So like I’ve mentioned, I recently graduated with an English and Journalism degree. I especially loved the English degree, but it also taught me that to some extent, there are books that I should like and appreciate and there are others that I should be mocking, refusing to read, and judging based on the amount of literary worth I felt they had (or lacked). Or something. Because I, after four years of Liberal Arts education, I am an expert on literary merit.
Probably everywhere, but especially at the University of Iowa, the pretentious English major stereotype is alive and well, and was proven daily. Maybe it’s that Iowa City is one of UNESCO’s Cities of Literature, maybe it’s because the Writers Workshop produced some real greats, like Jane Smiley, Flannery O’Connor, and employed amazing staff-members like Kurt Vonnegut and Frank Conroy. Either way, lit enthusiasts here make it pretty clear that there are standards when it comes to reading.
Which I agree with, to some extent, but also sometimes don’t. Sarah Dessen is one of my weaknesses – I love her cheesy, repetitive characters and the unrealistic, cliche romances between teenage boys and girls with their turbulent and dramatic back stories. Her books take me all of two days to read. I’ve read The Truth About Forever probably upwards of 20 times, and there’s this pervasive feeling that I should almost be embarrassed, or should have to defend my taste in books if I’m re-reading one of her novels. Or any other YA novel, or serialized paperback fluff like the book I just finished, for that matter. I would actually probably consider The Truth About Forever to be in my top 20 favorite books if I made a list, but the sad thing is I would never admit that in one of my English classes.
This is a long-winded introduction to my point, which is that I just finished a Sophie Kinsella novel, Can You Keep A Secret? This is from the author of the Shopaholic series, which I have not read. I was home for the weekend recently, and forgot to bring a book, so I grabbed this one from my mom’s bookshelf, mainly because of the bright pink cover, which assured me that I could finish it in a weekend.
But I loved it. Sure, it’s completely unrealistic, and no character as flawed as Emma Corrigan (the main character) would get away with so much, while maintaining her optimism, ultimately leading to everything (of course) working out perfectly. The book is silly, the premise and the characters are mostly silly, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I didn’t have any earth-shattering revelations while reading about this under-appreciated, quirky girl getting her dream guy and dream promotion in less that 350 pages. But I got a good dose of British humor, and some parts even had me smiling by myself. In my mind, if a book evokes emotion in that way it’s a pretty good book.
I don’t know that I’m necessarily going to go out and buy the box-set of the Shopaholic books, or keep a close eye on what else she’s publishing, but I also resent the fact that I had to feel embarrassed whipping this hot pink novel out in a coffee shop. I can appreciate David Foster Wallace, and enjoy my marathon through War & Peace, while also religiously re-reading the Harry Potter series, constantly updating my Sarah Dessen collection, and enjoying my weekend with a Sophie Kinsella novel. It is my resolution, immortalized here, to stop being embarrassed about anything that I’m reading, and to never again feel the need to defend my book choice at any point.
Quick end note, though: I will never, ever, ever read the 50 shades series. I’m all for unrealistic plots, over-the-top characters, all that, but if those things exist within a book that is written poorly, I’m not doing it. Probably ruining any credibility I established in this post about diverse reading, but really. I’m not being a hypocrite, I just need some semblence of wit and good writing. Something that series completely lacks, based on the paragraph that I read. Sorry, E.L. I guess I’m happy for your success with it…?
“So… OK. Let’s just chart exactly how much this day has diverged from the original plan I had this morning. Goal: Look like sexy and sophisticated woman in beautiful, flattering dress. Result: Look like Heidi/Munchkin extra in lurid puffy nylon sleeves. Goal: Make secret assignation with Jack. Result: Make secret assignation with Jack, then fail to turn up. Goal: Have fantastic sex with Jack in romantic location. Result: Have peanut-barbecued chicken drumstick on picnic rug.” – Sophie Kinsella