Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Women's Fiction: What's the appeal?

Women’s Fiction:  What’s the Appeal?
(Originally appeared on the now defunct Libraries Unlimited's Reader's Advisor News online newsletter:)

I was chatting with a male patron recently, and he wanted to know what makes a book “women’s fiction”.  As a non-librarian, non-book industry person, he wanted to know, was it simply books about women?  It’s a little more nuanced than that.

As we talked, one of the points that came up was that the majority of readers seem to be female.  This may simply be a generalization, but it’s held true at the libraries I’ve worked at.  And one thing you’ll notice – women read across the board, while men don’t.  You will often see women reading a Harlan Coben thriller, a recent nonfiction blockbuster, or a hard-boiled detective story, but you’d be hard pressed to find a male reader who counts Nora Roberts, Jennifer Weiner, or Sophie Kinsella among his favorite authors.   

So, if women will read just about anything, what’s the special appeal of Women’s Fiction?  

Women’s Fiction is that catch-all term that covers fiction focused on the trials and tribulations of modern women.   It’s difficult to call it a genre, because the scope of the story can cover so many other genres – there can be mystery or suspense elements, it can take place in a different era, it can be funny, or sad, or often both.  

The appeal really is that when a reader picks up a Women’s Fiction novel, she is looking for a sense of recognition.  As a reader, I love being able to identify with a character.   From sad moments to happy celebrations to “thank goodness that never happened to me” – it’s pleasurable and comforting to escape into a story that you connect with on a certain level.  If I had to boil it down, I would say - we read nonfiction to learn something; we read suspense to get a thrill; we read science fiction and fantasy to take ourselves to another world; we read Women’s Fiction to identify and feel recognition.  

As I explained some of this to my patron, he of course then wanted to know, “So, what makes something “Men’s Fiction?”.  That’s a little harder to pin down.  Is there such a thing as “Men’s Fiction”?  I jokingly told him that everything else was men’s fiction, women just chose to read it as well.  I would be interested in hearing your responses.  Is there anything that holds the same appeal to male readers, and almost exclusively to male readers?  All the books I could think of right off the bat were books that I know have female readership as well.  Is there a sense of recognition in typical “male” books?  Are our male readers even interested in that factor?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Miss Harper Can Do It by Jane Berentson

Elementary school teacher Annie Harper's boyfriend David is deployed to Iraq in 2003, and she begins a journal for herself, envisioning a blockbuster memoir. Instead of a sappy romantic tell-all, however, she ends up using the journal to vent, fantasize, clear her head, and figure out what she wants from her relationship.  She alternates between missing David deeply and being angry with him for leaving; she has plenty of arguments (on paper) with George W. Bush as well. Static-y phone calls and occasional emails aren’t enough to keep her satisfied.To quell her loneliness, she adopts a pet chicken and volunteers at a nursing home, becoming friends with a woman whose husband may have been a World War II hero.Meanwhile, her best friend Gus becomes more and more attractive, and Annie has to determine whether or not this is a symptom of missing David.
Berentson peppers her realistic tale with funny situations and dialogue.  Although Annie is decidedly anti-war, readers of any political persuasion can sympathize with her complex emotions, and her story rings true.

copyright 2009 Library Journal/Rebecca Vnuk


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review: Mermaids in the Basement by Michael Lee West

Mermaids in the Basement by Michael Lee West. 

Screenwriter Renata comes from a true Southern family, complete with a formidable grand dame grandmother.  When Renata’s actor boyfriend is written up in the tabloids for an alleged affair, she runs away to grandmother’s estate, Point Clear, in Alabama.  Still mourning her mother’s untimely death, she is looking for solace and rest.  Unfortunately, she finds life getting more dramatic as the days go on.  At her father’s engagement party, his new fiancĂ©e is found unconscious in a pool and Renata is the prime suspect.  She can’t seem to get in touch with her boyfriend to get the straight story from him.  And she discovers that her parents led secret lives she was never privy to, until now.  Grandmother Honora and pals have decided it’s time to let all of the skeletons out of the family closets.
West has a knack for realistic and engaging characters.  This is a charming tale that will keep readers wanting to know more about the characters inhabiting Point Clear. 

copyright 2008, Library Journal/Rebecca Vnuk


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is it weird to blog about an article you wrote for another blog?

Probably, but I'm going to anyway.

Here is a brief article I wrote for The Readers Advisor, on the appeal of books to female vs male readers.

"So, if women will read just about anything, what's the special appeal of Women's Fiction?"


Really, I would love to know what you think. Do women read anything? What (if anything) makes something "men's" fiction??

Thursday, September 10, 2009


So this journalist is going to do an experiment, where she writes an entire chick lit novel in "real time". Having read some chick lit that sure felt like it was written in a month, I'm pretty sure it can be done, if not very well. : )

Saving Face? Or Losing My Mind by Dahlia Lithwick

What I really liked about her explanation article is this paragraph:
"One of the things I want to probe in this month of writing is the question of why we see chick lit as an escape. What is it about women who are overscheduled, underappreciated, and who at some point become invariably compromised by an undergarment, that appeals to us?"

In the introductory material to my 2 books, I explain the appeal factors of Women's Fiction. In a nutshell, it's that women like to read these novels because we love that aha! moment - where you say, "I know that girl!", "I AM that woman", "That just happened to me", or, "Dang, I'm glad that DIDN'T happen to me!". We love to recognize friends on the page.

Monday, August 17, 2009

NYT Talks Chick Lit

More Gumption, Less Gucci

"And yet, even the most lurid accounts of conspicuous consumption have never been entirely escapist, said Mallory Young, the editor, with Suzanne Ferriss, of “Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction” (Routledge, 2005). “Chick lit usually responds through comedy to real situations confronting real women,”Ms. Young maintains. Unlike romance novels, chick lit “recognizes and responds to the world outside,” she said. "

Friday, August 14, 2009

NPR talks Chick Lit

Interesting piece on NPR about how the recession is affecting Chick Lit... or is it?

Is the Recession Hurting Women's Fiction? Or Just Hurting Shoe Fiction?


"Because shoe fiction was never a reality-based genre, ever. EVER. If you were ever inclined to sit down and read Confessions Of A Shopaholic in the first place, you're not going to turn it down and choose Confessions Of A Costco Bulk Purchaser Of Cheerios instead."

Friday, August 7, 2009

I'm blushing!!! My 2nd review

Full Disclosure: this WAS written by a libraryland friend of mine, but I think it counts as unsolicited...

Booklist: A New Reader's Resource: http://bookgroupbuzz.booklistonline.com/2009/08/01/a-new-readers-resource/

Readers' Advisory Goddess Kaite Mediatore Stover says:
"I’ve found a new tool to help me select books for my book groups and prepare in advance for the meetings....this book is a great help for book group facilitators. Rebecca’s book does what I want other books to do. Gathers popular authors who are current favorites with book club members, provides lists of works, some readalikes, and resources to hel0p boost the discussion."

Thanks Kaite!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
Addie has always been the good, quiet girl in comparison to her freewheeling friend Valerie. Everything changed in high school, when Valerie became one of the popular girls. When jock Dan Swansea sexually assaults Valerie, Addie comes to her rescue, only to be betrayed when Valerie denies everything, leaving Addie humiliated and outcast. Fifteen years later, on the night of their high school reunion, Valerie decides to try and make things right, only to end up turning their worlds upside down. In her revenge attempt on Dan, she runs him over with her car, leaving him for dead. Once again she turns to Addie for help, and the two set of on the run from the law. Local detective Jordan Novick has problems of his own, but is intrigued by a belt and a pool of blood found in a parking lot, and is shortly hot on the case.
Weiner’s latest showcases her talent for richly drawn, realistic characters. She deftly weaves in multiple backstories and subplots, punctuating her story with plenty of humor. Highly recommended for all fans of women’s fiction.

copyright 2009, Library Journal/Rebecca Vnuk

Wow, my first review!

I am so pleased to report that Rick Roche, librarian at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library and author of Real Lives Revealed: A Guide to Reading Interests in Biography, has reviewed my book Read On ... Women's Fiction on his blog!!


Read On ... Women's Fiction is going to be handy to have around the library. Jamie and Annie may get some book list and display ideas from it. It will give me some titles to suggest to the next reader who has finished the Sophie Kinsella books. At Thomas Ford, we are going to circulate it and the other Read On Series guides to let readers discover more titles on their own."

Thanks Rick!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reviews of Rebecca's books

Midwest Book Review on The Weeding Handbook: "Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Weeding Handbook: A Shelf-by-Shelf Guide" is thoroughly 'user friendly' and should be considered an essential, core addition to college and university Library Science instructional reference collections. Every community, academic, corporate, and governmental library system should have a copy of "The Weeding Handbook" available for use by their library staff members."

Booklist on Read On... -http://www.booklistonline.com/default.aspx?page=show_product&pid=3644825

Booklist on Women's Fiction Authors - http://www.booklistonline.com/default.aspx?page=show_product&pid=3669810

Librarian Kaite Mediatore Stover on Women's Fiction Authors - http://bookgroupbuzz.booklistonline.com/2009/08/01/a-new-readers-resource/

Librarian Rick Roche on Read On... - http://ricklibrarian.blogspot.com/2009/06/read-on-womens-fiction-reading-lists.html

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Author Research Series: Women's Fiction Authors

Students, researchers, readers' advisors, and fiction fans will find a starting point for researching popular women's fiction authors and to find new ones with this practical guide. It includes entries for approximately 75 leading contemporary authors, listing print and online sources, as well as Web sites for obtaining authoritative information.

Women's Fiction Authors: A Research Guide (Author Research Series)

Read On: Women's Fiction

Created to offer a different perspective on women's fiction and to reach a broad reading audience (including fans), Read On...Women's Fiction: Reading Lists for Every Taste offers new reading paths for women's fiction lovers. Rebecca Vnuk categorizes and lists hundreds of popular women's fiction titles, but her scope is more current and more selective than that found other guides, the tone is lighter and more informal, annotations are shorter and livelier. Most important, the organization and approach are based on various appeal factors of the genre, rather than on the formal genres and subgenres adhered to by other guides.
Use these lists to advise readers; to create thematic reading lists for library websites, flyers, and newsletters; and as checklists or reading plans for those who enjoy women's fiction.

Read On...Women's Fiction: Reading Lists for Every Taste (Read On Series)