To say I’m an avid reader is very much an understatement. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on since I was three years old – eat your heart out, Matilda – and I recently started a job in a building which has a library inside so my love affair with literature has been ignited like petrol on a bonfire; I’ve read four books this week and somehow still have an unread pile by my bed.
I was at a book signing last weekend which featured Paige Toon, Lindsey Kelk and Giovanna Fletcher (all authors which I love and admire), and although I completely fangirled and revealed way too much about my personal life to Giovanna (sorry Gi, still hoping we can collaborate some day), the take-home message for me was Lindsey’s argument about ‘chick lit’. Earlier in the day, Lindsey Kelk had been on a bit of a Twitter rant about ‘chick lit’ and how books written by female authors are generally seen as inferior and not taken as seriously as those of male authors, especially the ‘classics’. Obviously I’m paraphrasing a lot here, and Lindsey I am very sorry if I’m messing this up, but I have to say I completely agreed with her and the stigma attached to ‘chick lit’ totally baffles me. I read everything, and I mean everything, and I do not understand why or how a book could be seen as more worthwhile if the author is canon and it has therefore become a classic, especially if it was written by a man.
‘Chick lit’ is such an ambiguous term in itself anyway, I always took it to mean books written to appeal to women, usually featuring a romance, but does that then mean that Wuthering Heights is chick lit? What about Romeo and Juliet? Both of which, incidentally, I have read, and despite being regarded as great works of literature, I personally thought they were both absolutely bloody terrible. If you ask me, I don’t think Wuthering Heights would get published today, Cathy and Heathcliff’s ‘romance’ is about as warm as Elsa’s ice palace in Frozen, but because it’s a classic it has to be inherently better than, say, Me Before You? If all that makes a novel ‘classic’ and a must-have on the ‘serious’ reader’s CV is that the author is dead, then is it beyond the realms of possibility that Me Before You is going to be in the GCSE Literature anthology in fifty years?
And if we’re following this definition of ‘chick lit’ as exclusively including romances which appeal to women, where does this put Romeo and Juliet? Teenagers killing themselves because they can’t be together? I think I read that one somewhere else, oh yes, hello Twilight saga! Nancy and Bill in Oliver Twist? Hello Christian Grey! I am mortified to have had to make reference to such an appalling attempt at erotic fiction, but you get the idea.
If you ask me (despite the fact that nobody actually is), people who are snobby about ‘chick lit’ are not actually very passionate readers. A true book lover will give anything a try and, sorry to be so cliche, will not judge a book by its cover or the position it holds on the shelf. Just because the title is written in pink and it has a picture of a woman outside a seaside cafe does not in itself make this book any less worthy than whatever is next to it on the bestseller list. What makes a great book are relatable characters that you can’t help but become really invested in and an engaging story that transports you into someone else’s world, and I’ve personally found great examples of such things right across the spectrum of Waterstones’ shop floor.
In summary, I think we all need to get over ourselves and just read whatever we find interesting and enjoyable. Last week I cried real and proper tears over a Paige Toon book, a reaction which neither Dickens or any Bronte sister has managed to get out of me. Life’s short, read what you want. And if you *really* want to seem clever and well read, just watch the BBC adaptations – they’re usually basically the same as the book.
P.S. I’m so sorry to Dickens and the Bronte sisters, I still love you all I’m just making a point. Except you, Emily, because Wuthering Heights really was appalling.