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23rd November
2010
written by Steph

To all you chick lit/rom com lovers out there: Don’t say I never do anything for you! While I admit that the number of reviews here at S&TI! that feature the fluffier and zanier side of an estrogen-filled life as featured in books with pretty little high-heeled shoes on their spines is somewhat lacking, I wouldn't want anyone to think that’s because I have a vendetta against the genre. Far from it. I know that the Bridget Jones series has gotten some flack over the years, but I unabashedly admit to loving the books (it’s one of the few “Jane Austen inspired” spin-offs I can get behind) and the movies. I’ve also read the majority of the Shopaholic books, and no one knows better than Tony how much I dig sitting down to a girly movie like The Devil Wears Prada or The Prince and Me (surely a prime example of the “so bad it’s good!” school of movie making). Heck, When Harry Met Sally is one of my very favorite movies. I have been known to watch it on loop, laughing EVERY time. Some may call that boring, but I find it comforting. The same can be said for chick lit. I don’t read much of it any more, largely because I have found that I tend to prize prose and innovation in my recent reading material over the past few years. I think there are things that chick lit does very well, but one thing I tend not to find it is very surprising. Normally by reading the back cover, one has a pretty good idea of how things are going to shake out by the end, and while I do think there are authors out there who take a rather inventive approach to the genre (Emily Giffin is one such author, in my opinion), most of the time I find most chick lit formulaic. You have a sassy (if not clutzy or down-on her-luck) heroine who for various reasons cannot find Mr. Right (normally because she is currently involved in some capacity with Mr. Wrong). Throughout the course of the novel, said heroine goes on a journey of self-discovery that involves not a few embarrassing situations but it all pays off in the end because she miraculously manages to snag a man (or a job) who loves her “just as she is”. Cue the end credits and bump in one’s ovulation cycle and the novel has delivered all it has set out to do. We’ve laughed, maybe we’ve cried, but mostly we’ve been entertained, perhaps in a predictable and slightly mindless way, but hey, sometimes that’s what one needs. Having recently fallen into a rather craggy reading rut in which literally no book I picked up could hold my attention for more than 100 pages, I decided I needed to switch gears. Since none of the books I normally love to read were cutting it, maybe it was time to try something completely different. Like a good leading man, enter The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook. This was a galley I picked up on a whim while at BookPage, and which I brought home on the strength of the opening chapter which made me chuckle. Edward Middleton returns to his flat to find it has been ransacked… by his now ex-girlfriend. After 10 years together, Jane has packed up all her stuff and fled to Tibet, leaving behind a Dear John note that loudly proclaims it’s not her, it’s him. “You’ve let yourself go, so I’m letting you go, too”, she writes. Ouch. With a line like that, I knew I had to read more! I mean, a book that opens with such a colossal burn is exactly the kind that I knew would hold my interest. Jane says in her letter than she’s going to be away for three months so that she can get her head together and figure out what she wants from life when she gets back. Poor Edward, completely blindsided by this change, is unwilling to give up the ghost and decides he’s going to do everything he can to get Jane back. If that means refurnishing his apartment, hiring a personal trainer, and following whatever daft advice his friend Dan (a self-confessed ladies’ man) offers him, then so be it. So begins Edward’s wild ride on the road to recovery, er, self-discovery. Even though he’s lost Jane, he may just find something even better along the way: himself! So essentially this was chick lit, but with a male protagonist. And while much of it was predictable to those of us who have ever read this kind of book or watched a movie, it was still a whole lot of fun and was exactly what I needed to read. Sometimes you just need to prove to yourself that you can still read an entire book, you know? This book allowed me to do that. It was a quick, fun, easy read… If I could only read for 10 minutes at a time, it didn’t matter, because it wasn’t overly complicated, and the chapters were really short. I could read it while worrying about school or what I was going to make for dinner, and my entire experience with the book never suffered… not exactly something you can say about an A.S. Byatt novel! Even though I didn’t think this book was hugely ground-breaking or revolutionary in any way, I must say that it was nice to see a book where the gender roles are reversed. This is your Bradley Jones, if you will. So rarely do you read books where it's the men who feel they need to get into better shape or put in the effort that is usually ascribed to women in order to be successful romantic. I really appreciated that this book puts it out there – that men need to make an effort too and that romance is a two-way street. I also liked how this book explored the ways that we can lose ourselves when we’re in a relationship and also the way that when we’ve found our “one”, we can sometimes go into hibernation or even stagnate, letting the world pass us by as we are so cozily wrapped up in a world composed of two people. I do like when these kinds of books offer some food for thought when all is said and done, so even though I was never exactly surprised by this book, I did appreciate what it does. I admit that the book is probably wittiest in its first 35 pages or so, and the jokes were sometimes painfully corny (while Edward was sometimes impossibly obtuse). Additionally, I never understood Edward’s friendship with Dan who seemed to be a horrible human being and an even worse friend, but maybe there are some things about men I’ll never understand. Overall, The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook was good, solid read and offered something a little different even for those who guzzle these books by the bushel-full. If you’re in the mood for a lighter read, this is as good a bet as any. It certainly helped me deal with my reading slump! Rating: 3 out of 5

10 Comments

  1. 11/23/2010

    Ha, you just nailed my opinion of chick-lit with your intro paragraphs there. After spending a summer sometime in either high school or early college reading tons of chick-lit, I thought my brain would explode from predictability, and I haven’t been able to read much of it since. In fact, I noticed that I’ve read a mere TWO chick-lit novels since blogging, and I think it’s because I keep saving them for beach reads but my mind hasn’t wanted to go with mindless reading yet. Still, they serve their purpose.

  2. 11/23/2010

    Thanks for this post. Both the book and author are new to me

  3. mee
    11/23/2010

    You know, I love chick-flicks I do, but I can’t stand chick-lit (never even try to read one actually). I wonder why that is. Probably deep in my subsconciousness I think movie is fine as pure entertainment, while book has to be somewhat educational. The exception of this is comic books, which I can read purely for entertainment. Possibly taken into consideration the amount of time you spend to watch a movie is so much less than reading a book. So “junk” movies are okay, but no “junk” books for me!

  4. JoV
    11/24/2010

    You nailed the description of chick-lit very well Steph, I am going to link back here when I reviewed my Mini-Shopaholic – Kinsella’s latest book later.

    Chick-lit do make out that girls can’t manage their own finances, a shopaholic, stand by the phone and waiting for the phone to ring… it’s all very degrading and reinforce all the negative views a chauvinist would have about a woman.

    Yet! Yet, yet, yet… I find myself reading Kinsella’s books (only Kinsella), just because my girlfriend pester me to do so. So I read it, enjoy it because I came out of it with a few good laugh (not many books make you laugh these days), highly entertained and with uplifting mood.

    It is my guilty pleasure, one I shouldn’t indulge. Also like you said, after awhile, like you said, it’s formulaic. I’d rather go read loads of international fiction! 😉

  5. 11/24/2010

    @ Kari: Yes I read a lot of chick lit near the end of highschool (when I discovered Bridget Jones) and throughout college, but when I moved away for grad school, it somehow fell out of my reading favor. I think a large part of why I don’t read them anymore is not so much that I don’t like the books but that I simply don’t have any around the apartment, and so even when a lighter/funnier/fluffier read is what I’m craving, I simply don’t have them to choose from.
     
    @ Mystica: Yup, both were new to me too, but the book was a lot of fun, so I’m glad I gave it a whirl!
     
    @ mee: You’re right that a bad movie can generally be finished in under 2 hours where most books certainly require more of a commitment than that. Still, I rarely feel like chick-lit is “BAD” and like my time has been wasted or ruined by reading them. I certainly can read a chick lit novel in 1/3 of the time I would read anything else… easy enough to polish them off in an afternoon or so, if one is dedicated or enraptured! I see them like eating a bowl of popcorn – enjoyable in the moment, not full of much sustenance for afterwards, but ok every once in a while!
     
    @ JoV: I stopped reading the Shopaholic books after finishing “Shopaholic and Sister”… those books I found really fun at first, even though Becky is such a trainwreck, but I did become increasingly irritated that five books in she couldn’t figure out how to be sensible with her money.
    Anyway, I totally understand succumbing to “water cooler” items… I used to watch Gray’s Anatomy, not because I liked the show, but simply because everyone was watching it so I could take part in the conversations too! Thankfully it seems to have fallen out of favor, so I no longer need to subject myself to it!
     
    @ zibilee: I remember when the term “chick lit” was first used and I was actually really excited by the prospect of literature being marketed and directed to young, single ladies. It was exactly my demographic, and I had no shame in reading it. I still don’t actually, I just have moved away from it in search of other things. I don’t think it’s any better or worse than most books, but it does have some notable weaknesses. It’s great when an author can sort of reinvent the genre within a book, which I think this did to some extent.

  6. 11/24/2010

    I have never really been a big fan of chick-lit for some reason, but I have read my share. There was a time when chick-lit was all over the place, and it was the genre of choice for so many women. I think that chick-lit as a genre has sort of morphed into women’s fiction, which in my opinion is a little more hefty in terms of the situations it tackles. I loved your description of chick-lit as well, and do think that this book sounds like one I would like. It’s funny, I read a book last year that I described as “dude-lit” and though the author was a little chagrined by that, I thought that the description fit the book perfectly. It actually sounds a lot like this book, and that is one of the reasons I am so interested in reading it. Great review, Steph! I am glad that this book helped you out of your reading slump a bit!

  7. 11/24/2010

    I like a chick-lit once in a while, I’m reading about 4 a year, mostly in the summer, mostly after really depressing books, just to bring balance to the universe once again.

    The Prince and I – I know what you mean! Other similar guilty pleasures: She’s All That and Steel Magnolias (but this one is a good one, right?)

  8. 11/24/2010

    This one sounds cute! I’m not a big chick lit reader, for reasons similar to the ones you cited, but I love the idea of flipping the usual gender roles.

    I could never bring myself to read Bridget Jones. Once Renee Zellweger had become integrally linked to the story in my mind, I just couldn’t do it. And THAT is one of the reasons I’m not big on movie adaptations!

  9. […] like what Steph said about Chick lit in one of her comments… I see them (chick lits) like eating a bowl of popcorn – enjoyable in […]

  10. 11/30/2010

    @ Alex: I think my chick lit is now down to maybe 1 per year, but that’s really probably because I don’t have many books to choose from… I just got out of the habit of picking those kinds of books up and don’t have many in the apartment to choose from.
    Other good guilty pleasure movies: Anything with Molly Ringwald, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Can’t Hardly Wait!
     
    @ Erin: I read Bridget well before the Renee Zellweger era. I actually think she did a good job with the character, especially in the first film… but I’m also good at separating my own personal versions of characters from their movie depictions (for instance, I think Emma Watson is a great Hermione, but when I read the HP books, I don’t picture her while I read).

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