Mary's Minute: Fluffy Books


Today I want to talk about a beloved sub-genre of books: the fluffy book. Fluffy books are a type of  (usually) contemporary romance (although I think there can be some fluffy fantasies or historical books as well) are fun, sweet, swoony stories that just make me feel GOOD after I've read it. It's one of my absolute favorite genres, and I know many of my friends love it as well. So why am I discussing it today?

Several months ago, author Jenn Bennett (The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, Alex Approximately) had a few words to say about frequently reading reviews that called her books fluffy:



This sparked a great conversation in which many bloggers and readers spoke up about how much fluffy books mean to them and what they define fluff as, and we'll come back to that in a second because it seems that authors and readers are mixing lines of communication when using the term fluff.

I recently moderated a panel called Me + You = Fate during the Texas Teen Book Festival, which was AMAZING. We talked a lot about romance, and I was shocked to find two more authors who said they dislike their books being called fluff. Mackenzi Lee (The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue) said she doesn't like the term, but when people call her book serious, she likewise said, "well, not THAT serious!" And Jenna Evans Welch (Love and Gelato) said she didn't think her book qualified since a primary theme is grief. So I want to talk about this genre again.

 I asked Twitter a few days ago, and here a few replies to me and a few to Jenn:

(for the record, I asked how the define fluff, is it an insult, why do you like it, and who are your faves)









A couple things that stuck out to me is that for a lot of people, fluffy = little angst and also, fluffy books are the ones they most often reread. That's super important!!! Fluff has a rereadable factor!!


What makes a book "fluffy"? For me, there are a few indicators: 
  • light, easy-to-read prose (basically the complete opposite of James Joyce and pretentious literary writing)
  • emphasis on romance in the story
  • use of romance tropes like love to hate, friends to more, fake date, etc.
  • humor
  • slice of life stories
  • mc has an important hobby/interest that usually has a lot to do with the plot

There are a few other elements that are frequently found in fluffy books, but I don't think they're necessarily a requirement (especially since some of these are complete opposites). It's one of those a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square things. Travel (especially European); seasonal-specific (summer or winter holidays); celebrity love interest; royal love interest; athletes; etc.

None of these are super hard and fast other than light prose and romance, but really, what makes a book fluffy for me is if I feel good reading it. If I'm reading a book with a HUGE irrepressible smile on my face, it's probably fluff. I tend to swoon a lot because the boys are dreamy, and I always want to be the girl's best friend. For me, fluff doesn't mean no conflict or heavy topics. A book can cover topics like death, mental illness, physical illness, abuse, etc, and still be fluff to me. It entirely depends on the overall tone of the novel and how the author approaches the topic. If I'm left feeling satisfied by a story and hopeful for the characters and their futures, I'm more inclined to consider a book fluff. If I'm left feeling like life sucks and then you die and this character is fucked or the road is going to be long and hard for them when the book is over, I'm usually more inclined to consider it realistic fiction. And I don't necessarily WANT realistic fiction.

I find great comfort in fluffy books, and it's frustrating when lighter contemporary novels go temporarily out of fashion in YA. A couple years ago, I went to a professional library conference during which most publishers didn't have very many contemporary romances in their catalogs. Lots of fantasy (duh) and lots of realistic fiction, which I always consider heavier reads, but little romance. And that made me sad. I love fantasy and sci-fi, but I need them interspersed with books that are light and fun!

2017 is a garbage fire. I frequently feel like our society is completely doomed and WE are the characters who are fucked after the book ends. I don't need to read books that will leave me feeling depressed after I close the cover. I already feel depressed. I want books where I envision the character still has their best days ahead of them, even if I don't get to read about those adventures. I want to feel happy and warm and content, like a cat lazing in a ray of sunshine streaming in through a window. Like I'm curled up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. Like I'm lying in a hammock listening to the ocean's waves as a breeze gently caresses my face. That's how fluff makes me feel. The world might be terrible, but at least it seems like writers are creating more of these stories and publishers are publishing them. I'm grateful for that. I just want EVEN MORE, and also, I would very much like more diverse stories of all kinds.

One thing about fluff is that like just about all genres of YA, it's populated with a million stories about white cishet Christian-or-not-religious usually-middle-or-upper-class able-bodied characters. I love that we're seeing other kinds of stories like When Dimple Met Rishi and I Believe in a Thing Called Love, To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Queens of Geek and The Secret of a Heart Note but I definitely want more. It's comforting to me to read warm, sweet stories, and I bet a lot of readers would feel the same if they could see more characters like themselves on the page. So come on, writers and publishers, keep pushing!

I don't think book bloggers really write for authors, just for other readers, but if there are any authors reading this, please don't be offended when you hear readers categorize your books as fluff. We don't mean that they lack substance; instead, it's an indicator of how your book makes us feel: like rainbows and sparkles and whipped cream and sprinkles and stardust and chunky cable knit and crunchy leaves. Think of it this way: do you really want a hard, flat pillow or a fluffy one? Those weird hairless cats or a fluffy kitteh? Runny (or super dry) scrambled eggs or fluffy? Thin, wimpy pancakes or fluffy? A regular, run-of-the-mill unicorn or a SUPER FLUFFY ONE?


Fluff is not an insult, and if someone is using it as one, it's probably a dude, and he is a sexist douchecanoe who sucks and doesn't understand the power of fluff. For your reference, here's a Buzzfeed listicle of amazing fluffy things. I would only change it to add books to the list.

EDITED TO ADD:
Discussions about fluff have EXPLODED over the past few weeks. There's been a lot of discussion about how misogynistic a lot of the criticism of fluff is, but a few days ago (I'm writing this edit on Christmas), I discovered this amazing thread written by Leah of Small Queer, Big Opinions about ableism and criticism of fluff. With her permission, I'm posting the thread here for you guys. Thanks, Leah!


Books that explore the day-to-day realities of our world—including the horrifying, depressing, and hurtful ones—are important. But Leah is absolutely correct: sometimes we need to lose ourselves, to escape into a gentle, angst-free world. As I said above, the world of 2017 has been a garbage fire. Having books to comfort us, to make us smile, giggle, swoon, and sigh dreamily is an immense blessing. More than that, as Leah also points out in the full thread, it's a blessing to go into a book knowing that we're not going to be blindsided with something triggering. With a fluffy book, I know my mental health and my emotional state are in safe, gentle hands. Fluffy books are entertaining, but they're also healing. The real chicken soup for the soul.




Recommendations!
I couldn't let you guys go without recommending some of my fluffy favorites!

The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli
Alex, Approximately - Jenn Bennett
Teen Idol, Nicola and the Viscount – Meg Cabot
99 Days – Katie Cotugno
Endless Summer – Jennifer Echols
My Life Next Door – Huntley Fitzpatrick
I Believe in a Thing Called Love – Maurene Goo
To All the Boys I've Loved Before – Jenny Han
The Secret of a Heart Note – Stacey Lee
Open Road Summer, The Start of Me & You – Emery Lord
The Unexpected Everything, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson
When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon
First & Then, This Adventure Ends – Emma Mills
Being Sloane Jacobs (although my boss loves Meant to Be more) – Lauren Morrill
Dumplin' – Julie Murphy
Bittersweet, The Book of Broken Hearts – Sarah Ockler
Anna & the French Kiss, My True Love Gave to Me anthology – Stephanie Perkins
Geekerella – Ashley Poston
This is What Happy Looks Like – Jennifer E. Smith
The Art of Lainey – Paula Stokes
Love & Gelato – Jenna Evans Welch
On the Fence, The Distance Between Us – Kasie West
Queens of Geek – Jen Wilde


How do you feel about fluff? Do you have any recommendations of your own? Please share in the comments!

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for doing this post Mary! I'd never thought there could be so much to the word "fluff" so it's good to hear everyone's opinion, especially from the authors! Def something to think about.

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  2. I enjoyed this post very much! I guess I hadn't thought too much about "fluffy" before. I don't think of it as an insult, but maybe I should not include this term in my public reviews. I once had an author ask me if I could revise my Amazon review to remove "sweet" from my review title because she didn't want Amazon to classify her book that way.

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  3. Great topic! This has actually been on my mind this week, as I'm reading Jenn's newest novel and endeavoring not to think of it as fluffy all the while. I do believe that the term could be misconstrued as an insult but that most of us do not mean it as such. Like you, I tend to feel a book is fluffy if I've got a cheese-eating grin plastered on my face the whole time I'm reading or if my soul feels cleansed and light after what I've just read, instead of bogged down by it. I also agree that when bloggers say this in a review, they are trying to convey how the story made them feel to other readers and aren't criticizing the author in any way.

    Oh, and I agree with your boss. :) Great recs! I kinda want to re-read a bunch of fluff now.

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  4. Great post, I'm a "fluff" reader for sure -they are some of the best books out there. I do seem where the authors are coming from, but it's more of a general feeling of happiness after I've finished the book

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  5. Fluffy books are my favorites. They usually leave me feeling so happy and buoyant. I think it's a misconception that because book is fluffy it cannot have any substance. They can still touch upon important life issues, but they don't get bogged down in them. It's a delicate balance between the fluff and the drama that the author accomplishes so well, and I laud them for their skill at doing so. I would add My New Crush Gave to Me to the list. I just read it the other day, and I am grinning just thinking about it.

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  6. I adore fluffy books—by far my favorites! I really enjoy the Swoon Reads line and know I can count on finding a fluffy book there.

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  7. I went to Amazon and looked up "viscount meg cabot." "Nicola and the Viscount" looks like great fun! Any title with "Viscount" or "Duke" in the title already has an advantage. "Meg Cabot" also writes as "Patricia Cabot." Huh? Maybe the pseudonym (or are they both pseudonyms?) would make more sense if she also wrote as "Fred Larch" or "J.P. Smythens" or "Gwendolina LeStrange."

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