Cosied up with your Kindle? Knee-deep in 99p novels? Life was so much better when we borrowed our books from Boots. Or was it? My favourite film of all time 'Brief Encounter' sees the heroine calling in at Boots on a regular basis to change her library book (pronouced libe-brear-ree by the wonderful Celia Johnson.)
And this week I learned some fascinating facts about our reading habits from a thirty-three-year-old hardback book 'Novel and Novelists - a Guide to the World of Fiction,' which I discovered in a second hand book shop. It begins with the simple statement - The novel could not have had such a long and persistent history had it not been for public demand...
'The main market,' it adds, 'for the (pre-war) novel was the commercial circulating library. The largest were the Boots and WH smith chains with up to 400 branches each in their heyday - whilst a myriad network of 2d or 'cornershop libraries' supplied fiction to the whole population.'
Edited by Martin-Seymour Smith, this 'guide to the world of fiction' makes reference to 'Old Bloody Chiclitz,' one of 400 characters in Thomas Pynchon's famous novel 'Gravity's Rainbow,' which won America's National Book Award in 1974.
The Chiclitz character, first seen in Pynchon's novella 'The Crying of Lot 49,' is thought to be a metaphorical form of the once popular 'Chiclets' chewing gum. The small pieces of chewing gum looked like teeth and 'bloody chicklitz,' it seems, became cockney slang for broken teeth.
I'm not sure who invented the name Chick lit, though the idea has been attributed to international author Kathy Lette. Interestingly, the increasingly popular independent publisher Choc Lit, founded in 2008, almost swept the board in national awards for romantic novelists last year.
I read recently that there is a growing interest in 'religious chick lit' which sounds to me like a bit of an oxymoron. Come to think of it, Oxymoron would be a wonderful name for a character in a 21st century e-book. All I need now is the plot...