I know I usually post book reviews, but I recently finished a not-so-great thriller, and doing so has gotten me to thinking about how and why I read.
I had been reading quite a few "heavy" books - ones that made me think. Ones that would have me easily writing 7000 word essays about what I thought about them, what I liked, how they changed my world perspective. That books can inspire such thinking is wonderful. But sometimes, it's nice to just get lost for a few days. The reading equivalent of drifting down a lazy river, with weeping willows draping their leaves right over your head as you think about not really much at all. Or let's call it what it really is: escapism.
Now I truly believe there is nothing wrong with escapism, but that word in relation to literature has a sting for me. It all goes back to a traumatic life experience I had half a lifetime ago, when I was interviewing to get into a special program at a university. The interview was ... not going well. I had two interviewers who were determined to show me that they knew more than me, while my seventeen-year-old self was thinking ... yes, of course? I was not performing at my best. When asked if I had any hobbies, I was able to list several, but of course right up top there was reading. Reading was something that I had. I knew this. Then the sixty-something-year-old interviewer looked down his nose at me and sneered: "Escapism?"
What? Why? What? My very first thought was why would that be his first assumption? Why would that be the very first thing you say, rather than, I don't know, "What good books have you read lately?" And then my next question that came to me, and I've been wrestling with this for two decades since, is "What's wrong with escapism?"
I think that books that are designed to be easy reads, that are full of crazy plots or over the top romances or bakers who also solve mysteries are ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC and a completely legitimate form of art and literature. Who says they are not? It makes me mad when people are dismissive of certain genres of literature, like young adult or the dreaded "chick lit," as if somehow these are beneath real readers of true literature, which is just plain snobbish. Not to mention that some young adult books are right up there with the heavy hitters in terms of their emotional impact and beautiful writing. And don't get me started on the inherent sexism of labelling basically anything by a woman about women as chick lit, because this essay will literally go on for days.
There is also something to be said for a book that doesn't involve tons of thinking. Sometimes you don't want to get super invested in the characters. Maybe you are on vacation and want to zone out. There is a book that is exactly perfect for that. Maybe you want a palate-cleanser kind of book with some some reality-defying action, and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe you've been reading some heavy books lately and just want to read about attractive people flirting with each other. That is an awesome place to be! (I recommend The Hating Game for that one!)
Sometimes, though, your light book you were looking forward to reading does not pay off. As with Reckless, by Tilly Bagshawe. There was lots of lifestyle porn, since everyone is a billionaire, but I've always found that kind of brand-name writing boring. The characters were flat and I intrinsically object to the event that occurred to get the main character involved with the ridiculous spy game.
But the thing that really bugged me is how lazy it was. My very large example of this is that the author kept on writing about Bratislava as a sovereign nation in Europe. It ... is not. It is the capital city of Slovakia. And at first I was trying to figure out if the author was going with some kind of alternate reality type thing where Bratislava, full of "Bratislavans," was in fact a nation, except there was no need to do that and she went out of her way to be realistic everywhere else. Why not just talk about the Slovakians in Slovakia? As a reader, I genuinely was wondering ... does she just not know? It embarrassed me a bit. There were other annoying geographic stuff that was just wrong, but I think not a lot of people would pick up on it but I did because it is partly set in Geneva and surrounding area. But really, why would an express train from Grenoble to Rome pass through Munich? You literally just need a globe to tell you that was dumb. While sometimes I want to think a little bit less with a book, you don't want to read something where the author was actually thoughtless.
So I don't recommend Reckless, but I do recommend reading to your mood and not let anyone tell you that the genre you are reading is beneath them, because they are wrong and you are right.