You Have Your Doubts About “Trick Lit”

By Neal Comment

In yesterday’s item on the so-called “trick lit” phenomenon, Seth Godin confided to me that he really didn’t have a specific book in mind when he coined a term for “a chick lit novel that pretends to be something else,” but was working from something his son had told him about a while back. That aspect of the case drove a lot of your responses. “I find it rather amusing that Seth Godin coined a new literary term based on a book he hadn’t even himself read—and one he can’t even remember the title of,” said book reviewer Kelly Jane Torrance. (As Jane Berentson laughed, “Got to love those accountable bloggers!”) “Why just chick lit?” adds Bella Stander about the alleged bait-and-switch. “What about dick lit, or mystery, or history, or ‘literary fiction,’ or humor, or whatever… lures us in and then leaves us disappointed/bored/annoyed by the third chapter? As a reviewer and avid reader, I’ve lost count of how often I’ve encountered such a book.”

All that said, some of you knew exactly what he was talking about. “You think I would’ve known better,” says one editor, “but Blind Submission pulled me in with promises of an insider’s look at publishing and agenting that I thought was going to be really fun. Turns out it was really nothing more than bad boss, boyfriend angst, and a young woman willing to be run into the ground to somehow miraculously start her own agency at the end.” One publicist said The Emperor’s Children turned out to be “total chick lit,” and Torrance separately had her own take on that subject: “It starts out with a fair amount of make-up talk, and you could describe the storylines of two of the main characters in such a way that they sound very much like those in those pink-covered books… But because it’s by Claire Messud, you won’t get anybody suggesting such a thing.” Exactly. (Before you start getting all elitist literary on me, remember, I’ve long maintained the boundary between chick lit and social satire is often a marketing call.)

As reviewer Jen Miller pointed out, though, sometimes the opposite of Godin’s theory holds true, and a book has the outer trappings of generic chick lit but turns out to be something more. She cites Allison Winn Scotch‘s The Department of Lost and Found and Rae Meadow‘s Calling Out as examples. Each “played up what could be seen as ‘chick lit’ factors on the jacket copy,” Miller thought, “almost [as if] to rope chick lit readers into more serious fiction.”