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Heroines of chick-lit turn a new page

Cover of "The Penny Pinchers Club" by Sarah Strohmeyer

Cover of "Sleepless Nights" by Sarah Bilston

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: Book sales are flat or even down these days. But one of the bestselling genres since the 1990s
has been so-called "chick lit." You know the books -- the ones with a pink high heel on the cover and stories about shopping for the perfect man and the perfect shoes to go with him.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh says lately the prime audience for those stories is not feeling so footloose.


Eve Troeh: It started with Bridget Jones and her diary.

SCENE FROM BRIDGET JONES MOVIE: Daily call from Jude: best friend, head of investment at Brightling's Bank, who spends most of her time trapped in the ladies toilet crying over boyfriend.

The 1996 book was a bestseller. The 2001 movie grossed more than $280 million.

By 2006 the New York Times Review of Books declared a chick lit "pandemic." Books like "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and "In Her Shoes" sold millions of copies. The 30-something heroines, with high-paying jobs and high-limit credit cards, spent their way through their troubles.

Now, the recession's hit. And the ladies of chick lit are feeling the pinch.

Publisher's Weekly deputy editor Johnny Segura says the stories have to change.

Johnny Segura: To not address it is one thing, but to have a book that sort of flies in the face of what's happening is another thing altogether.

Author Sarah Bilston wrote "Sleepless Nights" last year. It's about a corporate lawyer juggling work and a new baby. Before it was released in the U.S. this summer...

Sarah Bilston: I read the first page, having not read it for about 4 months, and my heart sank.

It described t a glitzy party with people talking about lavish vacations.

Bilston: By page 200 my head was in my hands.

Bilston rewrote whole chapters of the book. Wall Street lawyers traded swagger for anxiety. The heroine's choice between work and family got harder.

Bilston: When difficulty strikes characters do have to think on their feet, and I think it makes them actually a lot more vibrant.

Another author, Sarah Strohmeyer, didn't have to rewrite. She saw disaster coming, and wrote "The Penny Pinchers Club."

Sarah Strohmeyer: People weren't at jobs earning enough to make the mortgage payments, you knew something had to give.

Her heroine starts buying in bulk and dumpster diving. Strohmeyer says chick lit is really about strong women, not just glamor. And a job loss or foreclosure gives those women a chance to triumph.

STROHMEYER: First thing you're going to do if you're a true chick-lit person is you're going to say, "I can do it, all I have to do is get myself looking good, get my friends, and figure out how we're going to handle this." And somewhere along the way you're going to meet some guy.

And a new catch phrase to describe these stories is already bubbling up -- "recessionista lit."

In Los Angeles I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

Cover of "Sleepless Nights" by Sarah Bilston

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