Fiction Anthology Refuses 'Chick Lit' Label A new generation of women writers has emerged and they disown the literary genre known as "chick lit." The editor and authors of a new anthology, This Is Not Chick Lit, offer their take on women's literature.
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Fiction Anthology Refuses 'Chick Lit' Label

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Fiction Anthology Refuses 'Chick Lit' Label

Fiction Anthology Refuses 'Chick Lit' Label

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Neal Conan is on vacation.

You know her. She's spunky, wide-eyed, earnest. She's searching for love and a cute pair of pumps in the big city. She is the quintessential chick lit heroine, and she is everywhere. Ten years ago, a fun, easy-to-read book by Helen Fielding called Bridget Jones's Diary burst onto the scene, and now you cannot enter a bookstore without tripping over a pile of paperbacks in pink and green covers. And it has become one of publishing's most lucrative genres.

But there is a new generation of women's writers which is known for its inventiveness and depth, and some are disowning their chick lit sisters. The collection This Is Not Chick Lit includes original stories from women such as Curtis Sittenfeld, Jennifer Egan, and Francine Prose, stories with depth and complexity - more, they promise, than traditional chick lit.

Later in the hour, we'll talk to an expert on suicide bombing about the National Intelligence Estimate and its conclusions that the war in Iraq is promoting more terrorism.

But first, a chat with the editors and authors of This Is Not Chick Lit, and we want to hear from you. Are you a fan of chick lit or women's literature? Or are they the same thing? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is

And we're going to start with Elizabeth Merrick. She is the editor of the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit, and she joins us from the studios of Audio Post in Philadelphia. Welcome to the program.

Ms. ELIZABETH MERRICK (Editor, This Is Not Chick Lit; Author, Girly): Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: You've defined this anthology first by what it is not.


MARTIN: An unusual decision. Why?

Ms. MERRICK: Well, with this anthology, our idea was to put a spotlight on the amazing women literary writers that you might not find at the front of the bookstore. And the title was a way to really put attention on these writers who just - these 18 writers did an amazing job with these stories, and hopefully readers of this anthology will be open to, you know, 18 new writers and have lots of new different kinds of voices to keep reading beyond just this book.

MARTIN: Did you mean to throw down the gauntlet? Because you did.

Ms. MERRICK: It's interesting. I think the title's a little bit like a Rorschach test as it's played out, honestly, because it's really a statement this is not chick lit. And people's responses I think have a lot to say about how they feel about the issue.

MARTIN: What do you mean?

Ms. MERRICK: Well, I think it's a simple statement, and it really is just opening up a discussion on what's going on with women writers right now.

MARTIN: I know, but were you meaning to be deliberately provocative?

Ms. MERRICK: I was hoping to put some attention on these writers. I don't know if provocative is the word I'd use.

MARTIN: You know, your own novel is called Girly.


MARTIN: And the first piece in the collection is in fact a very tender story about a young girl and her boyfriend.

Ms. MERRICK: Absolutely.

MARTIN: So in a way - I mean, there are overlapping elements, are there not?

Ms. MERRICK: Sure. And I think it's really a mistake to think that women writers can't write about love and have that be serious literature.

MARTIN: Why do you think this book was needed?

Ms. MERRICK: As you mentioned in your introduction, I think chick lit has been - it's gotten a lot of attention, and it's really taken up a lot of space in our cultural imagination. And there's so much going on with women writers beyond just that one story, just that one kind of slight variations on Bridget Jones kind of a story. Certainly our lives as American women right now are so rich and so diverse, and as a culture, we are, you know, historically the freest women on the planet with the most choices. And it's just - there's so many more stories.

And right now I really do believe we're in a golden moment of women writers. It's really only been 30 years, a little more than 30 years that the concept that women and men are intellectual equals has been part of our mainstream, part of our public reality. And in those 30 years, women writers and women artists have been opening up whole new worlds. Many, many stories are out there and that...

MARTIN: But doesn't that beg the point then? In a way, it suggests - I mean, there are, as you said, many women writers who are achieving great success. I mean Jimpala Harry(ph), Zadie Smith, Kathryn Harrison - I mean, so many names come to mind. So won't that suggest that there's not exactly a suppression of this kind of literature being offered?

Ms. MERRICK: That is a great point. I think it's a really interesting point, and I'm thrilled that so many of our women writers are doing great. It's a little tricky in the literary world to figure out how well we're doing, because it's not like the Senate where we can count or the boardroom where we can count and we have those hard numbers. And I think there's a lot more - there are a lot more women writers who are doing amazing work than we do hear about, and I want those women writers to get as much press and get as much sort of blockbuster attention for their literary novels as, say, Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Safran Foer - that category of the male literary blockbuster novel.

MARTIN: But hasn't this argument been going on for a while between art and commerce, and is it really a different conversation for women? What's, you know, really what's different about this conversation on the women's side than it would be for, you know, male popular fiction, like the Tom Clancys, Scott Turows...

Ms. MERRICK: That...

MARTIN: ...versus, say, the more - what I think some would consider more serious sort of fiction, that perhaps males are more attracted to?

Ms. MERRICK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we've always had commercial fiction versus literary fiction. And if you're sort of in the literary fiction camp, it's always - it never sort of earns as much money for publishers. That's nothing new. That's been with us for decades and decades and decades.

I think the issue here for me was just that I just saw year after year after year so many books by women that are just stellar and gorgeous not getting as much attention as I'd hope. And this coincided with the sort of rise of the pink book cover at the front of the store. And I heard from so many friends who weren't necessarily writers but were big readers that they had stopped buying fiction because they were sick of reading the same book over and over, and they were having a hard time finding the kind of books that they could previously find easily.

MARTIN: I need to ask you what you have against pink, but we'll take a caller. Let's go to Des Moines, Iowa, and Patricia.

PATRICIA (Caller): Hello, thank you for taking my call.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

PATRICIA: And I wanted to say I love TALK OF THE NATION, and I'm really excited about this topic because I love to read. And the reason I called in is I actually love chick lit, but I love it for a reason.

I am a salesperson, and I spend my day doing a lot of writing, a lot of in-depth reading. I'm in banking, and so I'm dealing with a lot of numbers and stuff, and sometimes a chick lit book is just the thing that I need to relax my mind and relax from the whole day and sleep, you know, get to sleep or just kind of calm down from the discussions I'm having during the day.

MARTIN: That's a very good point, Patricia. So, Elizabeth, what's so terrible? What's so terrible?

Ms MERRICK: Oh, absolutely nothing. I mean, I even say in the introduction, we all need our beach reading. We all need our light stuff, you know. And I think it's this issue of is there anything wrong with potato chips? No. There's nothing wrong with potato chips. Is there anything wrong with only eating potato chips? Yeah, that's maybe not, you know, what we want to do. So I think that's the lens I look at it through. There's certainly nothing wrong with light entertainment.

MARTIN: Patricia, can I ask you, if you don't mind, do you ever buy more weighty tomes?

PATRICIA: Actually, I was just going to make that comment. One of the things that I do like to do when I go onto the bookstore - because my degree is actually in creative writing and English - is look for somebody who's kind of quirky, and sometimes I'll go out of my way to find an unusual writer. I'll look for somebody who's like really not mainstream. I'll look specifically for Hispanic or specifically for African-American so that I can take a look at, oh, here's the candy stuff, but now I can really spend my time and enjoy who this non-mainstream writer is.

And I will say that the flipside of chick lit is when I then go to one of these what I'll call extreme-writer books, I enjoy the story. I enjoy the writing. I wish I could remember author names. I'm so bad at it.


PATRICIA: But if people take a look, and you look at some of the non-mainstream writers, the benefit I get from chick lit is then when I move to one of these other books, I will read it over and over and over and I spread it to everybody, and I tell them, you know, go ahead and read one of the chick lit books - and I can't even - the Shopaholic series, for instance - but then your next book needs to be this and this and this.


PATRICIA: And so I find for me that turns out to be a benefit.

MARTIN: Okay. Patricia, thank you. So it's keeping you in the bookstore. Thank you very much.

PATRICIA: Yes, you're welcome. Thank you.

MARTIN: Let's go to Eugene, Oregon and Pam.

PAM (Caller): Hi. Well, I've thought a lot about this because I've been involved in political and environmental activism, and I just see such a huge emphasis across the spectrum - women's fashion magazines, TV shows, movies, you name it - and it puts such an emphasis on women focusing on beauty and trying to look like some supermodel. And I often think if only women would put a little bit more into finding out about current events and getting involved in their local communities and then finding their inner power, and I think we could change the world.

I think the global warming crisis is so huge that - you know, fiction is fun, but, you know, the nonfiction is really where we should be putting our focus. And women have so much power, compassion and empathy, and if we could put that into their inner power rather than this kind of flighty thing that - especially young women. You know, I work with children and I see these young girls, and they're following right along with what the television tells them to do. And I think it's an untapped power, and I really wish there was less of these chick lit things.

MARTIN: Okay, Pam, thank you so much. Thank you for calling. Elizabeth, do you agree? Is that part of your problem with chick lit, that it's a - if I could use this term, anti-feminist - that it emphasizes, you know, finding the guy and, you know, traditional women's jobs like, you know, publishing and, you know, buying shoes and things of that sort and, you know, looking cute and so forth. Is that part of what bothers you about it?

Ms. MERRICK: I think that's a great question. I have two responses to that and to what the caller just said. First of all, I think beauty is very important, and for women to feel beautiful is important. However, it is also just one element of our lives. And as this caller said, there's a lot of things we should be thinking about right now that if we're on this loop that we certainly have seen in our pop culture lately of just this endless sort of makeover shows and plastic surgery shows and this sort of constant obsession with the surface that has just, you know, skyrocketed in the past 10 years - there's more than that. And I think that chick lit tends to sort of fall in line with that stuff and really solid fiction gets our imaginations beyond that. It lets us see ourselves as whole people with many more stories than just that one.

MARTIN: Okay. Elizabeth Merrick is the editor of the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit, and she joined us from the studios of Audio Post in Philadelphia. Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. MERRICK: Thank you.

MARTIN: We're talking about women's literature this hour - chick lit, whatever you want to call it, so let us know at 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail. The address is I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin, in Washington.

We're talking about chick lit this hour - or rather what is not chick lit - with some of America's leading women writers, and we want to hear from you. Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is

One of the contributors to This Is Not Chick Lit is Jennifer Egan. Her new novel, The Keep, has received critical acclaim and is a national bestseller. She's with us today from our studios at NPR West. Welcome.

Ms. JENNIFER EGAN (Contributor, This Is Not Chick Lit; Author, The Keep): Thank you.

MARTIN: Jennifer, I must tell you that your story in this anthology, Selling the General, is really - I don't know what to say. Astonishing? And I'm gushing a little bit because I have absolutely no abilities in this area, no imaginative capabilities at all. So I'm very much astonished by it, and I'd like to just let you tell us what the premise is and how did you come up with this?

Ms. EGAN: Well, thank you very much, first of all. The premise of the story is that a disgraced publicist is hired to rehabilitate the reputation of a genocidal dictator in an unspecified country abroad. And she, out of desperation, is forced to take this job because she's a single mother raising a young daughter and she's out of money. And so she comes up with a plan to have him romantically linked to an American movie star, and she, her daughter, and the movie star head over to the country to meet the general and put this plan into action.

MARTIN: The thing that amazed me about it is that it had so many amazing details, like what happened to disgrace this public relations figure, and also the fact that, you know, she - I don't want to - well, I'm not going to spoil it for people because it's - that in itself is kind of delicious surprise. But there's so many kind of these wonderful details, but also that you don't shy away from the politics of the thing. You don't shy away at all from the reality of what this man did and the moral choice that this woman is making, so - and I know that you're journalist as well as a novelist, so I was wondering whether your work in journalism informed your imagining of this story.

Ms. EGAN: You know, I don't know that it did exactly because I haven't done that much journalism abroad. But, you know, I think if you're going to write a story about a publicist and a dictator, you'd better get political. I don't know how you would avoid it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, you've heard our conversation with Elizabeth Merrick, so how do you weigh on in this question? And I'm curious how you feel about being part of an anthology that distances itself so strongly from the chick lit genre.

Ms. EGAN: Well, it's funny. You know, I made the decision to join this anthology somewhat instinctively and then spent the next few months trying to figure out exactly why I had agreed to do this, and that was instructive. You know, as a reader particularly - and also as a writer - I feel very alienated from the category of chick lit. And I think what I don't like about it is that unlike other genre fiction - you know, mystery, horror, things like that - this category seems to announce itself as being second-rate in some way, not serious.

And so whereas many writers have risen from those genres like, you know, Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, into real literary - into a position of being taken seriously as literary writers, chick lit seems to announce itself as something that has very limited ambition and reach and also as something that is very female and sort of girly. And so to me, a category that presents itself as being trivial and female falls all too close to a prejudice we're still trying to overcome, that the female is trivial. And that bothers me.

MARTIN: Well, couldn't we make the opposite argument, that why do we demean things just because they are female, if they are particularly, you know - if I may say, we did a program on this program a couple of months ago about spring fashion, and some people were not pleased. But I didn't find that they were annoyed when we do programs about baseball. Okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. EGAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: So, you know, fashion is some women's hobby just like baseball is some men's hobby. So I mean, isn't that partly a societal prejudice that something's associated with females and it's deemed to be lesser, so we need to run away from it?

Ms. EGAN: I agree, but that's why I question the way in which the chick lit category works, because the marketing of this category seems to suggest that it will be trivial in some way. In other words, you know, stories about women in their 20s trying to find husbands needn't necessarily be trivial on the face of it at all.

I mean, what was Jane Austen writing about? She wrote some of the best novels written in the English language about the short period in a woman's life between the moment that she comes out into society and the moment when she chooses her husband. And she brings to bear on that, you know, all kinds of hierarchies of power, the position of women in society. I mean, these are big, serious books. So what I don't like is the assumption that that sort of material in literature, written by women, is trivial.

MARTIN: Let's go to a caller. Let's go to Deadwood, Oregon, and Rosie.

ROSIE (Caller): Well, hello. You just made the comment that I was going to ask you about. I read mostly 19th century novels, and I was wondering about Jane Austen and what your comments would be and on the Bronte sisters and, you know, if they were the chick lit writers of their time. And so I think you kind of already spoke towards that, but maybe you could speak a bit more.

MARTIN: Okay, Rosie, thank you for calling.

Ms. EGAN: Well, I...

ROSIE: Thank you.

Ms. EGAN: Oh, sorry. I think certainly their novels would fall into the parameters of chick lit in terms of content. In other words, if we say chick lit is anything about women looking for husbands, for example, then yes, they would considered chick lit. But I think all of us would cringe together at the idea of calling these writers chick lit writers. And the reason for that is that we all share the assumption, I believe - or I shouldn't speak for you - but I have a strong association in my mind between the idea of chick lit and something inherently trivial. And so I would not like to hear those writers called chick lit.

MARTIN: Let's go to St. Louis, Missouri and Steve.

STEVE (Caller): Hi, I'm a 20-something male, and I was kind of interested because I frankly have, you know, read different genres of fiction. And I think that it's a little strange that women's literature is being focused on as just, you know, how can we sell this to women instead of, well, how can we provide a story that provides people's insight, you know, into other people who they couldn't have experienced themselves, you know, kind of a, you know, an intra-subjective experience or however you'd like to say it.

But I mean, I've read anything from, you know, the kind of generic Harlequin fiction that I guess would be the chick lit of the '70s and '80s to, you know, I guess the, you know, high-modern literature. And it seems like what's unfortunate is that women have provided a, you know, a great deal of innovations to different genres, from science fiction to, you know, I guess kind of the generic commercial fiction, and it seems like there's so much more to the conversation than just, you know, how can we sell this to this audience.

MARTIN: Steve, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Are you saying that you kind of resent the marketing, that it makes it that you've got to be a woman to like this, you've got to be a man to like that, that it should just be about the ideas? Or do you just find kind of the labeling bothersome?

STEVE: I mean, I think kind of both of those things. You know, people have different reasons for reading and, you know, I, frankly, I didn't really enjoy reading certain types of novels, but there're, you know, a number of novels written by women that have, you know, been really informative to me.

And it does seem really - I mean, if people want to read a novel, you know, just kind of like the conversation earlier. If you need something on the beach just to kind of kick back and enjoy and it's something light and it makes you happy, that's one thing. But it just seems really unfortunate that there's such a shallow focus on just, you know - there's, you know, there's something essentially, you know, essentially feminist I guess that, you know, is just in this aspect of beauty or just in this aspect of providing care to people.

I mean, you know, you could - a male or female writer could provide different aspects to that. But what really, you know - it would just be really nice if so many of the, you know, new women's writers or, you know, the new writers who really haven't broken through could, you know, get access to the market regardless of, you know...


STEVE: ...I guess the commercial...

MARTIN: Okay, Steve, you're breaking up a little, so I'm going to let you go, but thank you for calling.

STEVE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Let's go to - well, I guess his point in - I said he - the labeling, he feels kind of inhibits creativity. You know, why do people have to sort of be focused or herded into a genre?

Ms. EGAN: I think that...

MARTIN: What do you think about that?

Ms. EGAN: I think there's something to that. I mean, one thing that I found really disturbing about this whole scandal involving plagiarism for that - the novel by the very young novelist Kaavya Viswanathan, How Opal Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. There was a lot of debate about whether she had really plagiarized, whether it was intentional or unintentional.

But what I took away from that story more than anything was here's a really smart 17-year-old girl who wants to write a novel, and what does she do? She reads a lot of other novels that I think anyone would agree are pretty derivative. I mean, the material that she was plagiarizing did not - there was not a lot of originality there to begin with.

She recycles all of this, either knowingly or unknowingly, and then with a book packager, packages this novel. That's not really my ideal of what a young, smart woman who wants to write a novel goes and does. And that that's what writing a book meant to her I find a little disappointing.

MARTIN: Okay. Let's go to San Francisco and Catherine(ph).

CATHERINE (Caller): Hi. I think there's definitely a connection. First of all, Jennifer, I'm reading The Keep right now and I love it. I wrote a thesis on the gothic just last year. And I'm absolutely fascinated by what you're doing.

Ms. EGAN: Thank you.

CATHERINE: But about the issue at hand, I think it's particularly interesting the selling of a book that way, that I think young women - I'm a young woman myself, I'm 21 - that we're kind of in - our generation is kind of thinking that we are commodities in a way.

You know, a lot of what I see is a big problem is like commodifying ourselves, and I think the reading of chick lit definitely plays into that as what am I and what sells and how do I sell myself rather than - and it's hard because, you know, it's a thin line between segregating and uniting as a gender. And the same with a genre I guess. But I don't know. I mean, it makes me sad to hear stories like the plagiarism issue, definitely.

MARTIN: Do you think that - do you draw any lesson from that, Catherine, that perhaps that this is just what people assume literature is these days? It's just another way to make a fast buck?

CATHERINE: Well, I hope not. I really hope not. I also - I wanted to comment on the other caller as well about connecting with the - the male caller from earlier - about connecting with other characters. Because I can't help think about, you know, books like - because I know Jane Austen was brought up, but even Virginia Woolf.

It is in a certain way talking about the problems of being a bourgeoisie, you know, wife. But then there are other characters in the book and in that sense it was still going about it as a - I don't know, social critique rather than embracing what is kind of a cultural problem in a way, the superficiality of it all. So, I don't know. I hope...

MARTIN: Okay. You can say - I hear what you're saying, Catherine. You're saying that you can get the same themes, but that those themes can be layered or textured or not, as the case may be.

CATHERINE: Or what they're motivated by, I guess, is the issue and is it celebrating and embracing or is it discussing and critiquing?

MARTIN: Okay. Thank you so much for calling Catherine. We appreciate it. And Jennifer, thank you for joining us.

Ms. EGAN: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

MARTIN: Jennifer Egan is the author of The Keep and her story Selling the General appears in the This Is Not Chick Lit anthology. She joined us from NPR West Studios.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Cristina Henriquez - forgive me - is the author of the short story collection Come Together, Fall Apart. And her story in This is Not chick lit anthology is called, Gabriella, My Heart. She joins us from our Chicago bureau today. Welcome.

Ms. CRISTINA HENRIQUEZ (Contributor, This is not Chick Lit; Author, Gabriella, My Heart): Hi, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Your story demonstrates, you know, a wonderful range, and it employs a male narrator. Really, I think - if I may say - turning the idea of chick lit on its head. How did you come up with this story and tell us a little bit about it if you would.

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: Yeah. It's one of the only stories in the book, I think, that uses a male narrator. And I was really worried about that. I remember when Elizabeth invited me to be in this anthology I was sort of scrambling and e-mailing her and saying I have this idea for a story, but is it okay if I use a male narrator? You know, it seemed like this was supposed to be a book about women's writing. And she was quick to say, no that's perfect. That's exactly what I want. I want to, you know, represent a range of women's writing.

And so that story came to me actually because - well, I should say the plot, I guess, a little bit first. And it's essentially about a young, gay man and the woman he loved before he sort of came to terms with his own sexual identity. And the plot came to me in a really roundabout way.

I didn't exactly know how the story was going to end up once I started it. But I got about five or seven pages in and I realized, you know, what it was really going to be about and I went back and tweaked it. And actually, I really like how it came out.

MARTIN: I think it's lovely. But how - what did you weigh in on the argument that we've been having throughout the hour, which is that chick lit is not really good for you? I mean, it's like - I lose what I'm saying. Again look, it's like potato chips. You know, you can't live on that. Do you have an opinion about that?

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: Right. Well, I do think all things in moderation. I mean, the thing to me - it actually doesn't bother me very much if people want to read chick lit. But it makes me, you know, sort of disheartened when that's all that people want to read.

I teach a lot of graduate creative writing classes, and on the first day I like to go around the room and ask everybody what's the last book you've read that you really loved. And all of the women tend to give me chick lit titles. And to me that's sort of disappointing because it's their only exposure to fiction somehow.

It's just, you know, what they're getting constantly from the marketing forces and from the minute they walk into a bookstore. And, you know, so it's fine if that's what they want to read sometimes, but I would love to hear that they were reading other people, like, you know, Aimee Bender or Z.Z. Packer or Marilynne Robinson or, you know, other women writers who I actually really love and who are doing different kind of fiction.

MARTIN: One of the complaints about chick lit is that it tends to erase questions of race and class from women's lives. And you are a Panamanian-American, and do you ever feel that way? Do you feel that sort of elements of ethnicity and race are missing in women's literature?

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: I do - I feel like elements of race and identity and ethnicity are sort of missing in all of literature, not just in women's literature. I mean, it depends. There seems to be like, you know, different heydays. There's a lot of Indian writers right now who I, you know, I'm somehow reading. And there are a lot of African-American writers who I'm reading.

But overall, I think, there's still - it's still hard to get those sorts of writers into the marketplace, especially without labeling them as such, you know. So I get called a Latina writer a lot, you know. And everyone just really wants to be a writer at their heart.

MARTIN: Let's go to a caller. Let's go to Janice in Walla Walla, Washington.

JANICE (Caller): Hello.

MARTIN: Hello.

JANICE: Hello.


JANICE: Hi. I guess I wanted to say that I've been a bookseller for 24 years, and I find the whole idea of chick lit abhorrent because I think part of the problem is deeper, that the entertainment industry has taken over publishing so that somehow all art has to be escapist and entertaining and lightweight. And the thing that distresses me most - perhaps because I'm a 53-year-old woman - is how much women writers have bought into this as a job. It doesn't seem an art to me.

MARTIN: Well, Janice, let's push you on this. I mean, first of all, if it brings people into the store is that really so terrible? And I think we - I mean is it really such a bad thing?

JANICE: I find it distressing, because there are so many...

MARTIN: I'm sorry, excuse me Janice. I'm sorry, we have to take a short break. We'll continue with the ladies who are not chick lit. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington.

Today, we're talking about chick lit and women's literature with some of the contributors to a new collection called This is Not chick lit. Still with us is Cristina Henriquez. Her story, Gabriella, My Heart appears in the collection. And we were talking before the break to Janice who's a bookseller in Walla Walla, Washington.

And you were decrying the rise of this genre, and you were saying that it just seems to be part of the whole - what would be the right word - commercialization of publishing that is dominated by entertainment values.

JANICE: And it's fine to have entertaining reads, but, you know, in chick lit and in teenage literature that is the pre-cursor to chick lit, or young chick lit, there is now branding taking place. That bothers me.

MARTIN: Okay, but Janice let me ask you and let me ask Ms. Henriquez both, what - isn't this - aren't these books bringing people into the bookstore and while they're there maybe they'll look at something else? If they weren't doing this for escapism, maybe they'd be doing something else - video games.

JANICE: You know, of course. If you're going to have a sort of vapid hobby, reading is the best one as far as I'm concerned. If you want to do anything, reading's better than anything else you can do. But I find that it just lowers the level of literature.

It's the money put behind chick lit, when so many fabulous young and older women writers who are doing quality work that should be held up as a standard are being ignored. And I guess that's all I wanted to say.

MARTIN: Okay. Janice, thank you so much for calling. We appreciate it.

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: Janice, I just wanted to say, so this is the perfect book for you to hand sell now in your store.

JANICE: I beg your pardon?

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: This is the perfect book for you to hand sell now in your store then, to combat all of that.

JANICE: It's there. I will. I'm excited about it. I've read good reviews before it came out. And I thank you for your work and for the title.

MARTIN: Okay Janice, thank you for calling.

JANICE: Uh huh.

MARTIN: Cristina, what is hand sell? That's a term I don't understand. What does that mean? Is she going to literally hand them to people?

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: I think it just sort of means in bookstores that, you know, the great bookstores that you can walk into where a person - you can say to a person I've just read, you know, this book and I loved it. Can you recommend something else? And, you know, the sort of staff who's actually knowledgeable and can say, oh, I have three books on the shelves that just came in that you would love if you loved that one.

MARTIN: That would be called marketing, wouldn't it?

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: Yeah, marketing. Or in bookselling terms they said hand selling.

MARTIN: Oh, oh. Excuse me. Sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: It's the same, though.

MARTIN: Okay. Thank you. That's what I was wondering. Okay. Just a couple of seconds left. What are you working on now?

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: I'm working on a novel now. Again, set in Panama, but with some more American characters. So, should be exciting. Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. All right. Cristina Henriquez, thank you for your time and thank you for your wonderful story.

Ms. HENRIQUEZ: Thank you.

MARTIN: Cristina Henriquez is the author of the short story collection Come Together, Fall Apart. She joined us from NPR's Chicago bureau.

And coming up next: an expert on suicide bombers talks about the National Intelligence Estimate.

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