“When anybody asks, 'What are you writing about now?' if I try to reply, the book-in-the-works sounds so idiotic to me that I think, 'Why am I trying to write that puerile junk?' So now I give up; if I could talk about it, I wouldn't have to write it."
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet


Austen vs. Billerbeck?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I did it. I finished reading my first chick-lit novel – at least I think it was my first. I'm still not entirely sure of the definition of chick-lit.

I picked up a copy of She's All That by Kristen Billerbeck at the library last Friday. Holy Mama had recommended anything by Kristin Billerbeck, so I had to check it out. I felt just a teensy bit guilty reading it. It's squeaky clean, being written by a Christian author, but it's a bit shallow, and since I've been on a Jane Austen kick lately it was a bit of a jump for me. Now, like I said, this is not a review, but suffice it to say that you are not going to be presented with any life-changing revelations, unless perhaps it is the fact that God's love will never fail you, no matter how big your hair is.

When I started reading, I almost set it aside because it was written in the present tense. (or is that perfect present? I'm really bad with tenses.) That usually drives me nuts, but shortly after that I was hooked. The Geek would ask me, "How's the book?" and my reply would be, "Pretty shallow," without removing my eyes which were glued to the pages.

I couldn't stop reading! I had to know! Which guy would she end up with? The one
her friends hated with the dreamy eyes and the sexy English accent? The one who sat around watching TV all day and yet somehow managed to hang out with gorgeous model types? The one who rescued her more than once like a knight in shining armour but who didn't share her faith? I couldn't pull myself away.

In the end I came to a conclusion that may surprise and shock some of you. It happened when I was mulling over a conversation I'd had with the Geek. I was telling him about Mansfield Park which I was reading at the time, and still am, in fact. (I'm almost done. 30 pages left out of 574 and I still can't figure out how it's going to end.) I was explaining to him that Fanny, the heroine, was in love with her cousin Edmund (not a weird thing back then even if it has a huge eeewww factor now) who (not knowing Fanny loved him) was in love with Mary. Meanwhile, Mary's brother, Henry, whom Fanny despises, loves Fanny and in fact proposes to her, though unsuccessfully.

Did you catch all that? Sounds a bit like a soap opera to me. My Geek just rolled his eyes and laughed while muttering something about women's novels.

The conclusion I came to when thinking about this was that Jane Austen was really just the Kristen Billerbeck of the early 19th century. Come on now, stop gasping for breath. Think about what I just told you about Mansfield Park. While the language may fool us into thinking it's much more complex and important than a modern chick-lit novel, the truth is that the subject matter is just as shallow; it is just fit into the life of the people of Miss Austen's time rather than ours. The one thing that makes a Jane Austen novel higher than a Kristen Billerbeck novel is that it is written in an English language yet unspoilt. Miss Billerbeck simply writes in the language of today which is exactly what Miss Austen was doing at her time.

So there it is. My startling discovery. If you choose to argue with me I don't mind at all. I encourage it, in fact. I'm curious to see what arguments people might have to this subject.
What it all comes down to for me is that I enjoyed both novels (I still am enjoying one of them, though I expect to finish it today), and neither of them contained anything that would improve my life or my character, though one of them might improve my vocabulary. I still feel a small twinge of guilt for comparing them, but I believe I will continue to read books written by both authors, and I expect to continue enjoying them both.


At 3/30/2006 8:30 AM, Blogger Mom Nancy wrote:

I love Kristen Billerbeck and I love Jane Austin. I will admit that it's been years since I read any Austin, but since seeing a couple of movies based on her books recently, I've decided to read her again. I would love to write like Kristen, and in fact, consider her one of my heroines in the Christian Writing field.

BTW, congrats on winning NaNoWriMo! I did, too.

At 3/30/2006 8:57 AM, Blogger Jeana wrote:

Love it, love it! I haven't read Kristen Billerbeck, I love Jane Austen and I love me some shallow books and I love me some deep books to. (And I'm starting to love me some Geekwif)

At 3/30/2006 9:49 PM, Blogger Blond Girl wrote:

I've always loved me some Geekwif, but then again, that is exacTly the point, isn't it? You're completely right. Chic lit doesn't have to be dirty - just engrossing.

At 3/31/2006 1:44 AM, Blogger Impetua wrote:

Oh, this is so my life right now. My MIL gave me some chicky chicky chick chick books for Christmas (Elm Creek Quilts novels by Jennifer Chiaverini, they are pretty squeaky I must say though I don't know of her religious persuastion) and oh man, I was off and running. Then I stumbled across another series (Bad Girl Creek books by I forget who, a little more controversial subject matter and less squeaky but still pretty tame IMHO) and spent another two weeks reading those. Engrossing and soap opera-y and so not changing my life. But if I didn't need the escape, I guess I wouldn't have read them...

I guess if you dressed them up in period costume and gave them English accents you could pass them off as sort of Austen-esque...

At 3/31/2006 4:26 PM, Blogger yellojkt wrote:

Jane Austen was the chick-lit of the nineteenth century. the key is we are still reading her. Can't say as much for the contemporary ones.

At 3/31/2006 10:10 PM, Blogger Geekwif wrote:

Aw shucks. You like you some Geekwif – you girls are just too darn sweet.

BG, don't think I missed that capital T. Oh yeah, I saw it. ;)

Yellojkt, you are absolutely correct. I seriously doubt that the chick-lit of today will still be read 200 years from now. It does strike me though, the similarities of the subject matter. All in all, they both make good reading on a cold rainy night (or day) when curled up in a big comfy chair.

At 4/01/2006 10:42 PM, Anonymous HolyMama! wrote:

and guess waht? k.b. is a HUGE jane austen fan, so she'd be thrilled by what you wrote. really. she even named one of her kids after a character.


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