Confessing (One of) My Literary Sins: The Shopaholic Series

Okay. I admit it! I like chick lit. I do. I know that as a self-proclaimed student of serious literature that I shouldn’t. But I can’t help it. The books are funny and, for me, the ultimate escape. I can read them quickly without effort and at the end I feel relaxed and rejuvenated. Where’s my literary self-respect? I guess when it comes to one particular chick lit author, I have none. I’ve read every last book by Sophie Kinsella. She’s famous for her Shopaholic series, which became a movie starring Isla Fisher in 2009. The movie mashes several of the books into one plot, which is why I would recommend reading the books instead.

Now, if you’re sensitive to swearing, these books aren’t for you. They aren’t riddled with expletives, but the occasional f-bomb will appear. The author is British, and I don’t know if that has anything at all to do with why she uses the mother of all swear words more than I would, but we’ll say that’s why. And as a side note, when British people swear, it just sounds elegant. One of my English professors is British. She can make any nasty word sound lovely, and she did.

My favorite part of Kinsella’s books is the fact that her main characters (basically all a version of Becky Bloomwood, the protagonist of the Shopaholic series) are hilarious. They are the Lucy Ricardos of fiction. My favorite television show is I Love Lucy. I love the antics, the slap stick comedy, and the zaniness of the situations. I am somewhat buttoned up and boring, therefore characters who create drama through seemingly crazy decisions delight me. I will never be that person, but I can live vicariously through Lucy and Becky. For me, reading their foibles is a safe way for me to act out, in my head, on the couch, while eating bonbons.

I recently finished Kinsella’s newest book I’ve Got Your Number. It’s about an engaged woman named Poppy Wyatt who loses her priceless, emerald engagement ring at the novel’s start. She also ends up losing her phone in the midst of this terror and finding another phone – another company’s phone – in the trash. Well, hilarity ensues as the owner of that phone wants it back and she desperately clings to it as her only lifeline to finding her engagement ring. I had already laughed out loud five times while reading at only a third of the way through the book. At one point, Poppy (whose name I keep wanting to mistype as “Poopy” – I guess I’ve been a mom for too long) ends up stalling a group of Japanese businessmen by pretending to be a singing telegram. She sings “Mr. Yamasaki” to the tune of Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies over and over until the person who wants the man stalled arrives.

I know, as I describe this scene it sounds ridiculous. For those of you who are high minded about literature (which I am, I promise), this is not going to get your attention. I’m sure you’ve decided that I’m nuts. Why would anybody enjoy such stupidity? But, I do. I really do.

In my defense, there is a scene in which Poppy’s future in-laws, all academics with Ph.D.s, play Scrabble with her. They put down gargantuan words that score 50 to 70 points a pop. I’ve scored such words before, but not on every single turn. (My current score on an online version of Scrabble called Lexulous that I’m playing with my husband is 334 to 165. See, I’m pretty good!) Anyway, I won’t ruin the scene for you, but Poppy ends up winning the game in a humorous manner. So, Scrabble makes this book okay, right?

There’s another mix up in which a male friend of Poppy’s takes her to get a fake engagement ring made so her snooty, future in-laws won’t discover her mistake at losing it. The shop girls believe Poppy is picking out an engagement ring with the friend, so when they realize that she’s picked a fake and then downgrades the material it’s made from in front of them, they are aghast at cheapness of her supposed “fiance.” Then, he makes her pay for it, since he’s just a friend, not her betrothed. I could not stop chuckling at this scene, as the value of the ring kept plummeting and the gasps of the shop girls got more incredulous.

Now, Sophie Kinsella is a pen name. Her real name is Madeleine Wickham and she once wrote more serious novels. I read one once. It wasn’t good. In fact, it was terrible. I’m not criticizing her. I think if I wrote a novel it would probably fall flatter than I thought hers did. However, what I admire about her is the reinvention. She got a pen name, changed her writing style, and voila, she’s a bestselling, filthy rich, movie-contract-getting author. Her work may be rubbish, as the British would say, but she’s good at it and she’s become successful because of it.

Madeleine Wickham, a.k.a. Sophie Kinsella, from Wikimedia Commons

And, it’s not really rubbish. It’s amusing and it’s entertaining. I’m a fan, and since I’m posting this for everybody to see, I guess I now have to openly admit that I like Sophie Kinsella novels and chick lit. What literary confessions can you make? Are you a closet fan of anything?

And don’t worry. I won’t be confessing to love any book in the Twilight series. Ever.