The Paris Review

Going All the Way: Curtis Sittenfeld and the Art of the Unambiguous


The definition of what qualifies as “chick lit” (an unpleasant term, besides which, I’ve personally always thought if you were going to coin a sexist word for women’s books, chicktion has more pizzazz, but I digress) is, in its purest form, a stupid tautology. A book is marketed as chick lit if it broadly appeals to women; books broadly appeal to women if they’re marketed as chick lit. Of course, this definition doesn’t hold up under much scrutiny. For one thing, the category of “fiction that appeals more to women than men” is, as we know, “fiction.” Accordingly, most books are marketed toward women. The Corrections was infamously, and briefly, featured in Oprah’s book club and marketed as a family drama, which it is. In this sense, all fiction—and this has been roughly true since the early nineteenth century, when the burgeoningly popular, still somewhat novel novel form, was declaimed as a woman’s art—is chick lit.

What, then, are the real criteria for membership in this dubious category? Is it books written by women or books that have female leads? Books about the domestic

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