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.


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.