bell jar” world she is
trapped in: “I knew I should be grateful to Mrs. Guinea, only I
couldn’t feel a thing. If Mrs. Guiena had given me a ticket to
Europe, or a round the world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one
scrap or difference to me, because wherever I sat- on the deck
of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok- I would be
sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour
air” (175). Plath’s novel let me see into the challenges of
women suffering from depression, just as Martin’s Mirabelle and
Bank’s Jane allowed me to see the fixations and consciousness of
women in contemporary literature.
But none of these characters’ issues could amount to that of
Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which ended my summer reading
tour. The heartbreak and loneliness that Sethe suffers arises
from the ghosts of her daughter and slavery, which take hold of
her during the novel’s climax and almost squeeze every ounce of
life out of her. Morrison’s novel brought to bay my newfound
theory that the books I had been reading weren’t books about
depressed women, but were documents emphasizing the
psychological effects of different lifestyles, be it Jane’s
get-the-man now agenda, Mirabelle’s post-grad wandering,
Esther’s struggle to rise to literary fame, or Sethe’s
After this experiment was over, I found myself revisiting some
works of feminine literature, finding things in them that I
hadn’t before. It occurred to me as I write this, that Jane
Austen satirized the “romance novels” so heavily adored by women
of her time in Northanger Abbey. If there is one thing I came
out learning from this experience, it’s this: books about women
aren’t novelized versions of Sex and The City episodes. Lovers
of literature—and male doubters, much like myself—should take
note that “chick lit” is thrown around too easily by the
seemingly “girly” subject matter and deceptive
misinterpretations. The puritan poet, Anne Bradstreet, said it
best: “For such despite they cast on female wits: If what I do
prove well, it won’t advance, They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else
it was by chance.” The alluring contrivance of “chick lit” is
that it isn’t about “chicks” at all, but is instead a unisex
form of literature that allows readers to look into the social,
historic and modern complications of the conflicts between
Gendered Books: Why Girls Have Them and Guys Don't
By Leanna Waldron
While discussing books with a
few friends a couple of weeks ago, something one of them said struck
“There’s no such thing as ‘guy books’.”
At first I was shocked by the sheer wrongness of
this statement. What about sci-fi, spy and adventure novels? What
about the ‘heroic quest’ and monsters and dragons? I insisted that
there were, indeed, ‘guy books'.
got me thinking that I actually love those kinds of books. I mean,
give me dragons and epic battles over high school drama and romance
any day. I also know that many of my female friends feel the same
way. Yet if you ask most guys (and I’m definitely qualifying here by
saying “most”) if they’ve read Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy or
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, they would probably say no.
of these series are in the fantasy or science-fiction genre and both
have a lot of action, conspiracy and adventure. So why are these
books labeled “girl books” and avoided by men while women are able
to read books like the Percy Jackson series without worrying about
the gender label being put on them?
I can’t help but wonder if it’s
the main characters that are really to blame, not the genre. It
seems to me that men don’t relate to strong female characters the
way that females can relate to strong characters of either gender.
If given a choice, I feel that most men would pick up
they picked up City of Bones.
Personally, almost all of my favorite
literary characters are male: Severus Snape of J.K. Rowling’s Harry
Potter series, Odd Thomas of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, Roland
Deschain of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. To me, these
characters are characters first and men second. I relate to them
based on personality and not on what gender they are. So why does
it seem that men don’t feel the same way?
The gender question is
always a difficult one to answer, and I don’t think we’re going to
come to any clear conclusions anytime soon. It could have something
to do with gender stereotypes and the male ego, but I like to think
that our society is past that at this point. Honestly, I feel it
could be something as simple and shallow as the cover art and design
of the novels.
The reason this concerns me so much is that the
literary trend, especially with Young Adult fiction, is gravitating
more and more towards using female narrators and protagonists. If
this trend continues, and if men continue to be repelled by female
main characters, men are going to stop reading altogether. Okay, so
maybe this is a slight exaggeration, but I fully believe that there
will be a swift decline in the number of male fiction readers if
these trends continue.
There’s probably no easy way to answer any of
these questions and, as I said, we will probably not come to any
clear conclusions any time soon. However, I believe that talking
about it and drawing attention to it, not only as readers, but as
English majors, as future teachers, publishers and writers, is the
first step we have to take to, if not remedy, at least understand
"Who Is Your Favorite Female Character In
Janie in Zora Neale Hurston's
Their Eyes Were
She grew into such a beautiful being on the inside as well as
the out and found a way to stand on her own two feet without the
assistance or need for approval from others.
She's my she-ro.
- Fannetta Jones
favorite female character in literature is Jane Eyre from
Charlotte Bronte's book Jane Eyre. I like her because she is
an intelligent and driven young woman who is more admired
for her personality than her beauty. Also she stands up for
herself and speaks her mind.
"Molly Millions," from
Neuromancer and Other
Works by William Gibson.
Briony Tallis from Ian McEwan's Atonement.
What can I say, I like the evil ones.
To Kill a
-Brandon T. Groom
Guinevere is my
favorite female character in literature.