Monday, July 19, 2010

Chick Lit vs. Dude Lit

Chick Lit is a marketing term/sub-genre that has become so singularly identifiable that in most cases a synopsis of the book is unnecessary. When hearing of a Chick Lit title, readers picture a single woman (usually mid twenties to late thirties) navigating the dating scene in a quirky way. She usually has a few friends, male and female, that accompany her on many wild escapades in the name of true love. In the end, she usually gets her man, even if it isn't the man she originally wanted. Happy endings all around.

Dude Lit may not be the correct term (is there a term? If not, I totally think it should be Dude Lit), but the concept is basically the same. It's a book that appeals almost exclusively to men. Think action, adventure, and women falling head over heels (literally - you can hear their clothes fall off) with men older and less attractive than they themselves are. The main character saves the day, dishing out some ultra violent justice in the process, and proceeds to bed the beautiful younger woman before leaving her behind for the next adventure.

Chasing Harry Winston - A NovelDude Lit is a less well known sub-genre because it is easily mainstreamed. A woman sitting on a train reading Dude Lit with it's jungle/ocean/Aztec temple cover isn't usually stared at and immediately judged by other commuters. A man sitting on the same train reading Chick Lit with it's hot pink shoes/hearts/sassy girl striking a pose cover catches the eye of every other passenger on board. Sad, but true.

Dude Lit doesn't have to be marketed as such. Call it action or adventure and it stays accessible to both genders. Chick Lit could be marketed as romance, but the same stigma applies. Men just aren't going to tell their friends about the great romance novel they read last night. There will always be gender targeted books with some but not much crossover possibility.

The Mediterranean Caper (Dirk Pitt Adventure)My favorite Dude Lit author is Clive Cussler. His Dirk Pitt series is awesome. Remember the 2005 movie Sahara with Matthew McConaughey? That was based on Cussler's book but doesn't nearly do the series justice. Throughout 20 books, from 1973's The Mediterranean Caper to 2008's Arctic Drift, Dirk Pitt has gotten into trouble, rebelled against authority, saved the day and gotten the girl again and again.What's not to love?

What's your opinion on gender specific books? Do you read Chick Lit? Dude Lit? I'm always looking for recommendations, so please leave your favorites in the comments!


  1. I'm not a fan of either. But I do like them as films. Great question btw :)

  2. yes I read chick lit when I need something light or fluffy to read. There are sometimes I need something light in my some of these being turned into movies have been hit and miss --loved PS I love you but hated shoppalic series.

  3. I love a good chick-lit! Unfortunately, there are enough badly written and/or predictable chick-lits around, but there are plenty good ones too (I posted a review of a good one today -

    I've heard of Lad Lit as the male equivalent of chick-lit. Lad being of course a UK word for guy or dude.

  4. I'm a fan of chick lit. I love reading it and well I love the (usually) happy endings!

    I'm not sure if it falls into Dude Lit but I love the Op Centre series by Tom Clancy.

  5. Eh, both are pulp and both represent just one facet of what's wrong with publishing today. Everything is so narrative driven and the current issue is that, with every year, the narratives become more and more trite. I guess you could say, "well, at least people are reading," but in a society that has enjoyed literacy for a good while now, that argument is just a cop-out for really poor writing. Not to mention, it breeds more poor writers. For instance, I fear we'll be suffering through the consequences of the Twilight series for years to come.

  6. I love the term dude lit. That is fantastic. I do foray into chick lit every once in awhile. I'm actually indulging in a lot of it this summer. It just seems like an appropriate time. I'd love to find some good dude lit.

  7. I think the Dirk Pitt books are a lot of fun. I was listening to them on audio when I was actually driving to work each day.

    I don't tend to read a whole lot of either type of book but sometimes they are a change of pace from what I usually read.

  8. @Juju - I think I may like the chick lit films better than the books as well, but for some reason I do better reading action/adventure dude lit than seeing it.

    @My 5 Monkeys - I saw PS I Love You and picked up the book because it was so good (even though I really don't like Hilary Swank). I own the Shopaholic books, but haven't read the m yet, nor seen the movie.

    @leeswammes - I think that's where the stigma really comes into play. Chick lit is light and fun when done right, but I have read my share of trash as well. Lad Lit - that's kinda cool.

    @StephtheBookworm - Me too, but I have to be in the mood for it. I kind of just collect it and save it for when the mood strikes.

    @agirlreads - Hmm, I've never read any Tom Clancy, although I have certainly heard of him. I think I always considered him too manly for my taste. Definitely a good example of Dude Lit.

    @Tyrie - I think the fact is that if books of this nature (and even Twilight) weren't published, most people just wouldn't read. Leaving readers with what one would consider "worthwile" doesn't get them to actually read those books. If they only want a certain type of entertainment, they aren't going to struggle through something they hate just for the joy of reading.

    @Teresa - I actually haven't read much of either this year, although I do have a lot on my shelves waiting for me to be in the mood.

    @Angela - Yes, they are definitely good for breaking out of a reading rut. I'll read one of these and then I'm ready to get back to he stuff I focus on more often.

  9. Why do they have to "hate it?" I think it's a HUGE misconception that good literature is like brussels sprouts or summat. Not to mention, it's the same kind of thinking that has lead to the gradual dumbing down the current generation. And so, the bar drops lower and lower.

    And it's not that I'm saying that these genres should be done away with. It's just that these genres shouldn't be touted as great revelations of literature. I mean, "Eat, Pray, Love" is interesting and all, but I would hardly put it in the same category as "The Razor's Edge" in terms of craft and I would say that Maugham's novel is just as "entertaining" as the former.

    It's lowest common denominator stuff and it's not improving literacy in the least - if anything it's turning the publishing business into the same kind of gross entity as the music business - a parasite that latches on to the latest trend and then sucks it dry, in the meantime attracting the populace with promises of "enlightenment" and "enriching storytelling."

    It's hard to explain how that affects someone for whom literature is his livelihood. I imagine it's akin to someone announcing to a concert violinist that "Danny Elfman is the most important composer of the 20th century." God, strike me dead.

  10. I like both! I will admit I read (or have read) a lot of Chick-Lit in my time. Bridget Jones is my hero. Though oddly enough I am more pulled towards the British Chick Lit than American. That is a whole other discussion.

    I also really like Dude-Lit! I enjoyed the Bourne series and most of the James Bond series of books. My dad got me into dude-lit and it is something that we share :)

  11. Chick lit, have you ever tried the Buchanan series by Susan Mallery Jennifer?

    Dude lit, oh I am with you all the way on Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler. Those books are all in my hardback book collection of keepers and no way did the movie even come close to doing Sahara justice!! I also like the Jack Ryan books by Tom Clancy and of course the Bourne books by Ludlum and the James Grippando "Jack Swyteck" books and cannot forget the "Harry Bosch" detective book series that Michael Connelly writes.

    jackie ^_^

  12. @Tyrie - What people have to remember is the publishing business is just that - a business. They HAVE to print what people want to read or there will be no money to publish "good literature." Not everyone reads for literature. Most, it would seem, just want a little fun and escape. Just because it doesn't live up to snobbish standards doesn't make it less.

    I am in no way claiming that gender targeted lit is in anyway the be all and end all of books or even the cream of the crop, but it is out there, it is popular and it isn't something people should be ashamed of reading.

    @Felicia - I don't seem to do as well with British chick lit. I read both Bridget Jones books and liked them, but not so much as In Her Shoes and other books by Jennifer Weiner.

    I should really check out some of the James Bond books. I kind of like the movies, but for some reason I tend to like action/adventure/sky stuff better in book form. An older uncle gave me a copy of a Dirk Pitt book many years back and I've loved it ever since.

  13. Dude Lit? I had never considered it under that perspective, but yeah, the term is very appropriate :)

    I went through an adventure books phase when I was 8-10, and read Jules Verne, Salgari, Stevenson, and so on. At about 11 I started reading books for teen girls, and I haven't yet stopped :/

    As for chick lit, I used to be a fan of the genre, and read lots of them in my early twenties, but I'm sort of burnt out now.

  14. I enjoy a chickity lit book now and then. They're just great fun. As for dude lit (great name, btw), I'm not sure I've read much that fits the parameters you set up. Most male protags I've come across are supposed to be good looking... except Blomkvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo (which wasn't particularly marketed towards men as far as I could tell).

  15. @jackie b - I've never heard of the Buchanan series. I'll have to check it out. And the Jack Swyteck books too.

    I have a lot of Harry Bosch on the shelf, but haven't read any of them yet. I never really considered it to be Dude Lit, but more detective mystery. Is it very guy oriented?

  16. @Alessandra - I went on a Jules Verne / H.G. Wells binge in my late teens, but haven't been back to anything like that since.

    I think it's very easy to burn out on chick lit. If I get on a streak of mediocre chick lit books, I avoid the entire genre for months before I'll pick up another.

    @Chelle - Dude Lit main characters are usually good looking, but the women they attract are stunning. Like, "yeah, right, that could happen" attractive.

  17. Jennifer, as a matter of fact the Connelly books are detective mysteries and still one of my favorite male characters even though Harry does not have lots of females in line for his "favors" he still makes a few of their hearts pitter patter faster at times...

    I consider it "Dude Lit" because it is written by a man for men (and women) who like to see the bad guys taken down and justice served not because of the hot male lead who has many notches on his belt. I guess that knocks poor old Bosch right out of the running, still good stories though..
    jackie ^_^

  18. @Jennifer, true, but the publishing business has a LOT to do with directing people to what they "want" to read. Consider the bestseller list in 1944:

    A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Harper) - January 2, 1944

    Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith (Reynal) - May 14, 1944

    Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham (Doubleday) - July 2, 1944

    Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge (Coward-McCann) - October 15, 1944

    Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (MacMillan) - November 14, 1944

    The Green Years by A. J. Cronin (Little, Brown) - December 17, 1944

    That's an impressive list of titles - full of really "great" literature titles that are also incredibly entertaining. Even if you go back to a more recent period, say 1973, you see an impressive list:

    The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth (Viking) - March 25, 1973

    Once Is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susann (Morrow) - May 6, 1973

    Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (Delacorte) - July 1, 1973

    The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart (Morrow) - September 9, 1973

    The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene (Simon & Schuster) - November 25, 1973

    Burr by Gore Vidal (Random House) - December 9, 1973

    But then, something changed right around 1985 and publishers discovered it was cheaper for them to find writers who could turn out a lot of works that focused on a central theme. It was cheaper because they could put writers on a contract basis versus contracting based on an individual work. So the age of King, Crichton, Grisham, etc came to be. This meant that a King novel, whether it was good or not, would sell because of King, not his work. So much of his success was predicated on one work, the Dead Zone, which garnered him fans who would buy his books regardless of their quality. Similarly, Grisham capitalized on the successes of his early works to bring people into the fold. The same can be said of Clancy, Patterson, et al.

    Now, the trend is devolved into a new paradigm that is driven by subject matter. So now we have teen vampire novels, lawyer fiction, psuedo-enlightenment novels, etc. People want to read things "similar" to other works they may have liked. I mean, is Stephanie Meyer popular because of Stephanie Meyer or is she popular because of the groundwork laid by Anne Rice?

    And while I agree that some people read this kind of fiction as a "break," the reality is that for most, this kind of writing is their only exposure to reading, which means the reading majority will never take a chance on something deemed "academic" or "high-brow" because they have no reason to. Everything they "need" is in the pulp stuff. So, we're left with generations of readers who have no notion of the writing tradition and so we will slowly lose works like "The Razor's Edge," "Strange Fruit," "Burr," etc. And that's really sad.

  19. @jackie b - Ok, I see where you're coming from. I usually view mysteries as being very capable of transcending gender lines. Except maybe cozy mysteries which seem to be the chick lit of the genre - most often being targeted directly at women.

    @Tyrie - Yes, historically bestsellers have been considered "good" literature, but the sales of these books weren't competing with the myriad of entertainment options available these days. If a book isn't considered fun, most people will forgo it in favor of movies, TV, video games, the internet, etc. Sad to say, but books just aren't as important to most people today as they were in the 40s.

    I can almost guarantee that people aren't reading Stephenie Meyer because of Anne Rice. They may both write about vampires, but that's where the sameness ends. You might as well compare Meyer to Bram Stoker.

    The thing is, people don't "need" to read at all. If we take away all the fluff and only leave stuffy literature, most just won't read. They can get fun entertainment elsewhere. That's the reality of it.

    I'm probably not a good person to try to convince that this is the type of stuff that's "ruining" publishing. The majority of what I read is genre fiction. Your lists of bestsellers - yeah I read a couple of Vonnegut books over the years. I only liked one. The rest - never read them and have no interest.

  20. Meyer, like Rice, romanticizes vampires. Furthermore, without Rice, the popularity of vampires with the emo, gothic, etc scenes wouldn't exist. I grant that both approach the topics differently, but I still say Rice made Vampires sexy (Bram Stoker did not ... well, not really).

    And, yes, people do NEED to read. The fact that they don't read much beyond the fluff has a lot to do with why we have such an under-educated society. People "need" to be reading about the politics of their country, the histories of their nations, religions, and ideologies. Not doing so damns us to perpetuate failure.

    I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

  21. I love the term Dude Lit and I'm a much bigger fan of it than I am of anything chick lit.

  22. I don't read chick lit or dude lit, but I am a fan of anything that encourages more men to read. It seems like a such a female dominated activity (although I could be wrong, who knows).

    At the Sydney Writers Festival I saw an Aboriginal author who writes chick lit book talk - she said she found the term chick lit offensive because it made light of this genre. She calls it contemporary womens literature. I couldn't help but laugh

  23. +JMJ+

    I don't like Chick Lit very much because I can't identify with the main characters very much, though I will enjoy a good Romance now and then.

    As for Dude Lit (or is it "Lad Lit" now? LOL!), I'm not drawn to it at all! And now I feel a little bad about that. =P I should try some Cussler . . .

    But I think I've picked up some Action YA books that count as Dude Lit (of an age appropriate form!). I really like Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series but can't stand Robert Muchamore's CHERUB books.

    Jennifer, I couldn't help reading your exchange with Tyrie; and though I won't butt in with my own hugely opinionated thoughts, I do want to share this quote from one of my favourite writers, G.K. Chesterton:

    Literature is a luxury. Fiction is a necessity.

    It seemed appropriate. ;-)

  24. I read chick lit, but I avoid dude lit at all costs. I have two sons and a husband--I am surrounded by enough testosterone already, thank you! LOL

  25. @Tyrie - Okay, I see what you're saying about Anne Rice, but I'd imagine there isn't a lot of crossover between Rice's and Meyers's. While both including the sexualizing of vampires, the writing is so vastly different that I would never suggest Interview with a Vampire to a Twilight fan.

    People have to make a conscious choice to read. The school systems force teens to read only selected "worthy" works which turns most off from reading all together. Many, myself included, won't pick up a book for pleasure for many years after leaving high school or college. By "needing", I meant in the physical sense. Books aren't like air or food. People will survive without them. While it's a wonderful thing to say people need to read, the fact is that they really don't and a large portion of the US population reads 1 book or less a year.

    Agreeing to disagree is the best course of action. I could debate this until I'm blue in the face (as I'm sure you can as well) and it seems quite obvious that we will convince each other of our points.

    @Suey - Dude lit is wonderful - especially if you're in a distinctly non-romantic mood.

    @Becky - I think you may be pretty close to the truth. At least when it comes to book bloggers, women are definitely the majority. But that could be because we can't help telling others what we love and hate.

    Women's lit and Chick lit have a very different feel, but is it really so offensive to be referred to as a chick lit author, even if untrue? It sound a lot like the Nicholas Sparks debacle over romance versus writing "love stories."

    @Enbrethileil - I'm a big fan of Cussler, but dude lit definitely isn't for everyone. Then again - what genre is truly universal?

    I LOVE that quote. Seriously. I want to tattoo it on my body.

    @Julie P - Lol. I have 3 daughters :) Maybe I like it so much because I need to escape the estrogen I'm currently drowning in.

  26. I enjoy a good Chick Lit. I even enjoy writing a good Chick Lit (or at least I think so...) It's a shame publishers are so against it these days, although I hope the tide is turning again. I see so many people talk about wanting a light, fluffy, escapist read that doesn't involve blood or fangs. Life's not always light and fluffy these days. Sometimes, a good Chick Lit can help us escape into a laugh for a while.

  27. I think your article's point is proven just with the fact that so many people thought "Dude Lit" and "Lad Lit" sounded so cool, whereas "Chick Lit" was a "Oh, I read this, but only sometimes..And only because..." :)

  28. - Are publishers against it now? I know it was THE big thing a few years back and there seems to still be a steady stream of new books being published in the genre. Sometimes we really do need a little light and fluffy.

    @Chick lit Shorties - I think women who read Chick Lit have gotten so used to people looking down on it that they feel the need to justify. Same as romance readers. It's sad that books we love have to become guilty pleasures just because others don't see their worth.

  29. +JMJ+

    I think the prejudice against "women's reading" will always be with us.

    Remember that when Northanger Abbey came out, novels in general were as embarrassing as it got. (Did you get to Jane Austen's embedded rant yet, Jennifer?) And who were, by and large, the primary readers of novels? Women! =P

    Well, it was easy to shake that stigma, because the whole genre was wide enough to admit everything from the most highbrow literary attempts to "Lad Lit"--but I think "Chick Lit" will always be doomed.

    Oh, and it came to my attention recently that people were saying awful stuff about YA novels that usually gets said only about Romance. I couldn't understand why until I looked at all the titles being criticised. Yes, they were all YA-Romance hybrids. =P

  30. @Enbrethiliel - Yes, I've noticed a lot of talk in Northanger Abbey about how reading fiction is embarrassing. I just saw it come up again in Clockwork Angel a bit as well. I don't think I fully understood how not approved it was since I don't read a lot of books written or set in those times. It kind of blows my mind.

    It seems now that if a man would be embarrassed to be caught reading a certain book, it's seen as okay to put down the women who read it. Which is insane if you think about it. Why do we need men to approve what we read? Why do they have to like it for it to matter? Lots of women don't like action and it's a heartily approved genre.

    YA-Romance gets bashed just the same as anything that comes close to looking like romance. Romance = girly = waste of time. Heaven forbid people read what they want.

    YA as a whole gets ragged upon because it's "meant" for younger people. Those who don't read it think it's not good enough to bother with. I know - I used to be one of those people. In the past couple of years I've learned that some of the very best books are YA. Just because they have teen protagonists doesn't mean it isn't written well or that it's dumbed down. With everything else in life, we just need to learn to do what we love and ignore those who chose to pee on our parades.

  31. Dude lit? lol! Love it.

    I'm a sucker for chick-lit, although I admit that I don't read as much as I used to. I guess I like dude lit too a good mystery/adventure novel.

  32. @Kris - I need a good adventure book every once in a while - all action and exotic locations to really escape life for a little while.