Saturday 21 May 2011

Rubbish is good!

There are times when only rubbish will do: illness, plane journeys, holidays, just after you've read something weighty. And I like rubbish. It can be deeply satisfying in a way that something you really have to work at is not. Like the difference between eating a plate of delicious food containing all the major food groups or eating a large bar of fruit and nut.You can sit back and let the words flow over you, disregarding clunky dialogue, inconsistencies, unlikeliness and the fact that you're sure the book you read last time you were in this situation had exactly the same story.

For me, quality rubbish, generally means something chunky with a bit of romance in it, possibly a bit of rags-to-riches or misery-to-happiness or just growing up, and most definitely a happy ending. To be honest, I could just re-read The Thornbirds and Lace  every time the need came on.They're all much of a muchness, aren't they? Occasionally something a little different will take my fancy, some fantasy, crime or horror. Last year, I devoured eight Charlaine Harris True Blood books one after another because I'd bought a job lot from the Book People for an unbelievable price. But the sweet-eating analogy springs to mind again: the last one or two didn't seem such a treat, just a bit too much of a good thing.

Sometimes Terry Pratchett seems to fill this rubbish need, but I won't quite allow myself to lump him with the rest of the category. He is clever and witty, but so very insubstantial, and I generally can't remember the beginning of one of his books by the time I'm halfway through it. I suppose I'm willing to separate him from the rest of the indistinguishable heap because his children's books, though very much in the same vein, are staggeringly good.

Sometimes I have to remind myself of my affection for trash when I try to steer children away from Roald Dahl and Jacqueline Wilson and towards Philips Reeve and Pullman. No, I'm not saying that RD and JW are trash, but that children tend to read them from habit because they know they will like what they'll get, rather than challenging themselves to discover something new. It's the same instinct that has me reaching for something fat with a picture of a pair of shoes on the cover or a watercolour of a French farmhouse or a straw hat abandoned on a picnic blanket.

So here's to all those authors who find a winning formula and then write the same book again and again. May they keep providing us with fruit and nut forever!


  1. As ever, you write what I didn't realise I thought till I read it in your blog. My "rubbish" would definitely include Georgette Heyer, Diana Norman, Sarah Woodhouse and Eva Ibbotson, with Terry Pratchett too. I would take issue with "insubstantial", though - he wrote one of the three best books ever on what religion and belief are.

    I still feel embarrassed about admitting to reading rubbish - I go to the library every week or so after work, simply to pick up and read some rubbish that I wouldn't necessarily take home but which relaxes me and offers a non-alcoholic pick-me-up. But the patronising expression of a friend who "caught" me at it was mortifying. "It's not that I don't read 'good' books as well," I wanted to tell her defensively.

  2. thank you for this! I was beginning to wonder why I did this, but I think your first sentence is essentially it: it's about teasing out those back of the mind thoughts. Finding out that other people think them too is a joy!


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