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why i read trashy books

I’ve always found it stressful when someone asks what my favorite book is. My problem with the question is that it’s often asked so that the asker can tell you what their favorite book is, which, if the speaker is a man, is usually Liars Poker or Independence Day, depending on whether the guy is in his 20s or 30s, and if it’s a woman, is probably One Hundred Years of Solitude. It would be really refreshing if one day, someone was honest and just said Catcher in the Rye. I feel like that’s everyone’s favorite book but no one ever admits to it, because they’re scared they will sound like they haven’t read a book since the 7th grade. So anyway–the book question presents a no-win situation. Either the asker doesn’t care what your answer is, or if they do care, they are going to judge you harshly for your answer.

My brother, who is two years younger than me, is an undiscriminating womanizer by day and a closet academic by night. He has dissected Faulkner’s oeuvre and generally knows more about literature than most of the true academics I know. So the last time he asked me what my favorite book is, I think I panicked and lied. I probably said Wide Sargasso Sea. A semi-serious choice, although it is, at its core, a romance novel. Or maybe I said Dune, which I have probably read ten times, but my God, it feels like a real tragedy to admit that your favorite book is a work of science fiction. So I hope I didn’t say that.

Anyway, I like those books, but I don’t LOVE those books. Not like I love this book:

The thing about my life is, a lot of it’s drudgery. I mean, it’s not that bad, but I’m overworked and exhausted and tired of agonizing over burning questions like whether a glass of orange juice has too much sugar in it to feed to my kids. So in my downtime, when I’m reading, I don’t want to read about someone else’s hard life. No. I want to read about someone else’s glamorous life. And this book is perfect for that.

The heroine, Liberty Jones, is a poor orphan raising her little sister in some Texas trailer park. Yes, a trailer park. But she fights her way up, works her way through beauty school, and ends up working for an old Dallas tycoon who may or may not have some connection with her past. In the midst of all that, Liberty is being fought over by two hunks, both millionaires. I’m sorry that my plot summary does not do this book justice, because this book is AWESOME. I could say that I read this book lazily on a beach chair somewhere, but that would be a lie, because I think I inhaled it on my sofa on a Monday night in just under four hours.

tom’s sleep aids

About a year ago, my husband read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I didn’t read it, but from what I understand, the book involves an apocalypse, a mother’s suicide, cannibalism, and a young boy and his father struggling for survival in a world without sunlight. Tom told me that he finished the book in a coffee shop and started sobbing in public. And that makes me sad for him. Because why would he want to subject himself to such sadness, when life is already so hard? If I have to read about someone else’s troubles, I don’t want to read about cannibalism, I want to read about troubles like Liberty Jones’s–like whether to choose the scrappy cowboy-turned-millionaire (Hardy) or the sexy businessman-turned-millionaire (Gage). Now those are troubles I can get behind.

If you have a favorite trashy novel, I need leads. So spill.

54 Comments Post a comment
  1. Elizabeth #

    Fiona Walker writes fun British romance books filled with mishap- much like a less literary version of Bridget Jones’ Diary. It’s my “candy literature”. I used to have a hard time finding the books, but always has them.

    April 22, 2012
  2. i read a wide range of books – i like trashy books for the very reasons you have stated…
    so here are a couple recommendations:
    The Glamourous Double Life of Isabel Bookbinder by Holly McQueen
    (i’m waiting to get another one by her in my next book buying spree.)
    The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy by Fiona Neill

    Both of the above are filled with English humour – so u have been warned 😉

    February 25, 2012
  3. Emily #

    I must say that I’m with Tom on this one. I, too, sobbed at the end of The Road (although I was in the privacy of my own bedroom, not in a coffee shop) and Team of Rivals is currently sitting on my bedside table….along with a Costco-sized bottle of Benadryl and Melatonin. Maybe you’re onto something with this whole trashy novels business.

    February 11, 2012
    • since when does everyone have team of rivals on their bedside tables–and why? i mean, that book is like ten years old, right?

      February 12, 2012
  4. Carl Hiaasin. Read anything by him. Actually, his children’s books are probably not very trashy, so stick to the adult ones. I started with Skinny Dip and have now read his entire oeuvre. There’s mystery! A little (and only a little) action! Sex! Some parts that are totally nuts! Plus, his writing is so good that it doesn’t make you feel like you ate three bowls of sugar cereal, even though you just read the equivalent.

    February 9, 2012
    • i’ve long admired his covers at the airport. i’m grabbing one for my next flight.

      February 10, 2012
  5. Lol I think I need to get on the trashy books bandwagon. I totally subject myself to reading stuff that I know is not gonna uplift my spirits, but somehow I can’t seem to stay away from it, I just find it so interesting. Case in point, the latest book I’ve read is “Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography.” It’s basically the whole history of cocaine. So you’re just reading about people dying, being worked like slaves in South America to produce coca, gangsters killing other gangsters and police officers, and crack addicts and what they’re willing to do for just one more hit. A real pick-me-upper. But I loved it =P

    February 9, 2012
  6. Courtney #

    Yoona, the Other Boleyn Girl is hugely readable and not at all high-minded. I read Room a few months ago and really couldn’t put it down. In general, I figure I’ll read when my kids are grown and I’m looking for something to do. In the meantime, there’s a lot of reality TV calling out for me to watch it.

    February 8, 2012
    • dude, Room sounds like the complete opposite of a trashy read. TRASHY: like trash.

      February 10, 2012
  7. Oh god, I’m one of those dour people who only read non-fiction. The number of books classified as literary fiction that I have read is less than my age. I’m old, but still, it’s a pitiful number for someone who reads as much as I do.

    Two on my bookshelf, though, that are fiction AND highly entertaining are “I don’t know how she does it” (which I think is becoming/has become a Hollywood rom-com starring Sarah Jessica Parker) and “The Quality of Life Report” (about a writer who chucks it all to move to the country).

    PS: Who wants to read fiction when there are so many great bloggers out there? I don’t make friends with books but bloggers I frequent feel like my friends (in the weird way Oprah and Ellen seem like my friends). Hope I don’t creep you out with this disturbing revelation, Yoona, my friend.

    February 7, 2012
    • hey joan…not disturbed…on the contrary, awesome to hear. now, i need your top 3 non-fiction books. go.

      February 7, 2012
      • Positions Number One and Two go to: anything by David Sedaris; and The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams (which is classified as a memoir but turned out to be a hoax; still, it’s the best supposedly non-fiction prose I’ve ever read).

        Positions Three through Eternity have to be classified by genre. In memoirs, I like “Running with Scissors” and “The Year of Magical Thinking.”

        In social criticism, I like “Nickel and Dimed” and anything by Noam Chomsky.

        In spirituality, I love anything by Karen Armstrong and the Tao.

        In humor, anything by Al Franken and “Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” by Chuck Klosterman who wrote freaking brilliant essays on the phenoms of internet porn and the Left Behind Series.

        Guess I should stop now, huh?

        February 9, 2012
    • joan, i’m psyched you reminded me of klosterman and the didion, which i’ve wanted to read for a while but was scared to read for fear that it would reopen wounds from my dad’s death. a favorite sedaris line, from his essay about being a snobby but gluttonous eater: “the food was so bad, and there was so little of it.” me, to a T. thanks for sharing.

      February 10, 2012
  8. Eric Shoemaker #

    Two comments:

    1) I LOVE Dune (book and movie)
    2) Team of Rivals is also on my nightstand

    February 7, 2012
    • 1) i don’t think i’ve ever met anyone who admitted to liking the movie. so now i feel liberated: I LOVE THE MOVIE!! thank you for liberating me.

      2) and how long has it been there?

      February 7, 2012
  9. Amara #


    So I love the English Chick Lit – it is mindless entertainment. Some of my favorite authors are, Jane Green, Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, and Marian Keyes (not all of these are English).

    I have some books if you want to borrow them. Just come on over!


    February 7, 2012
    • are they like bridget jones’ diary, because i liked that book

      February 7, 2012
      • Amara #

        Yes they are like Bridget Jones’ Diary – which I loved. Let me know if you want me to bring you a few on Friday.

        February 7, 2012
  10. Escapism is the best reason for reading anything. I agree about “The Other Boleyn Girl” (the books are always better than the movies, aren’t they?) and “Hunger Games” (I’m worried that the book will be better than the movie). I’ve got weird taste in books, but if you want funny escapism, try Christopher Moore.

    February 7, 2012
  11. I just read “Air Kisses” by Zoe Foster – funny, likeable, glamourous fluff. I haven’t read her other books, but they would be in a similar vein. For something a little longer, but equally hard to put down, try “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton. I have also found that reading any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child are like action movies and can take your mind off the drudgery. Not so much romance in those, though ^^

    February 7, 2012
    • i have a feeling none of these are trashy enough

      February 7, 2012
  12. since you read the hunger games trilogy i don’t have any recommendations for you, but i do have one for tom: the game of thrones series. i’m on the third book and i’m totally hooked!

    February 7, 2012
    • i have been stuck on book 3 of that series for about six months. thank you for reminding me to go back to it!

      February 7, 2012
  13. Erik Eklund #

    Ha- I finished ‘The Road’ in court, and it was all I could do to hold back the flow of tears. The preceding sentence has been carefully scanned and is certified hyperbole-free.

    February 7, 2012
    • it takes a real man to cry over a book, erik. i have no explanation for why tom cries when “my dog skip” is on tv though

      February 7, 2012
  14. Heidi #

    Mary Kay Andrews! Fun, slightly trashy fiction, always a happy ending, likeable female heroines, hot men who they usually start out fighting with and end up in bed with. And set in the south, most in and around Savannah. I picked the first of her books up for the train ride from Portland to Seattle and it made the long waits while my husband thought of his next Scrabble word bearable.

    February 7, 2012
    • why are books set in the south so much trashier, and thereby more fun? i was super into charlaine harris for a while. looks like a good one, thanks heidi!

      February 7, 2012
  15. kay #

    Yoona, I’m just impressed that you have the energy to read! I usually set my sights on a book then promptly fall asleep while reading at 9 pm.

    Relating to your earlier post on work travel, I get giddy when I know I have a solidary plane ride ahead of me.

    February 7, 2012
  16. I’m an equal opportunity reader — The Road’s in my top 10, but I also adore science fiction and, especially, young adult science fiction. I’m with Grayson — the Hunger Games trilogy, especially the first installment — was ignore-your-family-and-job good.

    This next recommendation is certainly not trash — it was written by my good friend Audrey Braun (this is her pseudonym). Sexy thriller: a Mexico resort, kidnapping, being held hostage with a hunky man named Benicio — I think you’ll like it! If you do, good news… she’s working on a sequel.

    Here’s the link:

    February 7, 2012
    • top 10, huh–i might have to read it, knowing that, dead mom and all. after i read about benicio, of course.

      February 7, 2012
      • thevirtualrealityofstaci #

        oh and if you want REALLY trashing – Karen Moning……. I love her books…

        February 7, 2012
  17. I still have never read Catcher in the Rye. I suck. I was strongarmed into reading a Joshilyn Jackson southern-chick-lit (blech) deal for book club last year, “Gods in Alabama”, and I actually liked it. “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing” by Melissa Banks is also quite good, and quick.

    February 7, 2012
  18. Another thought provoking post Yoona – keep them coming!. I think there are two ways to look at depressing stories. I read The Children’s Blizzard last month which was non-fiction about a viscous snow storm on the plains in the 1880’s. Many tales of the hard life of homesteading, tradgedy and serious heroics, but at the end of it the drudgery (I share your sentiment with 2 young kids myself) seemed much more enjoyable. And in that way had the opposite effect in helping me be grateful for the life I had previously considered drudgery. That being said – I can’t say reading The Road would have the same effect.

    February 7, 2012
    • michael, i love that. reading about misery, to make you feel like your life is not so miserable. perhaps that’s what tom does. i am going to ask him about it tonight.

      February 7, 2012
      • I do the same thing, only with reality television.

        February 7, 2012
      • I certainly don’t think about it that way or aim for that effect, but yes – hearing about other’s hardships do give you perspective on your life which can make life’s troubles seem relatively less troubling.

        February 7, 2012
  19. Claire #

    This posting called to me- I agree with all you’ve written but then I take a left turn and go down an even more mindless route. Case in point- the book I finished last week: Kris Jenner’s biography. Now THAT is a good read!!

    February 7, 2012
  20. I read literally dozens of detective novels and can easily go through two or three a week then read the same ones again a year later having forgotten most of the plot twists and turns. But for sheer escapism I adore the works of the Australian author Bryce Courtenay, The Potato Factory series is full of likeable and despicable characters in equal measure alongside great humour and compasion and uniquely can transport you to another era (set in Dickensian London/ then Australia) His most brilliant work in my eyes though is the Power of One and it’s sequel Tandia, also a depressing subject the early days of South African Apardheid but written with such hope and the main characters written with such warmth and compassion despite the odds stacked against them.

    I’d also highly recomend The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet and it’s sequel The World Without End, these are essentially romance novels set across several centuries surounding the building of a fictional medieval Cathedral although many of the facts used as plot lines are real.

    Those are my suggestions if you want somewhere to escape to although if you can bare the joking references you can’t go too far wrong with Harry Potter either.

    February 7, 2012
    • will check out bryce courtenay. people LOVE pillars of the earth. i read it while traveling, it was a great book for that. thanks for sharing!

      February 7, 2012
  21. Grayson #

    I rea the entire Hunger Games trilogy in under a week, ignoring things like eating and spending time with my kids just to find out what happened next. Highly recommend.

    February 7, 2012
    • dude, YA fiction. i need to write an entire post about that, but i haven’t really read any. can i borrow your copies, i don’t know if i could actually purchase them?

      February 7, 2012
  22. thevirtualrealityofstaci #

    I read books by Lynsay Sands, Sophie Kinsella, and Katie Fforde. Although Katie’s books are about women with toughish lives, they all end happily. My favorite Katie Fforde book is Life Skills, because in the middle of the book she ends up pushing her ex boyfriend into the river and then running off with the hunky lad for an afternoon delight.

    February 7, 2012
    • never heard of katie fforde–now totally on my list. thanks!

      February 7, 2012
      • thevirtualrealityofstaci #

        I randomly found her at the Library and I have read almost everything she has written. I like her better than Helen Fielding and Jane Green.

        February 7, 2012
  23. Suemi Kim #

    All of the VC Andrews books. Admittedly, a bit cheesy and on the soft porn side, but great trashy novels for when you dont want to use your brain to dissect some complex plot. Highly recommended!

    February 7, 2012
    • sume, VC Andrews freaks me OUT

      February 7, 2012
      • Suemi Kim #

        that is why it is so good (and highly addictive)….I spent all of my high school years reading that (good) crap

        February 7, 2012
      • Courtney #

        VC Andrews freaks me out too. I can’t believe my parents failed to catch me reading it in high school — it’s just so gross. Incest is not sexy, I don’t care how hot the people involved are. But I admire Suemi Kim’s chutzpah to admit she digs it!

        February 8, 2012
  24. Kaula #

    I don’t know if you’re into historical fiction but Phillipa Gregory writes some nice trashy literature, in particular “The Other Boleyn Girl” (NOTHING like the movie). Not always super upbeat but it will satisfy your urge for trash and wont leave you crying at the end.

    February 7, 2012
    • not nearly trashy enough, kaula. too much history in that historical fiction

      February 7, 2012

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