Thursday, January 22, 2015

Michael's mixed experiences with chick-lit

Chick-lit (not to be confused with candy-coated Chiclets gum), is literature written to be read by chicks. Chick-lit is the text equivalent of chick flicks. The books are often romantic and usually written for women in their 20s and 30s. There are sub-genres for teen, matron, Latina, Christian and Asian chicks. I'm not sure if lesbian books are considered chick-lit.

Most guys don't like chick-lit or chick flicks, even if they like chicks. It's usually easy to avoid chick-lit by reading the title and/or looking at the cover. 

The “bodice-ripper” novel is a popular genre, and the covers generally follow a strict formula. There's very sensual, decorative type that may be hard to read. The primary image is usually a male hunk with long hair and no shirt, and a good-looking, long-haired woman in old-fashioned clothing with some exposed skin. Illustrations are more common than photographs. The name of the author is often fake and often larger than the title.

On the other hand, a book for guys (at least for straight guys) is less frilly, and likely to have simple type and primary colors.

Another way to detect chick lit is to scan the reviews on Amazon. If almost all of the positive reviews are from chicks, and you have a penis, you should probably find something else to read.

However, I do have a penis and I've read three pieces of chick-lit, and liked two of them very much.

My most recent immersion in chick-lit is Star Crossed, a memoir by Bette Isacoff. Set in New England in the late 60s, Star Crossed is the poignant, funny, and inspirational chronicle of an interfaith courtship at a time when interfaith love was exotic and forbidden.
When Bette met Richard in 1968, he was a seventeen-year-old Jewish kid. She, at twenty-one, was a Catholic college senior doing a practice-teaching assignment at his high school. Seven weeks later, they were engaged. To say their two-year courtship was ill-received is an understatement. After graduation, Bette did not have the option of getting her own apartment. Instead she returned home, to parents determined to break up the unlikely couple. She was denied all contact with Richard. He was told to find a Jewish girl. The harder their families tried to pull them apart, the tighter they clung together.

This couple faced not one impediment to marriage, but four: religion, age (at a developmental stage when it is significant), education level, and the tenor of the times—a culture in which Jews and Catholics rarely married “outside.” Throw into the mix outraged parents, scornful siblings, snickering friends, legal obstacles, uncooperative clergy . . . and still, they persevered. With secret post office boxes, clandestine meetings, and Bette’s extended family, who conspired with Richard against their own blood kin, the curious relationship was nurtured.

In the last decade, 45% of all U.S. marriages have been between people of different faiths.1 Today there are a number of books about the technicalities of blending an interfaith family. Yet this is the only book written from the perspective of a blissful, hugely successful forty-three year marriage that has withstood all the naysayers and skeptics. Cross-generational as well as cross-cultural, Star Crossed speaks to young men and women considering or entering an interfaith relationship; it challenges the old order espoused by their parents; and it is a nostalgic look back to a simpler time.

Star Crossed is a love story a man can enjoy.

I knew Richard, the boy who became the man it was written about. Men who read this book may be jealous of Richard because of Bette's mixture of love and writing ability. I wish someone would write a book like this about me.

Here's some weird fiction and reality: In a chapter in my own memoir, Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults), I tell about my time as a Jewish high school senior dating an older Catholic student-teacher from Albertus Magnus College. That chapter is fiction, but was real for Bette and Richard. The real Bette attended the same college as my fictional girlfriend. No, Bette and I did not collaborate. This is just a coincidence. Wow.

(By the way, Bette gets extra points for a perfect cover image that reinforces the title much better than on most of the books I see.)

Barbara Barth's The Unfaithful Widow is a collection of essays and fragmented thoughts on finding joy again after the loss of a mate. A memoir of the first year alone written with warmth and laughter, no subject is taboo. From dealing with the funeral home (Can I show your our upgraded cremation package?) to dating again (He ran in the door, looked at me and said “I’ve left something in my car.” He never returned). Sprinkle in a bevy of rescue dogs (Finally a good nights sleep with someone new in my bed.) and those questions you hate to ask (Condoms anyone?). A story for anyone who has suffered loss and is determined to become their own super hero.

Barbara says "The Unfaithful Widow will make your heart ache while tickling your ribs." She's right.

In her review, Audrey Frank said, "This is a book for anyone who has a void to fill in her life."

That's much too limiting.

No void is necessary, and the book is not just for females. It's a book for anyone seeking entertainment and anyone who might benefit from inspiration to keep going. It's also for everyone who likes dogs and soft-core dirty talk.

Barbara Barth is a master (mistress?) storyteller, with an uncanny ability to recall or recreate dialog. She is able to pluck humor from sadness. She shows proper respect for the past without being a prisoner of the past. Barbara demonstrates impressive resilience, strength and the ability to keep looking ahead despite widowhood, bad dates, and the death of a dog. Her unwillingness to accept cliche roles dictated by age, custom or gender are important lessons for everyone.

I don't want to concentrate only on the inspirational aspects of the book, because it is a LOT OF FUN. I read the Kindle version on a bumpy train ride. I was tired and woozy. A lesser book would have made me turn off my iPad. With Barbara's book, I kept tapping to turn the electronic pages to see what happens next. The woman sitting next to me wondered what was making me laugh and she started reading along with me. I read faster than she did, and let her catch up before I turned the pages.

Although I didn't "get" the cover illustration (it's apparently a chick thing) and at times I thought I was overhearing a conversation that was meant just for women (number of bras owned, evaluating a man's butt), at other times I thought Barbara was talking directly to me.

Buy the book and hear what Barbara has to say to you. You won't be disappointed.

I buy about two books each week, and finish about three books each week. At this time, I buy about 90% ebooks and 10% pbooks. A year ago I was only about 40% e.
Despite my intense consumption of words, I doubt that I've read more than a couple of works of fiction since I was in college. I was part of the class of '68 -- just like Billy Clinton, Georgie Bush and Donny Trump -- so college was a long time ago.

I'm not sure why this is so, but I seem to have developed two parallel media streams.
The nonfiction books I read are often as entertaining and exciting as they are educational and informative. If I want pure relaxation, I watch television or movies -- but I don't read novels.

I know it seems weird, so a few ago I decided to read a novel.

I had encountered author Susan G. Bell on the SheWrites website. Susan mentioned her new novel, When the Getting was Good, which dealt with Wall Street trading in the 1980s, and a woman in a largely men's world.

As one of the few testically equipped members of SheWrites, I can empathize with those in the gender minority. I also enjoyed the "Wall Street," "Barbarians at the Gate" and "The Bonfires of the Vanities" movies, and Susan's book has received excellent reviews. It seemed like a good candidate for my test.

I had one other motive. The book was published by Author House, and I was curious to see the quality of a book they produced.

I had one reservation. The focus of the cover illustration is a woman, and the title is in a pinkish text box. Those are pretty good signs of chick-lit -- which I would normally avoid.

Susan and I had some prepurchase discussion online.

She said: "I don't think my novel is chick-lit, though I'm not completely sure what that term means; I've had positive responses from men too, and I hope that you will feel the same.  While I hope women younger than I am will enjoy reading When the Getting Was Good, it's not chick lit . . . though there is a rectangle of pink on the cover. A friend, who is director of an angel investment network for women entrepreneurs, likes Kate Munro -- my novel's heroine -- specifically because she is strong, balanced, and 'not neurotic, a nymphomaniac, or a bitch.' Not that there's anything wrong with that type of protagonist, but I wanted to tell the story of how a strong woman responds to a dilemma in her work place."

So, with much apparently in its favor, I paid Amazon $18.89 and received the book.

Susan is a skilled and entertaining writer who knows her subject perfectly well. She creates believable dialog and I could easily get inside the physical environments she invented. It's a perfectly good novel and well worth the praise it received from others.

BUT... I just could not "get into it."

Apparently, at age 64, I had the patience of a two-year-old.

I've been conditioned by years of watching "Law & Order," "Bones," "Crossing Jordan," "The Closer," "The Mentalist," "Criminal Minds," "NCIS" and "CSI" -- where we see a corpse before the first commercial; and James Bond movies with dozens of corpses and at least one gorgeous woman before the title comes on screen.

  • When I'm reading nonfiction, a leisurely narrative is just fine.
  • But when I'm in the fiction mode, my brain automatically craves ACTION -- and there were no car crashes or murders in the first few pages to hook me on Susan's book.
Page four presented another problem. Susan wrote: "Jim still had the bearing of the college athlete he'd once been. His expensive cotton shirt, boldly striped in sapphire blue, fit snugly, accentuating what good shape he was in."

That sure seems like a sign of chick-lit, or gay-lit
I'm a happy, horny heterosexual. I'm a 100% supporter of women's rights and gay rights, but I am a bit uncomfortable reading about shapely men in tight shirts, whether they're expensive cotton or cheap polyester.

I'm much more comfortable reading about shapely women in tight shirts, or with no shirts.

I may have been conditioned by sexist literature since I was very young. My parents bought me the Tom Swift books -- not Nancy Drew books.

I'm not a sexist. In fact, I'm a feminist. But I am the product of the 1950s culture and I don't like reading about men viewed through the eyes of a woman.
I bought Susan's book as I said I would. I promised to read it, and I started to read it . . . but I could not continue.

Apparently, the combination of chick-lit and fiction is a fatal diet for me.

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