by Rowan Coleman
‘What do you want to write about?’ Kev asked me.
‘Oh I don’t know,’ I said blithely, ‘how about my personal top ten most influential chick lit books?’
Well what was I thinking? I mean how can I narrow down the list of books that I have loved, and that have meant something to me as a reader and writer down to only ten!
Its nearly impossible, so I thought, I know, I’ll do what I always do, I’ll ask Twitter. Big mistake. All that did was throw up hundreds more books that I’ve read and loved, or books I’ve yet to read and love, and made me all the more confused and anxious. What if I missed someone off the list that I shouldn’t? What if I made a mistake?
So I shut my office door, I switched off Twitter (slightly) and closed my eyes and had a good think about the ten books that have meant the most to me. You might be surprised to find some of them on this list, you might think, that’s not chick-lit, wait, that one is even written by a MAN! But good fiction, beautiful fiction, wonderfully written, fantastically spectacular fiction is simply that, whether it’s a woman who is reading or writing it, or even a, you know man type person.
So, here is my personal top ten most important chick lit books EVER. Please note, this is not a count down, they come in the order I read them, kind of, not in order of importance.
1. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
I don’t suppose that when Nick wrote this book he ever thought about which gender he was writing for, or indeed his own gender. And if you asked him, he’d probably say, don’t be so ridiculous it’s not a chick lit book, its just a book that I wrote, about love and life, and humour and sadness. In any case this is a book that was very important to me as a writer. It was one of the first books that I read that I felt spoke to me personally, yes it’s about a boy (see what I did there?) tracking down his ex girlfriends, trying to find out where it all went wrong, but its also about a moment in life, the struggle to finally be a real grownup. Its about passion, and music, laughter, friendship and love. And when I read it I thought, yeah, this is a book that could be about me. I would like to write books like this one day, I’d like to write the kind of books I like to read.
2. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
I was working as a very impoverished bookseller when I got hold of a proof of this book. Back in those days I ate and drank only what publishers gave away for free at launch parties, which happened to be tiny food and warm white wine. I lived on my credit card, and was hurtling recklessly towards massive financial ruin, but I didn’t care because I was working amongst the books I loved in the city I loved. I was twenty-something and didn’t read newspapers, so the proof of Bridget Jones Diary was my first experience of Bridget in all of her glory. How I laughed, how I nodded in recognition, how I jumped up and down with joy that finally, at last someone had written a book just for me, Bridget Jones was the first of this genre that people call Chick Lit and it is still, and always will be, one of the best. I think I must have hand sold about 400 copies of this book in the little independent shop I worked in, just next to London Bridge. I loved it so much that I wanted everyone who walked in through the door to buy a copy, no matter who they were. ‘Oh you came in for a book on the history of Iron Age Man? Why not try Bridget Jones Diary, instead?’ We writers dream about booksellers feeling that way about one of our books.
3. Sushi For Beginners by Marian Keyes
This was the first of Marian Keye’s books that I read, and it started me on a long fan girl love affair with this most brilliant and masterful of writers. This books, and all of Marian’s books raise the game, taking the genre to new heights of brilliance, depth, and humour. I will never forget how I felt when I finished Sushi for Beginners, how it had made me laugh out loud, weep, and cheer. How I adored the characters, the writing, and how in awe I was of Marian Keye’s skill in balancing light and dark, humour and emotion. She is simply the best.
4. Ralph’s Party by Lisa Jewell
Rarely is a book so beloved, and such an enduring favourite amongst its readers as ‘Ralph’s Party. It has got some sort of magic sparkling quality about it, something that is so precious and so difficult to create – it’s like capturing lightening in a bottle. Funny, sharp, and clever it’s a seemingly simple story of three flats in a house, and what becomes of the people that live there, but it’s so much more than that. Lisa cleverly intertwines a large cast of characters that are endearing and appealing, and make you really care what happens to them. It’s a master class of characterisation.
5. The Temp by Serena Macksey
When I was writing my first novel, ‘Growing Up Twice’ my editor told me to go and read this book, because it was intelligent, original, fast paced and gripping. Well, she was right. The story of The Temp, a faceless woman who’s name no one ever bothers to learn, held me from the very first page. This is more than a romance, its intricately plotted and fast paced with some real edge of seat moments, and a slightly darker edge that make it a truly brilliant novel.
6. One Day by David Nicholls
I’ve been a fan of Nicholls since the Start for Ten days, but I admit that this was one of those books that I was reluctant to read. Firstly I was jealous, I mean seriously, what a completely brilliant idea? And secondly it was one of those books that everyone tells you to read. EVERYONE. So I resisted for a very long time, and then one day, I casually picked up the copy I had and glanced at the first few pages, and then barely put it down again until it was finished. It’s a gorgeous book, centered around a beautiful concept, its pure romance, a ton of drama and characters you will never forget. I love it very much, and I treasure my signed copy! Its one of the few books I have that I actually hug sometimes.
7. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
It’s hard to sum up exactly how important this wonderful book is. In creating such a universally loved, and admired novel, that didn’t shy away from dark and difficult subjects, with the deftest of touches, JoJo Moyes went a long way to having all of commercial fiction, particularly that which is written by women, taken more a good deal more seriously. A heartbreaking premise of a young woman and man fighting against the hand that fate has dealt them to find happiness, it has at its heart tremendous warmth, and a love of humanity and an understanding of life, and how it is lived, that takes it to another level. Sublime.
8. The Tennis Party by Madeline Wickham (AKA Sophie Kinsella)
Back to my days as a bookseller again. It was summer, and copies of The Tennis Party arrived along with a crate of Pimms and some tennis balls for a window display, although, that is not the reason why I loved this book, and went on to become a huge Sophie Kinsella fan. There’s something so smart about The Tennis Party which is also sexy and funny, and satirical and very grown up. It’s a very different read from the glorious Sophie Kinsella books, which I am also a massive fan of, but if you haven’t read it yet, then try it. You’ll love it.
9. Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon
Sometime in the late nineties I became very ill with pleurisy and spent six weeks in bed. My boss sent me a lot of books including the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. The premise is a little bonkers. In 1945 a woman called Claire, walks through a stone circle and ends up in Scotland 1743, where she meets Jamie. Crazy, right? But let me tell you, this is one of the finest stories you will ever, ever read. Imagine Game of Thrones, but based on meticulously researched historical fact, with the most sweeping and deliriously enduring love story that I have ever read. There is action, there is drama, there is time travel, and no-one but no-one can pull this off with the skill and epic talent for story telling that Diana Gabaldon has. Pick up this book and you will be swept away in an adventure that you will live and breathe alongside the characters. And the time travel? It totally makes sense.
10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
If you asked me for a witty, perfectly written, socially aware, satirical book about love, marriage and the prospects of a young single woman with a fierce intelligence, complete with beautifully drawn characters, wonderfully crafted plot, and enough unresolved romantic tension to beat ALL unresolved romantic tension EVER? Then of course the books I’d have to hand you would be Pride and Prejudice. It annoys the hell of me when people get cross about this incredible, iconic novel being labeled as ‘chick lit’ as if that is something, that is somehow demeaning. The people who hate chick lit are the people who don’t read it. They are the people who assume that women’s fiction is always about boyfriends and shoes, but as you know, they couldn’t be more wrong. I feel sorry for them, for these people are missing out on a world of fabulously crafted, entertaining, emotionally challenging, satisfying reading. And the mother of all of these wonderful books? Well, there is a direct family tree that leads right back to Austen, and this novel. This novel, my friends, is sheer perfection.
11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I know it’s a top ten but I can’t get to the end of this post without mentioning the book I love about all others. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I love this book, I love it, I love it, I love it. It’s the most brilliant, ground breaking, gripping, emotional, original, wonderful book ever. And have I mentioned that I love it? Reader, I love it.
Rowan Coleman has written 12 women’s fiction books and a collection of children’s books. Her latest book, The Memory Book is out now! She also writes under her alter-ego, Scarlett Bailey. Two Weddings and A Baby will be out in June. She is lovely. Tweet her at @rowancoleman or @ScarlettBailey.