Last week I made a post on Twitter about an article I read on Slate. “Live from the chick lit dungeon” was the slug, and the article was an interview with author Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame. Her new novel is about a 19th-century woman who studies botany – or, as serious male botanists would have it, “polite botany.” Gilbert is no stranger to what the interviewer calls the professional respect gap:
It has not escaped my attention that when I wrote about a man’s emotional journey they gave me the National Book Award nomination, but when I wrote about a woman’s emotional journey, they shunted me into the “chick lit” dungeon.
I can commiserate. Chick lit has a dungeon; science fiction and fantasy have a ghetto. Gilbert comes to a more generous conclusion than I did when I wrote about the genre ghetto previously. I theorized that the reason serious writers scorn genre writers so much is because of the money. Bestselling genre writers can make more money than the average literary novelist, making the whole debate a problem of sour grapes. Gilbert, however, says it’s about fear:
I think that the whole conversation about who’s included in the serious literary world is an entirely fear-based discussion – that the people who exclude certain kinds of women writers from that world are afraid that by including them it will diminish their own seriousness, and the women themselves are afraid of being excluded, or of not being taken seriously, so that they sometimes either hide some of their impulses or try to write in a certain kind of way to gain approval.
Fear seems to be a good explanation. Anxiety over money, after all, is the fear that you don’t have enough of it. This analysis takes fear to a higher level: it’s an attack on a serious writer’s entire identity. People get nasty when they feel they’re being attacked. But as Gilbert points out, there really is no attack on their identity.
…we’ve somehow internalized this idea that it’s disgraceful or lacking in seriousness to discuss our feelings, our dreams, the ways in which we want to become better human beings — either that somehow those are trivial topics, and of course they are not at all; they’re the big topics, the only topics…
In other words, these topics apply to everyone, including the serious literary writers. The chick lit writers are writing about those folks, too.
Because I’m the kind of SF/F writer who sees the incredible opportunity for allegory in fantasy and science fiction, I would argue that I’m also writing about everyone, including the anti-genre folks. That might be going a little far for some people. But I’m almost willing to set aside my snobbery against bestsellers (you know, sour grapes) and finally read Eat, Pray, Love.