What is it about summer that turns serious readers of Pulitzer winners and Oprah selections into avid consumers of trashy novels? Maybe it's the heat, or figuring out the correct SPF levels, or navigating beach traffic -- there just aren't enough brain cells left to tackle any heavy reading.
That's why God, or someone in marketing, invented chick lit, the female literary equivalent of the summer blockbuster. The stories feature lots of bang for the buck without having to waste time on fussy things like plot feasibility or depth of character.
Its latest incarnation, gossip lit, focuses on women in the literary, film and social worlds of major cities, and is usually written by women in the literary, film and social worlds of major cities. The subgenre started with "The Nanny Diaries" two years ago, and the trend shows no signs of abating.
So to keep up with the latest, here's a rundown of this season's crop, featuring enough guilty pleasures to last till fall.
"The Second Assistant"
by Clare Naylor
and Mimi Hare,
Viking, 321 pp.
Our Heroine: Elizabeth, a naive yet stunningly beautiful former employee of a U.S. congressman, takes a job at a Beverly Hills talent agency and is shocked, shocked, by the goings-on.
The Traumatic Crises: Navigating waters infested with a drug-swilling boss; lecherous old producers; lecherous young producers; and getting the latte order right at Coffee Bean.
The Evil Interloper: Victoria, a psychotic agent possibly modeled on Cruella De Vil; Daniel, spawn of Satan and head agent; and his hissing minion, Ryan.
Wait Just a Minute ... : A naive former employee of a congressman? What, did she work in D.C. with her eyes closed?
Mr. Wrong: Jake
Words to Live By: "If you need to have sex, do it with the pool boy or craft-services guy on a movie set. You'll save yourself a lot of heartache."
Satisfaction Level: Like heading to dinner at Spago but ending up at the Wolfgang Puck cafe at LAX.
"The Botox Diaries"
by Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnurnberger,
Ballantine, 296 pp.
Our Heroine: Jess, a self-deprecating yet stunningly beautiful suburban New York single mom, faces 40 as gracefully as she can, while her best friend, Lucy, does the opposite.
The Traumatic Crises: An ex barking up her tree; best friend is a Botox-loving TV producer embarking on an affair and using Jess for cover.
The Evil Interloper: Jess' pathologically low self-esteem, matched by her gullibility. On the plus side, there are fewer characters to follow.
Wait Just a Minute ... : There's an orgy scene in a famous musician's trailer after his concert, and they picked Willie Nelson?!?
Mr. Wrong: Jacques
Words to Live By: "To these women, aging without Botox is like wearing Birkenstocks -- philosophically correct and comfortable, too. But you don't want anybody to see you doing it."
Satisfaction Level: What's the New York equivalent of the Puck cafe at LAX?
" 'Til Death Do Us Part"
by Kate White,
Our Heroine: True-crime journalist and amateur investigator Bailey Weggins, in her third outing, doesn't know when to quit.
The Traumatic Crises: Two years after a big society wedding, a couple of the bridesmaids turn up dead. Were the deaths accidents or murders? As a possible target, Bailey is compelled to find out.
The Evil Interloper: The murderer. If there really is one, of course.
Wait Just a Minute ... : A savvy New Yorker goes to the site of a possible murder and checks it out by herself, in the dark?
Mr. Wrong: Jack
Words to Live By: "[Her voice] had a snooty, trust fundy tone, as if she were announcing, 'I own a Marc Jacobs bag and you don't.' "
Satisfaction Level: A twist at the end will make for a few bitten nails but nothing to ruin the manicure.
"The Other Side of the Story"
by Marian Keyes,
Our Heroine: Irish party planner Gemma, who holds a torch for the man who got away; Lily, the writer who took him; Jo Jo, a literary agent in London with Jessica Rabbit's looks.
The Traumatic Crises: Gemma's father runs off with a secretary after 35 years of marriage, and her mother is unable to function without her moving back home.
The Evil Interloper: Slimy competitive agents; hard-faced secretaries; mothers losing their marbles; lovers losing their priorities.
Wait Just a Minute ... : Despite the apparently standard setups, the stories are sweet, funny and poignant. Could it be ... this isn't actually trash?
Mr. Wrong: Owen
Words to Live By: Delicious Irish and British slang, like "scuttered," "stone mad," "doolally" and "bosh."
Satisfaction Level: May your spot on the beach have views as pleasurable as the ones here. And with a book weighing in at more than 500 pages, may your deck chair be well padded.
by Plum Sykes,
Our Heroine: Moi, the unnamed yet stunningly beautiful brunet who works for a fashion magazine when she's not going to balls and shopping with her Park Avenue princess pals.
The Traumatic Crises: Finding a prospective husband; minor suicide attempts at the Ritz after being dumped; being abandoned in the South of France -- it's an Everygirl story.
The Evil Interloper: Good boyfriends who go bad. Really, who would expect that a man you've known for more than 24 hours could turn out to be a jerk?
Wait Just a Minute ... : The author is a stunningly beautiful brunet who works for Vogue when she's not going to balls and shopping with her Park Avenue princess pals. Is this a novel or a tax write-off?
Mr. Wrong: Zach
Words to Live By: "Ewww." "Icky." "Glam." "Beyond." (To use when faced with last season's shoes, last week's fiance, next season's Cartier and rides on private jets, respectively.)
Satisfaction Level: For anyone who spends significantly more time, thought and energy picking out a purse than a prospective husband, this one is like a sale at Barneys.