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Check It Out

Courier Article by Kate Linderman
Sunday, September 5, 2010

Artists, muses, more on spring fiction reading list

A couple of weeks ago, a firestorm of controversy arose when author Jodi Picoult responded via Twitter to the rave review of Jonathan Franzen's new novel,"Freedom," in The New York Times. Setting Twitter ablaze with the hashtag #franzenfreude, Jennifer Weiner defended Picoult's stance that the Times heaps much more critical praise on white male writers of literary fiction than it does upon female writers of fiction - mainly because so many works by females today are grouped (incorrectly) in the genre of Chick Lit. Since the furor erupted, Weiner and Picoult have been interviewed for Huffington Post, Weiner has been interviewed for NPR's "All Things Considered," and articles about the issue have sprouted up last week in publications like Entertainment Weekly.

I've been guilty myself of failing to make the distinction between actual Chick Lit and what is commonly referred to as Popular Women's Fiction, so I am hoping to make amends here by recommending some books by outstanding authors of Popular Women's Fiction. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I even realized Chick Lit is not a serious genre that many published authors really want to be grouped into. In fact, Chick Lit is often used in the pejorative.

Jennifer Weiner is one of my favorite authors, because her characters are always real people dealing with real situations. If you've never read any of her work, start with"Good in Bed," her first novel, which is about an overweight young woman struggling to find herself and come to terms with life's circumstances in a rather harsh world. "In Her Shoes," Weiner's second novel, is a touching and captivating story about two sisters with completely different personalities and the bond that endures between them, despite the extreme ups and downs of their relationship. And, of course, Weiner has a new book, out in July, entitled "Fly Away Home," which I'm reading right now.

I've actually only read a couple of Jodi Picoult's books, but I would never classify them as Chick Lit. "The Pact" is about a suicide pact between teenage lovers gone horribly wrong, and I found it to be an intense and studied account of the subject. As a parent, I was deeply disturbed but also profoundly touched by its subject matter. I also recommend "Vanishing Acts," which was one of our summer reading program selections several years ago. It's an engrossing family story with a twist that you don't see coming until the last minute. I loved it.

Another favorite author of mine, Marian Keyes, writes funny, dark books with well-developed characters and intricate subplots - try "This Charming Man," "Rachel's Holiday" or "Anybody Out There?"

I've read several of Sue Miller's books, including "The Good Mother," "While I Was Out" and "Lost in the Forest." Miller writes books about the particular plights of women, from divorce and custody issues, to the loss of a father figure and the effects of marital infidelity.

Alice Hoffman is another favorite. I absolutely loved "Skylight Confessions," about the effect of parental relationships on children, with a strangely supernatural slant to it.

"In the Woods," by Tana French, is the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, a taut, critically-acclaimed thriller that I am reading right now.

Don't get me wrong - I like a lot of male authors, too. I thought, however, that this most recent debate involving authors of what is often perceived to be (and subsequently dismissed as) Chick Lit might be a good opportunity to point out the many female authors who write great fiction - whose books you might not even know about.