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The Fat Girl's Guide to Summer Reading
Posted by Angela in Fun Stuff,Pulse of Fat Culture
Swap Wheaton's book (sorry, Wil) for one of these fat-friendly titles (image by Mingo.nl)

Some girls over-pack clothes or make-up when they travel. One of my best friends insists on lugging along what we've dubbed a "shoe-case" because it's dedicated only to footwear. Me? I over-pack . . . well, everything, but especially books. In preparation for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, a four-day getaway with friends to Door County, WI, I've already chucked three books into the "take along" pile, while knowing better than to think I'll have that kind of time. And yet, summer wouldn't be summer for me without beach reads. As Toni touched on in her recent ode to lazy summer days, for many of us, few things are more intoxicating than a relaxing day at the pool or beach, splashing in the waves (or getting splashed by our kids), with ample time to devour a page-turner.

In honor of those lazy days and the upcoming holiday weekend, FGG has compiled a few ideas for books that feature plus-size protagonists -- but they come with a disclaimer: Obviously, taste in books is incredibly individual, so we don't expect each of these titles to have the same appeal to every reader. Further, it's a tricky thing writing for a blog that doesn't wholly identify itself in either the "fat acceptance" or "weight loss" genre, but rather seeks to strike a realistic and empowering tone for overweight women in general; that tightrope walk becomes more pronounced when attempting to recommend literature featuring plus-sized characters, because the genre is so controversial. There are as many "fat girl" and weight-loss memoirs out there as there are poorly drawn, self-hating or insultingly unrealistic primary or tertiary characters in fiction (Jemima J, I'm looking at you). For that reason, we've tried to list books whose overweight female protagonists are strong, unashamed and multifaceted, or whose struggles with their weight issues are presented in an honest and real way, without being condescending or insinuating that only through weight loss can one find love and meaning.

In short: Your mileage may vary, but we hope there may be something for everyone. So grab a beach blanket and enjoy!

If you're in the mood to laugh


Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass,Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office (Jen Lancaster, 2006)

What to Expect: Unabashedly self-centered (hence the title), the plus-sized Lancaster draws from her riches-to-rags unemployment experiences in the post-9/11 economy to deliver gut-busting humor and a trademark snarky wit. This is the first of Lancaster's best-selling memoirs, so if you dig her style, you've got all summer to gobble up her other four titles: Bright Lights, Big Ass; Such a Pretty Fat; Pretty In Plaid; and the recently released My Fair Lazy.

Good fit for your beach bag? Readers either can't get enough of Lancaster's humor, or seem to find her observations unrelatable and mean-spirited. Which category you belong to depends heavily on your feelings toward curse words and everyone's-a-target humor.

Frangipani: A Novel (CÚlestine Vaite, 2006)

What to expect: The first in Vaite's trilogy of novels following the relationships and antics of "professional house cleaner" Materena Mahi and her family, this novel is as chock-full of strong, diverse female characters as it is whimsy. The story centers on the relationship between plus-size Materena and her daughter, which allows Vaite to get maximum play from the Tahitian myths and superstitions that govern Materena.

Good fit for your beach bag? This lighthearted, quick read should appeal to readers seeking a different take on the age-old struggles between mothers and daughters. Plus, the gorgeous Tahitian setting is beach-worthy, for sure.

Good In Bed (Jennifer Weiner, 2002)

What to expect: Twenty-eight-year-old Cannie Shapiro faces what many of us would deem our worst nightmare: her ex-boyfriend has written an article about their sex life, titled "Loving a Larger Woman," which appears in a Cosmo-esque national mag. Hilarity, tears and tequila shots ensue, as Cannie sets off on an ill-advised journey to lose weight and win back her jackal of an ex -- before realizing she deserves better.

Good fit for your beach bag? There's a reason this is a go-to novel for both plus-size chick lit and those looking for something a little more substantial: It's a really enjoyable read that features a protagonist you can cheer for. Sure, there are plot points requiring a suspension of disbelief, but Weiner's smart, sassy writing gives Cannie a believable, identifiable voice, and we appreciate the willingness to stray beyond "weight loss = happiness" as a takeaway.

If you're in the mood for love


Love at Large (Anthology, 2005)

What to expect: Six separate stories of plus-size women finding love with men who think they're scrumptious. Want more? None of these protagonists are clinging vines just pining for a man; they're independent, strong and sexy -- all of which their suitors find irresistibly appealing. Yes, literary world, men can and do love larger women!

Good fit for your beach bag? Fun, fluffy and perfectly portioned for reading between catnaps. In short, a perfect beach read. One of the stories is even set near Lake Michigan, which made this girl proud.

Suddenly You (Lisa Kleypas, 2001)

What to expect: A lush, historical bodice-ripper with a plus-size female lead? Believe it. The action (so to speak) begins as 30-year-old Amanda opens her door to the male prostitute she's hired to take her virginity -- only to discover later that she's judged his identity too hastily. What follows is a romantic cat-and-mouse game between free-spirited writer Amanda and her visitor (and new publisher), Jack, as well as a celebration of the allure of curvaceous beauty.

Good fit for your beach bag? If you're a fan either of historical or romantic fiction, this is a no-brainer, but even skeptics may be drawn in by the impressively developed characters and witty dialogue. (And did we mention the sex?)

If you're in the mood to reflect... or even cry


The Little Giant of Aberdeen County (Tiffany Baker, 2010)

What to expect: The story of 400-pound "giant," Truly Plaice, orphaned as a young girl and having grown up surrounded by loss, drama and societal cruelty. Parts of the story may prove painful for readers who have experienced sadness at the hands of bullies and insensitive acquaintances, but fans of the book rave about Truly's honest, compelling narration and her ability overcome her life's circumstances and find meaning and escape.

Good fit for your beach bag? Part horror story and part fairy tale, this book seems to best suit the reader who seeks gloriously descriptive prose and page-turning twists -- without expecting ponies and rainbows to be waiting on the other side.

The Wife's Tale (Lori Lansens, 2010)

What to expect: The journey of an overweight (302 pounds) woman whose husband leaves on the eve of their 25th wedding anniversary. Realizing that she's as imprisoned by fear as she is by food, Mary Gooch ventures from her Canadian hometown for the first time, finding her way to the new sights and characters of California as she seeks to find her husband, and herself.

Good fit for your beach bag? Some will find Mary's cold-turkey "I'm not hungry anymore" weight loss off-putting, while others might wish for more of an ending, but introverted readers who seek to identify with a narrator may be drawn to Mary's struggle and the intricate details of her life as an overweight woman.

If you're in the mood to sleuth


If mystery's your thing, it seems your full-figured female protagonist cup runneth over -- what is it about fat girls that makes us scream "I'm the next literary answer to Angela Lansbury!"? For reasons we can't identify, several series out there feature larger (or "average-size") female characters; we've suggested a couple here that tend to get good reviews.

Too Big to Miss (Sue Ann Jaffarian, 2006)

What to expect: Don't let the title or the ample-sized silhouette drawn on the cover art fool you: This isn't a fat-hating book. Fortysomething paralegal Odelia Grey stands 5'1 and weighs 230 pounds, and although she's not immune to the trials of life as an overweight woman, she doesn't let them keep her down. Smart, talented and believable, Odelia kicks off her career as amateur sleuth here (five other titles follow), as she investigates the apparent suicide of her friend Sophie, a fat-girls' rights advocate.

Good fit for your beach bag? While they're split on some of the book's humor (Odelia's self-deprecating comments could be seen as undermining the size-positive message of her very existence as a heroine), critics and readers all seem to agree that Odelia's a gem and Jaffarian's plots are well-constructed.

Earthly Delights: A Corinna Chapman Mystery (Kerry Greenwood, 2008)

What to expect: Corinna Chapman used to be an accountant, but now she runs a bakery and is about to become a part-time sleuth. Confused? Don't be. All you need to know is Corinna is "ample bodied" and fabulous. Set in Melbourne, Australia, this inaugural Chapman mystery follows Corinna as she balances life (and a potential love interest) with chasing the killer of local drug addicts.

Good fit for your beach bag?: Frothy and possibly forgettable, but definitely fun in the process.

Tell us, readers: What books are in your beach bag this season? What are your thoughts on portrayals of overweight women in literature? And what's your favorite book -- of any genre -- featuring a larger main character?