Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chick Lit???

Hmmm. I have to admit, I had never even heard of the niche market that is known as "chick lit" until I read a book called Speak Now penned by a friend of mine, Margaret Dumas, a couple of years ago. This comes up now because I just finished reading the sequel, How to Succeed in Murder.

I like both books. To be honest, I probably would have read both just because I'm the sort of guy who reads books that his friends write. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that these two are the only "chick lit" books I've ever read. Or for that matter, the only "cozy" novels I've read.

Now, I know the book market is highly segmented. They probably have categories that I fit into, too, and I shudder to think what the nickname is for books aimed at middle-aged computer geeks with children who like sports and science and such. But I digress.

I gather "cozy" novels are mysteries with some light humor, and "chick lit" (am I the only one who keeps flashing on Chiclets here? I can't find a link to the brand, but you have to go look at the animation on the home page of their parent conglomerate.) is books written by women and marketed to young women. I do like some mysteries (I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie, and still enjoy the rather warped works of Carl Hiaasen), and I certainly like humor, but I just don't see myself settling into the cozy chick-lit niche.

On the other hand, it's fun to read Margaret's novels for a number of reasons:
  1. She writes about the kind of people I know. From the opening scene of the first novel where a newlywed couple pulls into the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco (where my wife and I had our wedding reception) to various visits to some of my favorite restaurants and haunts to scenes in high-tech startup companies South of Market, these are stories set in my neighborhood, populated by my peers, or at least friends of my peers.
  2. The writing's very clever. Yes, I know, it's supposed to be "cozy," but the books have a definite wit and charm, and likeable characters.
  3. I get some of the inside jokes. Now and then, when I'm paying attention, I see a reference to people we used to work with and such. It's fun.
And perhaps most of all, I enjoy the fact that years ago, when we were both working as technical writers, Margaret told me that she planned to make her fortune by writing trashy romance novels (I'm not sure that's the official name used by publishers for that category, but you know what I mean). She figured that with a graduate degree in English Literature, she could certainly write something better than what was selling out there. And I believe she has succeeded quite nicely there, except for the trashy romance part.

So even if you're not a chick-lit type or a fan of cozy, humorous mysteries, I can recommend these books. If for no other reason than that you should support my friends. Buy lots of them and give them as gifts.

And by the way, I'm not kidding about buying and reading books written by my friends. For example, I went to high school with a fellow named Ken Alder, who wrote a novel about a kid attending a high school much like ours called The White Bus. Many years later, in his role as a professor of the History of Science, he wrote a terrific books called The Measure of All Things, which describes the fascinating expedition to survey the world in order to define the meter. (I suppose that falls more neatly into my middle-aged nerd category.)

Anyway, ignore the categories. Just because the publisher doesn't think you're the sort of person who might want to read a particular book doesn't mean you have to go along with it. I get book recommendations from some of the oddest people and places, and often I find that I love those books.

Go forth and read!

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