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Noteworthy books

Notable Books | Four "chick lit" novels from different religious traditions

You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs

Plot: Jewish stage actress Karrie Kline-in her 40s and unmarried-recounts her history of bad dates extending over 20 years. In a sequel, Looking for Mr. Goodfrog, she finds career success by turning her dating vignettes into a one-woman, off-Broadway show.

Gist: Karrie's Manhattan sensibility and her comments about clueless men make this a prototypical chick-lit book, one that appeals to young women interested in careers, romance, and their own identity. As is standard for books in the genre, dating and sex are inseparable.

For Matrimonial Purposes

Plot: When Anju, a Hindu, reaches her mid-20s without marrying, she begs her parents to let her go to America. She finds herself between two cultures, two sets of expectations, and two ways of finding a mate.

Gist: This novel and another by the author, The Village Bride of Beverly Hills, combine chick-lit preoccupations with humorous fish-out-of-water tales. The books are clean, respectful of the role of extended family, and full of references to Hindu cultural and religious practices that influence the way Anju thinks.

Brick Lane

Plot: Two Bangladeshi sisters, both Muslim, lead different lives. One runs off and marries for love: Through vivid letters written to her sister in London, her tragic story unfolds. The London sister, trapped in an arranged marriage, embarks on a sometimes-explicit affair to escape her colorless life.

Gist: Ali's gritty book stretches the boundaries of chick lit. It deals with issues of love and self-discovery but lacks the breezy first-person voice common to the genre. Life is hard for Islamic women: Fate rules and characters either submit to it or try to escape.

What a Girl Wants

Plot: Patent attorney Ashley Stockingdale, 31 and unmarried in Silicon Valley, is surrounded by engineers who spend too much time on sci-fi and video games. She worries that devotion to her job has robbed her of the opportunity to marry.

Gist: Like traditional chick lit, its Christian variant plumbs the experiences of working women looking for love. The heroine here, part of a church community, hangs out at Chili's rather than in bars, drinks Diet Coke rather than wine, and struggles with covetousness and a sharp tongue as she wears name-brand fashions.

Spotlight

"You can't tell a book by its cover" isn't true when it comes to the sherbet-hued covers that characterize chick lit. While women of all ages read the books, an article in The Chronicles of Higher Education (May 26) notes feminist novelist Doris Lessing's criticism of the genre: "It would be better, perhaps, if [female novelists] wrote books about their lives as they really saw them, and not these helpless girls, drunken, worrying about their weight."

Literature professors Suzanne Ferris and Mallory Young write that the books are popular "not because they are escapist 'froth' but because they tap into contemporary women's struggles and fears. . . . The concerns of the women in chick lit are not Lessing's, but they are those of a new generation of women"-including Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian women (or at least those living in the West).

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