August 26, 2010, is the ninetieth anniversary of women's right to vote in the United States, and my inbox is full of chatter about chick lit. Elaine K. added me to her writing group's discussion list. I won't identify Elaine for fear of subjecting her to death threats, but she's the tall blonde in her Dallas, Texas, workshop. To be more generous, the discussion is about author Jonathan Franzen and yesterday's NPR program. You know Franzen -- he's the guy on the Time magazine cover, the one whose books President Obama reads, or at least buys. Until now, Franzen's biggest claim to infamy was to speak less than reverently of Oprah Winfrey's book list. Even though he was on it. But Oprah has survived worse.
So what does this have to do with chick lit? Some women writers have dared to ask whether the media frenzy about Franzen's new novel "Freedom" was overdone. And why books written by women dealing with relationships get stuck with the dismissive label "chick lit," while Franzen's novel, seemingly covering the same ground, is labeled "novel of the century." What is chick lit anyway? Is it fiction about women, or fiction written by women, or only books with near-pornographic descriptions of shoes? (Some of Elaine's group have that last one down cold but I decline to quote them, hoping to keep this at a PG-13 level.) At least, I'm not alone in calling for a ban on the term. Call us women writers. Call us broads, bitches or 'ho's. Just don't use the C-word.