Trash Reading

While my fellow booksellers and I spent the summer eagerly awaiting the new Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, and David Mitchell novels, I was also secretly counting down the days to the newest book in the Shopaholic series, Shopaholic to the Stars.

My name is Allison and I love trash reading. Call it chick lit, dick lit, café lit, airport fiction, potboilers, pulp fiction, pleasure reading, or escapist, I love it all.

I have a degree in literature from Tufts University. I've read War & Peace, In Search of Lost Time, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Pynchon, and Fitzgerald. I can discuss the subtexts of Franzen, the recherché postmodernism of Zadie Smith, and the shifting narration of Toni Morrison. I've taken a Great Books course, studied Homer, Aristotle, Plato, and Shakespeare. But I'm a sucker for the books that are ignored by "the literary canon," dissed by reviewers, left off the "Best of" lists. Nothing tickles me more than reading good ol' fashioned trash.

Before I go any further I have to apologize to Shopaholic author, Sophia Kinsella, for the use of this unfortunate term. Having read all of her books and several interviews with her, I trust that this obviously highly competent and talented comic writer will take no offense. She'll undoubtedly understand that "trash reading" is a silly, misleading term that merely refers to the often underappreciated books that simply entertain readers, and add to our enjoyment. And let's face it, we can use all the enjoyment we can get; our modern lives suffer a dearth of effortless pleasure. I don't partake of alcohol, junk food, or even television anymore. Trash reading is one of the few guilty pleasures I have left.

I once worked in a bookstore where the owner refused to carry romance novels, turned his nose down at customers who inquired about them. I know others who similarly snub "chick lit," another ridiculous phrase. Personally, I really don't care what people read. I'm just happy people are reading. Not just because my livelihood depends on it, but because this year the news was filled with scientific studies proving that reading makes people smarter, more empathetic, less stressed, and more engaged civically and culturally. We should all be reading, whether it's Henry James or E.L. James.

My bookselling colleague and I have a Roxane Gay fan club. This prolific blogger, and author of The New York Times best-selling book of essays, Bad Feminist, is charming and funny as hell. Her writing is intelligent, insightful, and moving. But one of the things we love most about this PhD-packing feminist is her admission that her favorite movie is the lowbrow film, Pretty Woman. Her confession made it possible for us to reveal to each other our own favorite escapist films. (Mine is Last Holiday with Queen Latifah.) Interestingly though the opportunity presented itself, neither of us fessed up our literary guilty pleasures. In bibliophilic circles the stigma attached to "non-literary" reading is very real. Trash reader-shaming is the new slut-shaming.

I will say it loud and proud: "I heart the Shopaholic series!" The books may not be on the short list for the National Book Award. And the spoiled, shallow protagonist and her emphasis on shopping go against my values. But I don't care! In the same way that I don't care that chocolate gelato, sleeping on my stomach, and hot showers are all bad for me. (Dr. Oz be damned.) I love reading about Becky Bloomwood as she shops her way through life and love. She's a fun character in frolicking plots, and the books are a tonic for the stresses of daily life, interludes of indulgence.

Maybe I'll be called out as a "Bad Reader." Someone who perpetuates "mediocrity" in literature, or seduces readers to fill up on the empty calories of mind candy. But I suspect that when others hear my declaration they will exhale deeply and cry out, "At last!," put down the copy of Gravity's Rainbow they've been skimming for their next "Classics I Forgot to Read" Book Club meeting, pick up Confessions of a Shopaholic (the first in the series!), and say, "Thank you." And to them I say, "It's my pleasure."