DATE July 7, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
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been omitted from this transcript
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Review: Summer pink books
TERRY GROSS, host:
Book critic Maureen Corrigan is seeing pink this summer, and she's not at all
sure that it's a flattering color.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
Harry Potter's latest outing may be the hottest novel of the summer, but while
all eyes have been trained on wizards, Hogwarts and the astounding amount of
moola they generate, another literary phenomenon has been slipping under the
door: pink books. All of a sudden I'm surrounded by pink books. They arrive
in every week's delivery of review copies, a rash of pink novels mostly, but
some pink non-fiction, all written by women, all taking place in New York
City, almost all featuring stiletto heels or some other kick-butt version of
female footwear on their pink book jackets. The mixed visual message here is
that the heroines of these stories are Powerpuff Girls, tough for sure, but
also girly enough to wear pink.
Trace the pink book trend to the reissuing this summer of the original pink
book, Helen Gurley Brown's 1962 manifesto "Sex and the Single Girl." That's
the book that tutored women on how to be acrobatic geishas to the men in their
life. It's been out of print for nearly 20 years, and its republication
surely owes something to the popularity of the HBO hit "Sex and the City." In
turn, we owe that TV series to the column of the same name published in The
New York Observer by Candace Bushnell. She has a new pink book out this
summer called "Trading Up." So does Amanda Brown, who wrote the novel that
became the movie "Legally Blonde." Brown's new pink book is called "Family
Trust," and the high heels on its cover are lower than the ones on Bushnell's,
but that's because her ambitious single-girl heroine turns out to be a lot
There's a very entertaining new pink book with recipes by Amanda Hesser, a
food columnist for The New York Times. Its title is "Cooking For Mr. Latte,"
and it doesn't display sadomasochistic shoes on its book jacket, but rather
the ultimate jackpot for the pink book heroines, a nice rich guy. And there's
a pink first novel by Hannah McCouch called "Girl Cook." Her cover features a
woman outfitted in a pink bandana and pink chef's pants wearing combat boots.
These pink books are, believe me, a small sampling of a veritable Pepto-Bismol
tidal wave. They vary in literary quality and likability, but they all share
a basic `think pink' plot, a plot that maybe tells us something about the
pinking of post-feminism.
Amanda Brown's novel, "Family Trust," offers the `think pink' plot in its most
unpolluted form. Its heroine is a young, beautiful New York businesswoman
described this way: `Nothing about Becca Reinhart or her restless,
money-drenched world was delicate.' Indeed, all pink heroines sport shells as
hard as Gloria Steinem's old aviator glasses in order to compete in the men's
worlds of high finance and gourmet food. Our swaggering pink heroines
sometimes toss around four-letter words, and they all demonstrate their buying
power and discrimination by relentless references to high-end brand names and
locales. Bushnell is the worst offender in this regard. `Life wasn't worth
living if you couldn't have the best it had to offer,' advises her heroine.
And barely a page goes by in "Trading Up" without some mention of class
signifiers, like Louis Vuitton duffel bags or the Hamptons. Even Bushnell's
strained allusions throughout her novel to Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens
come off like literary product placements.
On the less hot pink end of the spectrum, Hesser, who is by far the best
writer as well as the most self-aware and endearing heroine of the bunch,
mockingly calls her then-boyfriend Mr. Latte because he commits the faux pas
of ordering a cafe latte after his meal on their first date. Those who know
about food know that's simply not done. `He needed a lot of reform,' writes
Hesser, and reform, culminating in the ultimate reward of marriage, is what
pink plots are about.
With the exception of Bushnell's heroine, all these pink heroines find rosy
true love with wealthy men from aristocratic backgrounds. McCouch's renegade
chef sails off into the sunset with a man who wears tasseled loafers. Hesser
moves out of her cramped apartment and settles with Mr. Latte into a
brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, equipped with a Viking stove and subzero
freezer. Besides nabbing her blue-blood guy, Brown's Becca Reinhart even
becomes an instant mother to a four-year-old girl. Bushnell's heroine departs
from this pattern of patrician pairing because, unlike the others, down deep
she's not good and kind, so she's punished at the end of "Trading Up" by
having to settle for the empty consolations of more money and greater fame.
There's nothing wrong with romance, even romance between feisty heroines and
Mr. Darcy look-alikes. But when I think about the values that these pink
books uphold--consumerism, the monied aristocracy, the essential rightness of
the status quo--it strikes me that while the women in these books are
liberated, their social vision isn't liberating. I wish these books were a
little less pink and maybe just a little more pinko.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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