Shtick Lit: "Books perpetrated by people who undertook an unusual project with the express purpose of writing about it."
The quotation is from Ben Yagoda's new book, Memoir: A History, in which he cites Henry David Thoreau as the progenitor of shtick lit. Recent examples of the genre—and there are many from which to choose— include Julie & Julia (Julie Powell's book about reproducing all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking); Ammon Shea's Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages; and A.J. Jacobs's The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible. Jacobs might be called the king of shtick lit; he also wrote The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World and The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life As an Experiment.
Shtick lit was apparently coined in imitation of chick lit ("literature by, for, or about women"), which the OED tracks back to 1993 but which probably arose earlier. (The OED's citation is from Newsday: "By the way, the very proper sounding ‘Female Literary Tradition’ is known there [i.e. at Princeton University] as ‘Chick Lit.’")* Shtick is a Yiddish word (via German) meaning "piece." You can have a shtick of anything, including food; the word was adopted by American comedians no later than the 1950s to mean "a piece of business": a gimmick or routine.
Yagoda credits book reviewer Sarah Goldstein with coining shtick lit in her October 2007 review of The Year of Living Biblically:
The market for gimmick books—shtick lit, as it were—has enjoyed a surprising shelf life. There are authors who pledge not to spend money for a year, those who promise to say yes to everything and, of course, those who only eat food made by 21st century chemical processes. Writing one seems simple enough: You need an absurd lifestyle and the willpower to stick with it for a year or some other marketable length of time.
But shtick lit had appeared in print, at least in passing, several years earlier. Steve Almond dropped shtick lit (without a definition) into a 2003 essay that turned out to be about "dick lit" (his term). The definition of shtick lit was still fluid enough by 2008 that the Elegant Variation blog included this definition (and alternate spelling) in its "taxonomy of lit":
Schtick Lit - Footnotes, characters named for colors, and other look-at-me machinations. (See Special Topics in Calamity Physics and, again, Infinite Jest.)
Listen to an NPR interview with Ben Yagoda about Memoir. I've written about Yagoda's earlier book The Sound on the Page here.
* Chick lit was in turn probably formed by comparison with chick flick, which has been around since at least the mid-1980s.