All We Are Saying is Give Pink a Chance


Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I started thinking pink again recently when I saw a TV ad featuring major league baseball players wielding pink bats. Since I only decided to regularly follow baseball this year—go, Mets!—this was all new to me. Thankfully, Google is my friend. It turns out that since 2006, every year on Mother’s Day, major league ballplayers bat with specially dyed Louisville Sluggers, and the players and stadiums sport other pink items as well. Afterward, those bats and items are auctioned off, the proceeds going to benefit the Susan B. Komen for the Cure organization. In the first year alone, this campaign raised $350,000 to benefit the breast-cancer organization.

Now what does any of this have to do with books? You may well ask. I don’t blame you for asking. Sometimes even I wonder just what the heck I’m talking about.

Right now I’m talking about the systemic hatred in some areas of society in general, and in literary circles specifically, toward the color pink. No color is more maligned by those who consider themselves to be literarily high-brow. Come to think of it, no other color is maligned, period! I’ve never heard anyone say, “I don’t like black books” or “I don’t like silver books,” the colors of many a suspense novel and techno-thriller. I’d imagine a person would feel like a horse’s ass to utter such a statement. Me, if I had to pick a least-favorite color, it might be orange—only because that’s the color I’m least likely to wear, unless it’s Halloween, at which time I pull out my old orange trapeze dress—but you’ll never catch me saying, “I don’t read orange books,” probably because there’s no color of book that I won’t read. And yet I do regularly hear other people saying, with no small degree of pride, “I don’t read pink books.”

Whence all the pink hatred?

Full disclosure here: Wearing one of my other writing hats, that of novelist, I’ve written more than one pink book.

Yes, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m once again talking about Chick Lit.

I’ve been in the book business in one way or another for twenty-seven years—first as independent bookseller, then as reviewer and freelance editor and sort-of librarian, finally as writer—and in all that time I’ve never seen a genre be the recipient of such wholesale scorn. Sure, I’ve seen some genres take the odd knock here and there, but never on such a scale. The criticism, direct and indirect, comes from all corners. Readers apologize for reading the books. Reviewers, when they do find a book they like, feel compelled to write sentences on the order of, “Unlike other Chick Lit books, this one is actually intelligent,” as if the reviewer could possibly have read all the other Chick Lit books, as if the reviewer would ever write a similar sentence about any other genre; a reviewer may say “Arturo Perez-Reverte transcends the genre” or “Dennis Lehane transcends the genre”—about thrillers and mysteries respectively—but they don’t feel the need to out-and-out trash the genre. And in recent years, everyone, from publishers, through editors and agents straight down to writers, has been twisting themselves in knots to find an alternate way to describe books that would formerly be classified as Chick Lit. Like labeling books “women’s fiction with a sassy tone” is really going to bring on the respect.

If I’ve been in the book business for twenty-seven years, I’ve spent at least the last seven of those years trying to answer the question: Why all the hatred?

After all that time, this is the answer I’ve finally come up with: I honestly don’t know.

Just what exactly is Chick Lit?

People will give you all sorts of definitions. Some will say it’s romantic comedy, which I say is accurate sometimes but sometimes not. Come to think of it, since I’ve reviewed it and edited it and written it, I’ll declare myself qualified to give an accurate definition. Long version: commercial books that are primarily contemporary, written primarily by and about women, read primarily by women, featuring characters dealing with contemporary problems and issues in a comedic fashion. Short version: commercial comedic books that are female-centric.

I don’t know. I still don’t see what’s to hate so strongly there. Perhaps if I break it down to the three most salient words: Commercial. Women. Comedic.

Commercial. Well, the whole Commercial vs. Literary debate is a whole other kettle of worms worthy of a whole other essay. And yet in recent years a number of commercial books and even writers have achieved a nice level of respectability. Stephen King gets regularly reviewed by the New York Times, Michael Crichton was published by the venerable Knopf even before the doors there were more widely opened to genre writers. Mysteries, which some of my customers used to practically brownbag like they were hiding a bottle of Night Train, enjoy an enormous amount of respect now as a genre, even though the books are often as convention-driven as, well, romances.

Women. It can be argued that women in all areas of the arts—in nearly all areas of life, really—have to work harder to have their work taken seriously. But anyone opening the Times or any other reviewing vehicle knows that there are plenty of women writers whose works are regarded with a level of respect. Lorrie Moore. Ann Patchett. Jane Smiley. Joyce Carol Oates. Of course those women are all considered literary. And it should be pointed out, concerning Ms. Oates, that when people annually comprise their short lists of American writers due a Nobel, the lists are often universally male except for the occasional one that lists her.

Comedic. Again, referring to arts in addition to writing, comedy does often have an uphill battle. It’s why you rarely see comedic films nominated for Best Picture, even though most actors will say it’s harder to do comedy than drama. It’s why you rarely see comedies nominated for top writing awards, even though the rare writers who do both will tell you the same. Still, it’s not like males who write comedy have their own category that gets regularly disparaged. Before Norman Mailer died he didn’t curse Christopher Moore or Chuck Palahniuk or Nick Hornby for being some sort of antichrists. And to be fair, there are some female writers who write comedic novels—Elinor Lipman springs to mind—whose works are respected, but all the ones I can think of are considered literary.

So maybe it’s not one thing. Maybe it’s the constellation of all three lined up together: Commercial. Women. Comedic. That triumvirate is simply too much for some people and when taken in conjunction their heads explode.

It’s as if there’s something wrong with being commercial and being a woman and seeing the problems of the human condition through a comedic prism rather than through a tragic one.

You know what? I still don’t get it. And now I think I never will.

And now you’re probably scratching your head and wondering: How did we get from major league baseball to Chick Lit? Well, who can blame you?

It’s all this puzzling, or puzzling-to-me hatred of a color. I hear people say they hate pink books, and I know what they’re referring to. Last fall, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I heard people bemoaning the use of pink as the color for all those campaigns; most of those bemoaners, I’m sad to say, being women. It got to the point where I started thinking there was something wrong with me. Maybe the color should be the universally loved blue? Maybe I should suck it up and suggest orange would be better instead? And then I turned on the TV and saw all those football players, all those New York Jets—go, Jets! —wearing pink cleats, pink wristbands, pink helmets, all in an effort to raise money and awareness for a good cause. And I realized pink isn’t the problem, pink isn’t a problem anywhere in the world; it’s people’s attitudes toward pink that’s the problem. All I can say is, whether we’re talking about books or we’re talking about the color of the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign: Get over it. Me, I’d wear orange from head-to-toe if it would somehow help raise $350,000 for a worthy cause.

Before we close here, let me say I’m aware that some will take offense at my conflating Chick Lit and breast cancer within the same essay. All I can say to that is: I apologize for causing offense since that’s not my intent. And I can also recommend Gail Konop Baker’s amazing Cancer is a Bitch: Or, I’d Rather Be Having a Mid-Life Crisis, which is considered to be a nonfiction Chick Lit memoir of the author’s own experience with breast cancer. I feel bad for anyone who has to face tragedy. I admire anyone who faces tragedy while retaining their sense of humor.

Books mentioned in this column:
Cancer is a Bitch: Or, I’d Rather Be Having a Mid-Life Crisis by Gail Konop Baker (Da Capo, 2008)

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Lauren Baratz-Logsted has sold twenty books to six publishers since 2003. Her published novels include The Thin Pink Line and Vertigo for adults; Crazy Beautiful for teens, Me, In Between for tweens; and the first four of The Sisters 8, a nine-book series for young readers, co-written with her novelist husband Greg Logsted and their nine-year-old daughter Jackie. In the year 2010 she'll have four more books published, including two more titles in The Sisters 8 series, The Education of Bet for teens and one more teen title. Lauren still lives in Danbury, CT, where she writes and reads pretty much all the time. You can read more about Lauren’s life and work (and contact her) at her personal website and the Sisters 8 site. Contact Lauren.



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