Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I used to regularly post reviews of the books I'd read. But last spring I realized that my taste in books was going further and further downhill, and that my book reviews probably weren't particularly interesting anymore. And it's only gotten worse since. To prove my point: I spent the last half of the summer reading trashy romance novels. And you know what? I'm not even sorry. I loved it. I hadn't read one in more than twenty years,* and -- while I wouldn't exactly recommend any of them-- I have to say that they are light-years better than they used to be. It was fun. But now my conscience is telling me that summer is over and I should stop with the brain candy and start reading stuff that I don't have to be embarrassed to be seen with.
Well, OK. Just as soon as I finish Three Nights of Sin. (no, I'm not kidding, there really is a novel with that name-- but I haven't read it. Yet.)
Anyway, just to further show you how low I've slunk, I'll tell you the story of my reading list for this summer. Those of you who've been around for awhile will remember that about once a year, I assign myself a reading project-- several books that are related in some way-- and push myself to read through the whole list. One year, I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, plus most of the books her class studies. Another year, I read a collection of the letters of Maxwell Perkins and novels by his three most famous authors--Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe. Then there were Merton, O'Connor, Walker Percy and Dorothy Day another year. (full disclosure: I've never actually managed to read every book on any of my reading project lists. But I give it a pretty good shot, anyway.)
So this year, at the beginning of the summer, I decided that I was going to read Chaucer and Spenser. I'm dead serious. I really thought I was going to spend the summer sitting out at the lake with the Faerie Queene in my lap. Oh, 'tis galling the things we must admit to online. I got online and ordered a modernized Chaucer to go with the original version I still have from college, and also got the recommended edition of FQ.
As you can probably guess, I made it through the Prologue and the Wife of Bath's tale before my attention wandered. I think it's actually a little impressive that I made it that far. Although at the moment I can't remember what the segue was, for some reason I went from that to reading the Satanic Verses, the famous book that sent Salman Rushdie into hiding for (seven? eight?) years. It is brilliant, and beautifully written-- if I remember, I'll put a paragraph or two in the comments to this post-- but it doesn't exactly move quickly. Sections of it are very absorbing, but then there are long sections that are.... well, maybe not boring, but slow.
So enter my daughter with Twilight in hand. I'm blaming the whole romance novel obsession on her. In case you've been locked away in a closet for the past six months, Twilight is the first book in a series about a girl who falls in love with a vampire. It's written and marketed for teenagers, but once you know the characters' names, you'll overhear a surprising number of competent-looking adults gossiping away about Edward and Bella as if they lived down the street. There is very little plot or characterization outside the two main characters' obsessive love for each other, but you know-- you just can't put them down. I'm snobbish enough that I have to say that I didn't really read them, I just skimmed through them. But I did, in the space of about two weeks, get through all four books, each of them well over 500 pages. After spending over a month getting through Satanic Verses.
Why am I admitting this publicly?? Oh, the shame.
But it gets worse. So then, realizing that it had been a very long time since I'd read a good bodice ripper-- at least twenty years, and probably more like twenty-five*-- I started combing through used books and picking them up. I bet I've read twenty since mid-August. Not kidding. Last week I decided I would let myself keep going until October 1st, which would be tomorrow. I've got one more to finish tonight and them I'm quitting cold turkey. Promise. Higher quality reading suggestions welcome, reply here.
* I'm making a distinction here between just regular old romance novels (hard to write a good story without someone falling in love, imo) and trashy romance novels, aka bodice rippers, which have such steamy love scenes that they should carry ratings on the cover. Oh, my. .... After re-reading this, to be fair I should say that the Twilight series is not explicit, but it has enough of the conventions of a trashy romance novel that I was reminded of them.