My Love-Hate Relationship with Chick Lit

What is it about chick lit that I find so distasteful and appealing at the same time? On one hand, I hate the superficiality of the themes, which are usually beauty, money, love, and a light dose of moral dilemma. On the other hand, some of them are pretty entertaining — when they’re not insulting, that is.
Some chick lit is pretty good. When I say “pretty good,” I am thinking of books like The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries. (See, I’m not the only one who thinks they have potential — Hollywood even made movies out of them!) Confessions of a Shopaholic and The Ivy Chronicles also stand out. Bitter is the New Black is worth mentioning, as well — even though it’s actually nonfiction, it has all of the story and character elements of chick lit.
Unfortunately, there are just as many chick lit novels that I can’t stand. There is a fine line between lighthearted and superficial, but some chick lit coasts right on past into nauseating. For example, I was absolutely appalled by How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls. While most chick lit novels feature a mild moral conflict — “to tell a lie or not to tell a lie, that is the question” — this one was serious enough that it made the main character seem rather mean-hearted and opportunistic. It’s hard to like a book when you fantasize about beating up the narrator.
Chick lit seems to be one of the most formulaic genres, right up there with romance (which is so formulaic that shoppers read the sex scenes in grocery stores). One common theme in chick lit is that the main character is dazzled by all the glitz and glamour of upper-crust society, usually a new thing for her. Think The Devil Wears Prada’s world of high fashion, and the high-dollar bribes handed out like spare change in The Ivy Chronicles. In some novels, the superficiality eventually becomes evident, and the main character gives it up in favor of a moral choice. (Interestingly, it’s the ones that don’t portray wealth as superficial that I end up disliking the most.)
Most chick lit also deals quite heavily with career. In the very beginning of the book, the main character either leaves her old job or gets a new job, or both. And in the very end of the book, she usually gives up her new life in order (here’s that moral dilemma again) to do the right thing. Furthermore, she is almost always rewarded for doing so — usually with lots of money or a new job.
And, finally, there is the love interest. You didn’t think I was going to forget that, did you? Sometimes the love interest is a new one, and if so there’s often an old love interest that she has to agonize over first before she ultimately ditches him. Regardless, there is always a revelation that she has to have first, which ties into — drum roll, please — the Moral Dilemma.
I’m not sure what it is that determines whether I like a particular chick lit novel. Is it the degree of superficiality in the characters or the plot? The authenticity of the romance? Or, perhaps, its ability to stray from the formula and surprise me?
Maybe it’s just that there are two different categories of chick lit. What categories would those be, you ask? Well, those I love and those I hate, of course.

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