Sara Gruen, author of ‘Water for Elephants,’ on ‘chick lit’

Speaking of Us Magazine, I’m reading a book that’s so good, it’s like literary porn. It’s Us for bookworms. The book is called Why We Write, and it has a few pages each on one of  20 literary superstars. Each section describes how and why the writer writes. The section begins with vitals including when and where the writer was born, married or not, schooling, day job, and awards. Each section ends with tidbits of advice for writers. If you love to write, you’ve got to get this book. It’s so fun to read and super inspiring.

Why_We_Write.r

A section by Water for Elephants writer, Sara Gruen, called “Why did the chick lit cross the road,” bummed me out. In case you don’t read Us, Water for Elephants became a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and vampire heartthrob, Robert Pattinson.

Gruen writes:

 

There are very good, very successful authors of ‘chick lit’ and ‘women’s fiction,’ but that’s not how I self-identify. I think if you’re a woman and you write novels with female characters, the industry tends to pigeonhole you, and if you’re not careful, you get slapped with a pink cover no man would be caught dead with reading on a subway. Why woudl I want to discount male readers? I want men and women to feel they can pick up my books.

I feel (correctly) that I was labeled a woman’s fiction author with Riding Lessons and I hate very little as much as I hate being labeled. So I very deliberately wrote Water for Elephants as a book that would be difficult to classify. I figured having it narrated by a ninety three year old man would help. And you know what? I think it did.

I get what Gruen is saying the same way I get why J.K. Rowling is “J.K.” and why her protagonist is male. But still, how I wish women writers could get universal readership writing as women and about women. Is that so much to ask?

Girls don’t see movies about boys and read books about boys because they are born altruistic and open minded. Girls read books about boys because they are trained to. Therefore, isn’t the best time to shift this training when kids are kids? And this is exactly why it depresses me to no end that children’s media is so infected with caricatures of sexism. That early sexism doesn’t go away but lasts a lifetime. Parents, please help your child’s brain grow by reading books about strong girls to your kids.

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Sara Gruen, author of ‘Water for Elephants,’ on ‘chick lit’

  1. “Girls don’t see movies about boys and read books about boys because they are born altruistic and open minded. Girls read books about boys because they are trained to.”

    Ok, I was with you until here… This is SUCH bs. My girl and a lot of her friends have never read a Tom Clancy or Lee Childs book and wouldn’t be caught dead at an action movie without their man. Can we JUST please accept that there are certain genres that appeal more to men and likewise certain ones that appeal more to women already!

  2. Since you like to play the ”women are perpetual victims” card Margot, I’m wondering why did you flat out dismissed my previous comment. I had a well-thought out response to your blog post and I was hoping that you had a reasoned response. However, you respond by telling me that I should go read Elizabeth Sweet article and visit the Geena Davis Institute website. Your reply doesn’t seem well-reasoned at all, but I digress. During my downtime, I visited the Geena Davis Institute website and read the Elizabeth Sweet article, and they both rehashed the same diatribe from the same ”media experts.” When they make these claims to the mainstream press, they are NEVER challenged at all.

    Occasionally, I remember reading your postings on SFGate and the comments ripping you apart mercilessly. I’m trying to take your ”expertise” seriously, but everytime I scroll through your site, I reminded why they mercilessly–and justifiably–ripped you apart because your claims didn’t make any sense at all.

    So if someone challenges your arguments, then here are my suggestions:
    1) don’t be condescending
    2) don’t tell someone to read an article or visit a website because that shows that you don’t want to engage in reasonable discussion

    Look, I’m not condescending towards you, but I’m coming from a good place.

    Have a lovely day

  3. So I have several issues regarding this blog entry:

    1) Sara Gruen says: ” I think if you’re a woman and you write novels with female characters, the industry tends to pigeonhole you, and if you’re not careful, you get slapped with a pink cover no man would be caught dead with reading on a subway.”

    Gruen doesn’t back up her assertion with any facts at all. She assumes that publishers automatically slap pink covers if women authors write about female characters. When I’m at bookstores, I occasionally see a pink book cover, but not all YA and fiction books have them. First, publishers go through early stages of a book cover before it gets a final seal of approval.

    2) You state that ”But still, how I wish women writers could get universal readership writing as women and about women. Is that so much to ask?”

    I find this goal noble, but, realistically, this is never going to happen. For instance, Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins, Candace Bushnell, and Sidney Sheldon write books that are targeted for specific readers (primarily women) and these authors write about strong women that are career-oriented, but have issues in their life. That’s okay because–despite being fiction–the readers can relate to them. If Sara Gruen wants to write gender-neutral characters, then that’s okay too. Besides, why would any author want to deviate on a formula that, not only works, but gets them on NY Times Bestsellers List year after year? Regardless of gender, most readers want to know if the author can tell a good story. If you want a female character that’s one-dimensional and fits to your idea of femininity, then you should write a book about it.

    3) Also, at the end of the paragraph, you said that: ”Girls don’t see movies about boys and read books about boys because they are born altruistic and open minded. Girls read books about boys because they are trained to. Therefore, isn’t the best time to shift this training when kids are kids? And this is exactly why it depresses me to no end that children’s media is so infected with caricatures of sexism. That early sexism doesn’t go away but lasts a lifetime. Parents, please help your child’s brain grow by reading books about strong girls to your kids.”

    Once again, if you are going to state this as fact, then you need to back it up with supporting evidence. I’m sorry, but counting 20 movie posters featuring male characters doesn’t support your assertion that the movie industry is sexist.

    For some time, I’ve noticed this disturbing trend from most feminists (especially from academia). They like to employ the straw-man argument. Basically, most feminists like to take a small sample size (e.g. 20 movie posters) and turn it into a universal truth (e.g. the movie industry is sexist). When those assertions are made, they are NEVER challenged by the mainstream media. Instead of celebrating achievements of women, most feminist scholars are O-B-E-S-S-E-D with women’s representation in the media. Yes, most feminists celebrate an empowered woman and that’s great. However, how come there’s no room for most women to express its traditional femininity? Girls and women can be multidimensional, but why do most feminists want them to be one-dimensional?

    • Hi Chinwe,

      Your “supporting evidence” comment cracks me up. Please read Elizabeth Sweet’s post in the New York Times about so called “experts” and their “scientific” studies. Talk about bias. There are orgs like the Geena Davis Institute that compile stats you may want to look into as well.

      Margot

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