Thursday, March 5, 2015

What is "Chicklit"?

   My favorite novel is Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. I love this book and would recommend it to anyone from my mom to my best friend (who has read it and loved it). There's a side plot of romance but other than that, the book mainly focuses on Leonard Peacock, a boy deciding to commit suicide on his birthday. The cover looks like this:
This book was obviously written by a man and even though I picked it up in the Barnes and Noble teen section, it goes as a good read for people way older than adolescence and of all genders. By my standards, this is an amazing book. Another one of my favorites is The Disenchantments, a novel about a band going on their final tour over the summer after they graduate high school and how their manager and best friend realizes that he has to eventually grow up and let go of this. The cover looks like this:
   In a recent video by Kristina Horner, she discussed how people market their books by the cover and how certain novels are seen as "chicklit" and trashy because they were written for females and almost every time, by a female. I'm not going to defend every single novel here- in my opinion, The Perks Of Being a Wallflower was better than The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight regardless of the genders of the authors and covers. But there is truth to this; when you see Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock at a bookstore, the simple cover is seen as gender neutral whereas The Disenchantments' cover with a teenage girl shown is seen as "chicklit". Think about how you decide which book you're buying at the store or reading next: how do the covers make you feel? Because The Disenchantments has a young woman on the cover, its quality can be immediately debunked and thought of as "light" or a beach read even though the topics discussed in the novel turn rather heavy and majority of this book is quite a lot to take in. Without even wanting to be told, buyers can see this book as lower quality than something gender neutral and immediate assumptions are made that The Disenchantments will be an easy read for the cover is "girly". When novels are called "trashy" it is more times than not written by a woman and usually because the cover looks something along these lines:
and why is that? Why does the immediate thought of a "trashy" book come to mind when a cover with a woman or a female name appears. Yet novels with covers like these:
are seen as high quality writing? All six of these books are bestsellers yet the top three were seen as "chicklit" and on multiple review sights marked as "girly" and therefor lighter and not nearly as meaningful as the bottom three. Why does the appearance of a woman make a novel less important or unacceptable for a guy to read? More importantly, why does something as trivial as a name make people perceive a novel as "fluffy"? If you notice, the top three books are all by women whereas the bottom three all have male authors and just to fill in if you haven't read all of these, have the same intensity. Even though we see ourselves as independent human beings who don't need parents or teachers to tell us what is acceptable to read, we continue to have a blaring red light of what is "trash" and what isn't. Even if someone isn't screaming in your face, something like a female name can set off a siren. An amazing example of this is Joanne Rowling, author of one of the biggest series in the world, Harry Potter. When publishing The Sorcerer's Stone, she was advised to have the cover say her initials instead so boys would want to read it too. Obviously this worked and Harry Potter is a success for all genders but why isn't it mildly disturbing that the name Joanne would drive the male market down? The cover has a picture of a young boy on it and there is a male name as the title yet the fact that that wasn't enough it rather scary. I could barely read when my dad read me Harry Potter in second grade yet second grade me still perceived this series as a "boy's book" because the name JK Rowling sounded like a man- it's alarming that I had such an idea of what was within my invisible "boundaries" as a girl when I was 7. 
     The reason why this is so important not only to me but to so many others is that this doesn't just hurt women. These ideas of what is and isn't OK to read based on a "girly" cover or woman author is of course harming the writers of these novels but also men. Why is it unacceptable for a guy to read The Disenchantments on a train? This isn't to say men don't read books written by women- of course they do but why is it so much harder to have a boy read The Sorcerer's Stone if the name Joanne is on the cover? All in all, what I'm trying to get across here that the label "chicklit" is completely useless, gender neutral covers mean nothing, and you should read The Disenchantments. 

I'd also seriously recommend watching Kristina's video on this because it was my main inspiration for this post 

and also checking out author of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Maureen Johnson's #coverflip project here

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