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Chick Literati React to Dowd’s Criticism

“Maureen Dowd teeters ever closer to irrelevance today,” Megan Crane commented on her blog after reading Dowd’s tardy assault on chick lit in Saturday’s NY Times. And that was one of the politer responses to the column Justine Larbalestier slammed on her blog as “a morass of ignorance and misinformation.”

“It’s a spoof, right? April Fools comes early?” one bestselling novelist emailed me. “I mean, it’s not just stupid and late, it’s really poorly written.” Sonia Singh dropped me a line a few hours later with her take: “I hear that Dowd’s next piece for the Times daringly poses the question, ‘Is Rap Music Corrupting our Youth?’ Did you know so many kids were listening to rap music these days? I didn’t!”

aremen-necessary.jpgSome writers pointed to the sloppiness of Dowd’s research—as when she built a good portion of her argument around the genre’s banal tone by citing a “Brit chick lit” novel, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, that’s actually marketed to YA audiences—and pretty blatantly at that, considering that it’s narrated by a 14-year-old girl. Others suggested that given her recent track record as a published author, Dowd is in no position to criticize chick lit writers for their publisher’s choice of cover illustrations. Lauren Baratz-Logsted went to her local bookstore to see if her impressions matched Dowd’s. “While I didn’t feel molested by pink covers as she apparently did,” Baratz-Logsted reports via email, “I did see her book, Are Men Necessary?, with its chick-friendly title and retro Nancy Drew cover designed to appeal to chicks, and an author photo with a seductive come-hither look. I’m thinking whatever house Ms. Dowd is living in, she has no right to be throwing pink stones.”

(Meanwhile, Karen Quinn pointed out that while chick lit may be beneath Dowd’s intelligence, not every smart woman shares her elitist views—Quinn remembers sitting across the aisle a Nobel laureate scientist on an LA-to-NY flight a few years back who was happily absorbed in a pink-covered novel.)


Over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, the pile-on was quick to take shape, and the perceived anti-feminist shape of Dowd’s opinion was one of the prime targets. “I fail to understand why books by disaffected young men about their inability to form relationships, their dissatisfaction at work, and the ways they screw up are always seen as literature, regardless of the quality of writing,” observed Marta Acosta, “but books by women are always trivialized, even by other women.” Fellow novelist Lauren Willig took an additional swing at the “multicultural Harlequin romances” label Dowd tagged the genre with. “There’s certainly lots of awful chick lit out there, as there is with any genre… but at its best, chick lit affords a medium for smart social satire on the changing norms of courtship and marriage. How is that so different from Austen?”

And, via email, Tracy Quan noted the irony of Dowd attacking a genre which was pretty much invented in newspaper columns, during the original serialization of Bridget Jones’s Diary. “The features editor who assigned the first Bridget Jones column was inspired by the chatter of working women,” Quan recalls. “He liked the way young women would arrive at the office, start dishing about Gordon Brown or Tony Blair and suddenly they’d be talking about their lip gloss, too. He wanted Bridget’s diary to reflect a way of thinking that doesn’t segregate topics into neat compartments. Now, a lot of the chick-lit that came later hasn’t been as funny or multi-layered as Bridget Jones because not everyone can be Helen Fielding. But the chaotic atmosphere on the bookshelves that Maureen has noticed, that’s very much in the spirit of Bridget’s creation!”

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