Welcome back! Last week, I wrote my first “Time to Ponder Books” discussion post, asking whether readers should learn something from adult books. Many of you responded saying that you always learn something from a book, including information about a time period or place, how to be more empathetic. I was thinking more about novels for adults that seem to have a Moral Of The Story (*said in a deep voice with an echo, so you know it’s important*). You know, that Very Important Lesson we must all take away. Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright is one novella that comes to mind. Although it almost has four solid stars on Goodreads, I argued that Wright pimps a dumpster fire of a story, one filled with lessons like “Budget Better” if you and your infant are freezing in a house without heat because you live on the brink of poverty.
In fact, a lot of stories with a Very Important Lesson come across as garbage to me, because it takes a certain type of person to think their way of living is superior enough to tout it to others. But you guys brought up a different kind of “garbage” novel. . . The escapism novel. So let’s chat.
The escapist novel may be one you’re attached to because you read it at just the right time in high school. Maybe you can’t put down those PG-13 vampire novels, including the one with the half-human, half-elf. Or a rom-com with a woman sucked into the virtual reality headset in a computer game about pirates, and oh, my, does someone have a shiver in his timber. Some people even consider an imaginative famous novel one step away from telenovela trash. If you’re like me, you might fall into a fantasy hole for a while and not come up for air until the dragon is happy and the pig has farted his last fart.
Do you ever swim hard to the surface just to ask yourself: what am I doing?? Sure, we can claim we’re escaping, but some of the garbage I’ve read and loved was so bad that I felt ashamed as I read. Maybe you’ve moved past that. I’m so glad! Maybe you’re feeling kind of iffy about it. You liked the book, but it’s so “garbage” that you have nothing to say about it. But can that “garbage” teach you something? In his amazing memoir/how-to On Writing, Stephen King points out that we must honor the books that made us into the people we are, and those books are the ones we couldn’t get enough of as young people. If that’s the case, I need to do a lot more kowtowing to the Sweet Valley Twins.
But I get what he’s saying. When we get older, we assume we’re more sophisticated than genre fiction, better than the lukewarm prose of those Louise L’Amour novels on the spinning rack at the truck stop gas station. We become traitors to the garbage that we loved and loved us back (some writers, like Francine Pascal, needed ghostwriters to keep up with our greed).
But I have to ask myself: if I’m going to keep using my limited time to read “garbage,” should I learn something from it? NOT a Very Important Lesson, but something about culture, history, place, or empathy? As far as I know, the Sweet Valley Twins taught me that everyone, no matter what they did, no matter what they’ve done before, no matter how mad the situation makes me, can be forgiven. And I can’t think of a single literary novel that taught me that lesson half as well. Whoa.
What “garbage” do you like to read, and does it teach you anything?