My husband is exquisitely silent this Sunday afternoon. No ranting about the pres; no musings about the state of the world, and he’s not wondering what’s for lunch, dinner, or trying to engage me in audience attendance.
Ever since a friend came over with a stack of trashy novels and we selected a few, and he’s “in” one, he’s turning those pages, fast fast, he’s next to my son, and his dead mother, the fastest reader I’ve ever known. In a few hours he will have gobbled this one up.
I’m not going to mention which trashy novel he’s reading. It’s not on the bestseller list (the one I selected is) and it’s not even by someone I’ve ever heard of, not that it means anything that I haven’t heard of the writer. It’s a big book, it’s got a nice cover and it weighs several pounds.
Looking at him sitting on the leather chair he made himself, glasses off, totally intent, I wonder what constitutes a trashy novel?
First and foremost: None of the characters are very clear, you have to keep going back to figure out who is who. My husband and my friend say they don’t care who is who.
The writing may be okay, but never beautiful or makes your heart beat, or causes you to reach for a pen to underline. And you don’t think. You don’t draw pararells, you learn absolutely nothing and when you’re done you’re actually relieved. “That’s why they are so great!” says my friend and my husband.
If you’ve stayed up late with it, the next morning, like being on a bender, you can’t remember anything about the book at all. Not even the name of the freaking main character.
Like trashy food, a quick hook up, a B minus movie, it doesn’t tax you.
I asked my husband, “So is it good?”
“No,” says he, eyes still on the book. “It’s a complete piece of shit!”
“So what keeps you turning the pages?”
“Quiet. I’m reading my trashy book.”
I knew a Jesuit from Shreveport who used to read trashy novels and tear off the pages one by one and toss them in the trash. He was a Shakespearean scholar, he liked good books, but he also liked trashy books.
I don’t know if I do or I don’t. I very seldom read what I consider to be trash. It makes me feel kind of awful; it makes me feel like I’m doing something dirty, like getting off when I shouldn’t be getting off. And besides, what’s the point? I suppose the point is, better trashy novels than trashy TV or surfing the net? But maybe not.
My husband would say, my wife would have gotten along well with Cotton Mather. (Is Dan Pense the 21st century non-literary equivalent of Cotton Mather?) If so, I’m going to try and lighten up.
The assumption when you take up a book is whilst inside its pages you are in another world. The world of a trashy book is no world at all: it’s a bogus plot driven realm where a lot seems to be happening and actually nothing really takes place.
There’s a difference, a big one, between “escape” books and trashy books. Agatha Christie who wrote eighty or so escape mysteries always takes you somewhere, her characters speak like real people in her milieu spoke and you can read them again, having completely forgotten who did it, and enjoy the book anew. I don’t think anyone re-reads a trashy book. Why would you?
My husband finished his last night. This morning he has bags under his bloodshot eyes.
“Was that book any good?” I asked him again. “Did you at least enjoy it?”
“Of course not!”
“Then why did you read it?”
“I don’t know.”
“I wish I could write one of those books,” I sighed.
“I’d like to as well.”
“You never told me you wanted to write.”
“It’s not easy to write any book. Trashy or not.”
“But if you had a choice, would you write a good book, or a trashy book?”
“Trashy!” said he and he smiled.
Illustration by the fabulous Aimee Levyby