KENNEBUNK, Maine — Women lounging in beach chairs with their toes in the surf and a “chick lit” novel in their hands may well have been studying sociology this summer, if the author of their summer read was Patricia Leavy.
The sociologist and former professor spent years conducting studies and writing journal articles that “nobody in the real world would understand,” she said Thursday.
She’s the author of 14 nonfiction books about innovative approaches to research methodology and is editor for five book series.
But when Leavy switched to fiction and “embedded” novels, such as “Low-Fat Love,” with her research, the Kennebunk woman stumbled on a groundbreaking form of “arts-based research,” which takes those studies to a new audience. It earned her the title of “ the high priestess of pop feminism.”
Leavy was honored in Philadelphia on Friday with the 2014 American Creativity Association Special Achievement Award, which recognizes innovation and creativity in all fields. Previous winners have included astronaut John Glenn and companies LEGO and Pixar Animation Studios.
Leavy’s novel, “Low-Fat Love,” was published in 2011 as part of the social fiction series from Sense Publishers. She followed her fiction debut in 2013 with “American Circumstance,” in which Leavy said she discusses “the things women say and don’t say about each other.”
“ Low-Fat Love,” Leavy said, “looks at the psychology of dysfunctional relationships — how women settle because they have self-esteem issues.”
In her blog for The Huffington Post, Leavy described low-fat love this way:
“In all areas of life women often settle for less. I think of this as a low-fat version of love, including self-love, by substituting what we really want for what we think we can get and then trying to pretend we’re more satisfied than we are. We take butter substitute over butter and pretend we can’t tell the difference, smile when someone says something catty and act like we don’t mind when our significant other forgets to call.”
The novel follows New York City editors Prilly Greene and Janice Goldwyn. “Ultimately, each woman is pushed to confront her own image of herself, exploring her insecurities, the stagnation in her life, her attraction to men who withhold their support and her reasons for having settled for low-fat love,” according to the publisher.
Leavy said the response to her novels “has been incredible.” Professors across the country have incorporated them into their courses on gender studies, sociology and psychology, among others.
“I spent about 10 years interviewing women about relationships, body image and self-esteem,” Leavy said. “But you’re spending all this time learning about the world, and you can’t really share that with anyone because the traditional format doesn’t allow you to. Social fiction is more engaging, more accessible. … When people read a novel, they can relate to it in their own way.”