Are Pink Books for Women? “Girl, Serpent, Thorn,” “Miss Lonelyhearts,” and “Siri, Who Am I?”

I am fond of books with pink covers, possibly because of a weird post-feminist nostalgia: pink used to be for girls, and blue for boys, until Second Wave feminists smashed the stereotype and we switched to more subdued colors–including blue.

A pink Jane Austen

You wouldn’t know my fondness for the rose hue by my book collection: there are few books on my shelves with pink covers. My theory is that pink books are meant to be fluffy and flirty, aimed at women. You might find a pink copy of a Jane Austen novel, but you will not find a pink Emily Bronte (she was too tough), a pink James Joyce, or a pink Shirley Jackson. Most of my books are paperback classics with details of famous paintings on the cover.

And so is it any surprise that I go gaga over pink books or books with pink cover art?

Let me start with Melissa Bashardoust’s brilliant fantasy novel, Girl, Serpent, Thorn, which was magically irresistible because of the pink wallpaper effect of the cover art. A design of pink roses is entwined with serpents on a creamy pale poison-green background.”Sometimes the princess is the monster,” it says beneath the title.

I was utterly spellbound by this retold fairy tale. Billed on the cover as a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” it is closer to the Persian stories which the author cites in the Notes. She was influenced by the Persian epic, the Shahnameh, and Persian folktales. She explains the Persian cosmology, with detailed background on the divs (gods) and pariks (female demons).

The heroine of this graceful novel is Soraya, a member of the royal family, and the sister of the Shah. As the result of a curse by the Shahmar, who is the most powerful div (god), poison runs in her veins and she kills whoever she touches. She lives alone in a luxurious apartment and has a beautiful garden. But she is lonely and not a little angry that she is isolated from her family. And before her brother marries her former best friend, she wishes she could experience love, too A handsome young soldier spots her from a roof and says he has been in love with her since he heard her story. It seems that he might solve all her problems. Alas.

Soraya must concentrate on knowing herself and coming to terms with her unfeminine violent power, and finding a way to undo the curse, with the help of a parik (a female demon).

Bashardoust’s style is delicate, intelligent, and empathetic. The genre is officially Y.A. fantasy, but I can’t imagine what Y.A. means here. The style is much better than that of the average fantasy, and the characters are adults, not teenagers… Perhaps Y.A. pays better than fantasy. I have read that most of the buyers of Y.A. books are adult women.

A book I read for the pink cover, but it goes well beyond the implications! A fun, fastd, well-plotted novel, teeming with intrigue and action.

Is it cheating to call Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts a pink book? I found a picture of a pink Canadian edition, so I say, Cheat away! West’s bitter 1933 novella is a mournful tour de force, fraught with Christian imagery and despair. I had remembered this as a light book. but on this rereading I cannot imagine that I ever found it so.

In West’s masterpiece, he portrays an American society that has disintegrated to the point of no return during the Depression. The unnamed protagonist, a male reporter who writes the Miss Lonelyhearts column for a newspaper, can scarcely bear to read the letters of the desperate, semi-literate people who ask for advice. The letters topple Miss Lonelyhearts from his ironic perch and he ceases to think the job is funny. He knows there are no alternatives to the letter writers’ hopeless financial and personal problems.The only thing that can save them, he thinks, is Christ. And his sadistic editor, Shrike, mocks him and torments him about his depression and incipient Christianity.

West’s style is spare, stabbingly frank, and peculiarly American. He skewers journalism, cynicism, sex, religion, and even the depression of Miss Lonelyhearts.

He stopped reading. Christ was the answer, but, if he did not want to get sick, he had to stay away from the Christ business. Besides, Christ was Shrike’s particular joke. “Soul of Miss L, glorify me. Body of Miss L, save me. Blood of…” He turned to his typewriter.

A brilliant, cynical, oddball novella about the failure of American myths in a crumbling society. The last sentence will haunt you.

Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tshida, is the pinkest book of all, though the cover may be closer to peach. So this is what happened to chick lit, I thought when I saw it on a boutique-y bookstore table.

It is a fast, funny read, in a way, though I didn’t bother to finish it. Mia wakes up from a coma and does not remember anything–she makes some wild guesses from her phone and the Instagram account.

Ultimately, this is a romance. Naturally there are two men in her life. Which one will she choose?

I figured it out on page 68.

But that doesn’t mean that some of you won’t enjoy this.

4 thoughts on “Are Pink Books for Women? “Girl, Serpent, Thorn,” “Miss Lonelyhearts,” and “Siri, Who Am I?””

  1. The “blue for boys, pink for girls” trope is only a comparatively recent development historically. Until well into the twentieth century it was “blue for girls, red for boys” – look at all the pictures of the Virgin Mary in blue. I don’t know how or why the change came, but no doubt a cultural historian is working on the subject, if one hasn’t published a book already.
    “As the result of a curse… poison runs in her veins and she kills whoever she touches”
    Both Nathanael Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter and Richard Garnett’s The Poison Maid use the same plot. Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote a comic opera, The Poisoned Kiss, based on it.

    1. I never knew the history of the pink and the blue. You do know a lot of odd cultural history! It is very odd that the colors switched along the way.
      Bashardoust does mention “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” which I must add to my list. In a way, it is sad that “Girl, Serpent, Thorn” is published as Y.A., because there really is a LOT here.

  2. It’ more ambiguous than I remembered. Wikipedia has an entry on “List of historical sources for pink and blue as gender signifiers” which is worth looking at.
    Another complication is that “pink” may have become much paler as a definition in the recent past. Deep red English hunting jackets are still described as “pink”. There may be Protestant/Catholic aspects too.

    1. I know about the “pink” from Trollope; I have gone hunting with him in many, many of his books. (My philosophy is: Do not read the books set in Ireland, because there is too much “pink.”) Fascinating that Wikipedia has an entry on this. “Sisterhood Is Powerful,” an anthology of feminist writings, never went far enough back in time.

Leave a ReplyCancel reply

Exit mobile version