I have been a “seasonal” reader for as long as I can remember. Horror in the autumn; epic, doorstop-sized fantasies and bildungsroman carry me through the long winter; followed by short stories and continuing series in the spring. As we head into summer, I find myself looking for a particular type of book: it needs to be fun, fast, and affecting. There are lots of terms for these novels, “chick-lit” may be seen as the most dismissive, with “women’s fiction” and “domestic fiction” also being tinged with the implication that these books are “less than”–less literary, less serious and therefore less important. This type of pigeon-holing is true of most genre fiction, but “chick-lit” seems to suffer even more because it is primarily read by (and written by) women. So, before we get to the reading recommendations let me begin with this disclaimer: I love chick-lit! I do not find it to be silly or pointless or less worthy than “literary fiction.” There is value to books that are fun, sweet, and light (to reference this post’s title). There is value to being entertained and loving a story so much that you cannot put the book down. Lastly, there is value in all types of books–no need to disparage an entire genre simply because it is popular and entertaining.
Now, on to the books:
Series fiction with quirky, likable heroines:
Meg Cabot is an author I have adored for years. Known for writing across age groups, Cabot has written wonderful series for children, teens, and adults. Like many of her formerly-teen/currently-adult fans I was thrilled to read that she will be continuing her Princess Diaries series with an adult title being released next summer that follows Princess Mia as she plans her wedding to Michael Moscovitz. In addition to Princess Mia, another favorite Meg Cabot heroine of mine is Heather Wells–a former teen pop star who works in a residence hall at a NYC college and becomes wrapped up in several mysteries–the first book in this series is Size 12 is Not Fat.
Adriana Trigiani, like Meg Cabot, delivers romance in wonderful series of books. The Big Stone Gap series (my personal favorite) follows Ave Maria Mulligan, a pharmacist in the town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. A whole lot of heart, a great setting, and a wonderful cast of characters make this the perfect example of Trigiani’s work. Check these out quick! With Big Stone Gap (the movie!) being released this year there is sure to be renewed interest surrounding these fantastic titles.
Magical realism and the thrice-named-Sarahs:
I love books that have a little bit of magic woven into the story and nobody does it better than these two (in addition to magic there is also quite a bit of food in their stories–this makes me very happy). If you need a place to start I would pick up Garden Spells (a story of two sisters, the magical plants they care for, and the town in which they live) by Sarah Addison Allen and Blessed Are the Cheesemakers (two lost souls, a small Irish dairy farm, and a colorful cast of characters) by Sarah-Kate Lynch.
Funny, fast & affecting but not quite as light, aka the “heavy hitters” of chick-lit:
Jennifer Weiner is one of my favorite authors ever, in any genre. Her books are funny, heartwarming, and impossible to put down–not in an “I-need-to-find-out-who-the-murderer-is” way, but definitely in a “what-amazing-women-and-relationships-where-will-they-go-from-here?” way. As a reader of all her titles, Good in Bed and Little Earthquakes are tied for first as far as my personal favorites go. And just for fun, another avenue to witness the hilarity of Jennifer Weiner is by following her tweets (@jenniferweiner) during episodes of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (the only time I miss having cable is when these shows are airing and I’m unable to follow along with the insanity).
Rebecca Wells is best know for Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and the companion novels Little Altars Everywhere and Ya-Ya’s in Bloom. Set in Louisiana and following the lives of four best friends from their shared childhood through the joy and sorrow of marriages, raising children, and growing old. Her writing is evocative and the characters fully realized. Of the three novels, Divine Secrets is my favorite because in addition to the Ya-Yas it also tells the poignant mother-daughter story of Vivi and Sidda–with Sidda’s narrative being set in the present. If you missed reading these during the height of their popularity, now’s your chance.
Marian Keyes has written many wonderful novels, the best one (in my humble opinion) being Sushi for Beginners. “A nervous breakdown seems like a great idea: all that lying in bed and watching daytime TV. But who’s going to have it? Will it be housewife Clodagh, who spends her days microwaving pasta for her demanding toddlers and waiting for her beautiful husband Dylan to come home? Or Lisa, hard, brittle and shiny as an M&M, reeling from the shock of a demotion from her fabulous job in London to a one-horse magazine in Dublin? Or Ashling, so normal she’s weird?”(from Ms. Keyes’ website).
Most of Kristin Hannah’s books are categorized as “domestic fiction” or “women’s fiction” with topics a bit too weighty (the term “heart-wrenching” is used often) and serious to place them in the sphere of chick lit. Firefly Lane is an exception to this–“spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives.” Don’t get me wrong this title, and it’s companion novel Fly Away Home, are far from light and fluffy, but there is a universal appeal to this novel of friendship.
We read for so many reasons: to continue learning new things, to nurture our feelings of empathy towards others, to expand our horizons and sometimes simply for the pleasure and joy that comes from reading a well-written, engaging and FUN story. Don’t hide your bright, jewel-toned volumes of chick-lit! Carry them proudly and be sure to read in public so that all those naysayers can see what a happy reader looks like. 🙂
~ Patricia is a part-time librarian at the OWL who during the warmer months of the year, also enjoys reading books set in the South–so much so that she is convinced she was Southern in a past life.