High-Brow Chick Lit — By Heidi

For a long time, my reading modus operandi was ridiculously exclusive. I refused to read books about children, anyone over the age of 40, animals, men, or losers. No nonfiction. No historic or rural settings. No magic-realism. No nerdy sci-fi. Very few male authors and mostly limited to ones from North America.

What did that leave? Novels by and about successful, contemporary, urban women in their 20s and 30s. But it got even more specific. I didn’t read (or openly admit to reading, at least) “chick lit” novels. No Sophie Kinsella or Emily Giffin. They had to be more high-brow, more literary. Chick lit for the discerning woman.

My reading tastes have thankfully evolved to include novels about contemporary urban men in their 20s and 30s, nonfiction books about women, and contemporary novels with children as (minor) characters.

However, when it comes to going on holiday, especially beach vacations where I tend to indulge in excessive laziness and an afternoon margarita (or two), I revert back to my old ways. As my week in the Caribbean is booked and fast approaching, I thought I’d get into the spirit by offering up some of my high-brow chick lit faves:

Emperor's ChildrenClaire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children is like an erudite version of Sex in the City – younger, better educated and swimming in pathos.



One DayOne Day, by David Nichols, is a clever love story with extremely well-wrought characters. Disregard the horrible movie version – the book is a million times better.



Dive from Claussen's PierThe Dive From Clausen’s Pier, by Ann Packer, attempts to answer the question of what would happen if the love of your early-20-something life became severly quadriplegic. Would you stay? Would you go? The main character’s decisions regarding this premise are fascinating.



My Year of MeatsIf you like a little environmental activism with your chick lit, may I recommend a hearty dose of Ruth Ozeki, whose novels My Year of Meats and All Over Creation feature plotlines about the meat and oil industries, with a healthy dash of humour.



How Should a Person Be2And finally, for the hipsters who like their high-brow chick lit set in ironic diners and art galleries, try Sheila Heti’s experimental and provocative novel How Should a Person Be. While not for everyone, those who can relate to having a “pretentious 20s” phase will get a kick out of Heti’s post-modern existential identity crisis couched in sex, drugs and party dresses.


  1. Two that might fit your list: Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, and Katrina Onstad’s How happy to be. I see the latter has a new novel–i am so out of it now when it comes to keep up with what’s new!–which I have on my “must read” list.

  2. Lorraine, I love Curtis Sittenfeld. Prep and American Wife are two of my all-time favourites. Good call. I read Onstad’s newest novel and wasn’t thrilled by it, but I’ve heard How Happy to Be is fantastic. I’ll add it to my to-read list.

  3. This post made me laugh Heidi! I am a self-professed chick-lit, romance novel addict 🙂 I like to think of myself as a romance connoisseur but after reading this post I feel some of my past book choices may seem a bit juvenile to you! I am always looking for something new in the romance department and I will definitely look into your suggestions.

    I just finished a series of three books (The Look to the Future Series) by author Mary Metcalfe (http://www.lakefrontmuse.ca/). The books are “Winds of Change” “New Beginnings” and “Road to Tomorrow.” Mary Metcalfe’s writing can be compared to authors Nora Roberts and Jodi Picoult. They are all stories about second chances, dealing with loss and starting over again and allowing love and happiness into your life! I think all of her characters are easy to relate to, flawed, and loveable. If you get a chance to read even one I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!!

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