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Have the gainfully employed, quick-to-spend heroines of chick lit, become relics to modern twenty-somethings? We propose a new formula for the genre of paperback romantic comedies.

This is Chick Lit
The average chick lit heroine is perfect. Sure, the crux of the novel may center on her inability to wed that gorgeous, wealthy gentleman that she pines for. Or, maybe, her relationship with mommy and daddy is less-than-stellar. But her skin never breaks out, her hair never frizzes and her place of employment has never even heard of cutbacks, lay-offs, buy-outs or furloughs. And therein lies one of the problems for chick lit, which seems to be struggling to re-establish its identity.

When Brit Sarah Bilston, best-selling author of Bed Rest, sat down to edit the American version of her latest offering, Sleepless Nights, she knew that times were a-changing.

“Cheery consumerism and aimless career-dithering were clearly out of touch in a world of mortgage defaulting, pink slips, and repossessed homes. And why should readers empathise with a couple of heroines who fritter their days away thinking about – well, not very much?”

Bilston wrote on DoubleX.com.

She later told The Guardian that she spent a month deleting many of chick lit’s telltale signs before sending it to her Stateside publishers. Some have dubbed the revised version of her novel – and others like it – recessionista lit.

The Writing’s On the Wall
But as we’ve all no doubt heard, the economic meltdown didn’t just prompt a temporary pinching of the pennies. Aren’t we all supposed to be permanently evaluating our spending habits and saving more? Carrie Bradshaw, the crown princess of the genre and hero of Candace Bushnell’s Sex & the City, stated it best: “I like my money right where I can see it: hanging in my closet.”

Even if the recession and chick lit were more compatible, problems with the books still exist. Publishers were calling the genre, which surged after Helen Fielding’s novel Bridget Jones’s Diary hit shelves in the ’90s, “the curse of the pink cover,” and screaming oversaturation as early as 2006. I believe that something changed for the genre years ago, and now the economic pressures of day-to-day life for chick lit readers are bringing deep-seated issues to a head.

Plum Sykes, author of Bergdorf Blondes, even seemed underwhelmed by the genre’s latest additions. She told The Independent: “Chick lit seems so out of date now. Not only because of the economic reality but because it’s been done to death.”

Generation Y Says No
Why has so-called shoe fiction gone from du jour to please-just-don’t? My guess is the readers have changed. Generation Y has shown itself to be a whole heck of a lot different than our thirty-plus sisters. While Gen X was more than willing to suspend reality in between the spines of a pink book cover, we are not. It also doesn’t help that our entire adult lives have been marred by widespread economic uncertainty and joblessness. In college, study abroad programs and alternative spring breaks became part of the norm, not the exception, and we gained a more expanded world view. As young women, we’ve seen some pretty extraordinary things happen alongside some of history’s greatest atrocities, all of which are inspiring us to take up lofty pursuits (this year the Peace Corps, for example, saw applications increase more than they had in five years).

But I’m not quick to put the nail in chick lit’s coffin. After all, bitch lit and teen chick lit -which both spawns from the same well – have seen interest increase. Uptown Literati wrote about novelist Erica Kennedy’s latest book, Feminista, for our Weekly Reading List, and we weren’t the only ones. The blogosphere heralded the book’s heroine as a new kind of protagonist.
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Latoya Peterson, a blogger for Jezebel.com, wrote that,

“Sydney Zamora is a brash, calculating and unrepentant heroine who is quick to drop a suitor and curse him out as she extracts herself from the date. Is she the new prototype for chick lit characters?”

And teen chick lit, which boasts the Gossip Girl series, is continuing to diversify; Tia Williams, an African-American chick lit author, pens the It Chicks series about multicultural kids in New York City.

A New Formula
But can two successful sub-genres save the canon? The greatest challenge for chick lit is to capture a new, less narrowly tailored definition of chic that is more closely aligned with the ideals of my generation. These characters should reflect the new state of consciousness; may they be more Lisa Bonet than Lisa Turtle, with salon visits for twist-outs in addition to blow-outs and careers in non-profits alongside magazine editors and publicists.

While these changes may be mainly cosmetic, they could go a long way to bringing in new readers, or beckoning dissenters back into the fold. I love that chick lit elevates the notion of single women making it on their own (with a few good girlfriends and a stiff cocktail), but the ideas of being yourself and abiding in your community as glamorous pursuits? Well, that’s just fabulous.

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