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March 4, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | March 4, 2009 |

Chick Lit is an often maligned genre of the publishing industry, and rightfully so. They are terrible, trashy, anti-feminist books that make for terrible, trashy, anti-feminist movies. They’re worse, too, than Harlequin novels, because at least Harlequin books don’t put up any sort of pretense. They’re about fucking and getting fucked, while chick-lit would have you believe that there are other, more important things than fucking and getting fucked, namely their careers, their friends, and their need to shop. But in the end, it’s still about the almighty fuck.

Meanwhile, dick Lit (or “lad lit”) — which is the male version of chick lit— mostly escapes this criticism, except from the folks over on places like Jezebel and Feministing. Why? Probably because, though it is basically written from the perspective of a man’s penis, the male organ seems to have a better way of putting it (save for Tucker Max, of course). The penis ejaculates yarns rich with metaphor and, because young men aren’t big readers, dick lit also has to appeal to women to be successful. In a way, then, dick lit is written by the music-loving, sensitive men so worshipped in the chick lit genre.

Which is to say: I have no fucking idea why dick lit doesn’t get the bad rap that chick lit does. It’s a misogynistic world, I guess. Men can write about their dicks and win Pulitzers and other book awards (see Roth, Phillip; Irving, John), while women who write about their vaginas get no respect, but sell eleventy billion books. Is it a just world? I dunno. Ask Sophia Kinsella, if you can locate her in an upscale department store buying out all their goddamn Versace bags.

At any rate, I like Dick Lit. Hell, I love Dick Lit. And here are my five favorites from the genre, with honorable mentions going to Tom Perrotta’s The Wishbones and Joe College, as well as Jay McInerney’s Brightness Falls:

5. Utterly Monkey, by Nick Laird

Utterly Monkey, which comes from Nick Laird — Zadie Smith’s husband — was, ironically, one of the first novels to try to capitalize on the lad lit label, demonstrating — perhaps — that books aimed specifically at young men don’t sell particularly well because when young men do read, it’s usually genre books and non-fiction. The novel is about two childhood neighborhood friends who meet again in the 20s — Danny is a lawyer, and Geordie is down-and-out and on the run from some IRA thugs. Laird throws in a bag of stolen money and a Northern Irish plot to appease the male caper sensibility, but at its heart, it’s a relationship book, driven by Laird’s penis, and a black co-worker in the story who seems to be based on his wife. It’s an amusing, laid back novel with energy to burn that also comically delves into office politics.

4. The Object of My Affection, by Stephen McCauley

Not all dick lit is about male-female relationships, and Stephen McCauley is perhaps the best known novelist to write about gay relationships in a chick-lit vein (only slightly higher brow). The Object of My Affection (which was made into a terrible movie starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) is about Nina, one of those chick-lit feminists (which is to say, she’s all about her career and nail polish, but really wants to find love), who has the perfect relationship with George, a kindergarten teacher. The catch? George is gay. Their relationship grows complicated when Nina gets pregnant by another man (a complete bastard). And while the plot’s complications are driven by the penis, it’s the way that their relationship works out despite their oppositional sexual orientations that makes The Object of My Affection such a great read.

3. The Frog King, by Adam Davies

Truly, honestly, one of my very favorite novels, The Frog King is classic dick lit about a struggling editor at a publishing house. Harry Driscoll is a lout, a boorish asshole who can’t keep his dick out of the wrong persons’ orifices, much to the dismay of his almost perfect girlfriend, Evie. There’s some good stuff in here about the politics of the publishing industry (or at least the publishing industry before people stopped buying books), but it’s mostly about how Harry Driscoll tries to win back his girlfriend after treating her like shit. It’s a witty, clever and ultimately heartbreakingly tragic look at a failed lover story about a guy who can’t commit, who learns too late that he should’ve. The Frog King is not a book many women (I presume) would appreciate, because the lead character is such a willful, misanthropic fucking jerk, unless that woman ultimately tames that guy (see: Pazienza, Jayne and Chez). But, for a guy in his 20s who seems to inadvertently sabotage everything in his life, there’s a lot here you can relate to.

2. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz

Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the wrinkle in this dick lit novel is that the guy at the center of it is both a second-generation Dominican American and an overweight ghetto geek obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy. The kid is cursed, and wants nothing more than to get rid of the virginity that’s burning a hole in his pocket, a difficult feat given his place in his New Jersey neighborhood. The kid can’t catch a break. It’s a coming of age story and simple geek wish-fulfillment (except for that whole cursed thing), but what makes Junot Diaz’s book exceptional dick lit is the humor and the writing, which blends all that geekery with Spanish colloquialisms, hip hop, video-game terminology, the immigrant experience, and layers and layers of plot.

1. High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

The godfather of dick lit, High Fidelity not only popularized the subgenre (which was arguably created by Hornby’s first book, Fever Pitch), it’s also the best of dick literature. There’s nothing I can say about the novel — about Rob Gordon, his music geekery, and his own commitment issues — that we haven’t already written on these pages, both about the book and the movie (which would also belong on a top five big-screen adaptations of a novel). It’s hilarious; it’s spot-on; and infinitely relatable. As I wrote when naming High Fidelity the third best book of the generation a few years back, Rob Gordon is “a character that turned pop-culture obsession into something more than the preoccupation of fanboys and geeks. In a way, he romanticized, and maybe even sexualized it. Rob Gordon has gotten a lot of us laid over the past decade — thanks to Hornby, an encyclopedic knowledge of Elvis Costello’s extensive back catalogue isn’t nerdy, it’s downright appealing to certain subset of liberal arts majors who wear horn-rimmed glasses, tight-fitting ironic T-shirts, can quote from the works of Gloria Steinem and Wes Anderson, and who will eventually name their children Zooey, Franny, Waker, or Seymour.”

A Seriously Random List LXII / Dustin Rowles

Lists | March 4, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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