You Are What You Read: True or False?

As writers, we should read and read and read; everyone knows that. To be a writer you must first be a reader.  Reading and writing are Siamese twins. I could go on.  But is it OK to read light-hearted and frothy stuff or even what some would class as (ahem) downright trash?   On some days on my train commute I give silent thanks for the anonymity of my Kindle.  Nobody knows I’m not reading War and Peace when instead I’m gripped by a Penncy Vincenzi family saga!

After recently finishing the latest offering in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, I felt like I’d scoffed a huge box of chocolates: a bit nauseous and not particularly well-nourished, but it was huge fun while it lasted.  I am also a devotee of real life story ‘my sister had a baby with our brother’ type magazines.  At the other end of the scale, wading through a very worthy tome can feel as nutritious as one of those healthy vegetable juices I whizz up in my Nutribullet (other brands are available): hard going, tasteless but oh, boy, do you feel virtuous afterwards!

Jackie Collins, Martina Cole, Take a Break magazine: I devour them all. Jackie Collins can definitely work a great plot and while her novels are of questionable intellectual merit, her sales figures (and bank balance) speak volumes.  I also love a gripping thriller, a biography and am a sucker for a self-help manual.   The Fifty Shades genre isn’t for me but I can’t bear reading snobbery and I take my hat off to those authors who make their living from erotic fiction.

The genre of chick lit is a tricky one.  Very much maligned by some as trashy, I would strongly disagree.  Romantic fiction is written and read by highly intelligent and accomplished women from all walks of life. It is great escapism, like a fizzy glass of champagne.  And who, apart from Gwyneth Paltrow, can exist on a macrobiotic diet with none of life’s pleasures such as wine or chocolate?  Give me the latest Catherine Alliott over a heavyweight economic read any day. Likewise, John Grisham and Kathy Reichs are superb authors: bleak and depressing Scandi Noir just doesn’t cut it for me.

Books can change your life.  The final nail in the coffin of motherhood for me was the brilliant “We Need To Talk About Kevin”.  Owen Jones’ “Chavs” changed my entire thinking about society and the class system and challenged everything I thought I knew.  Christopher Hitchens’ superbly scathing expose of Mother Theresa was a gripping read.  But Rowan Coleman, bestselling chick lit author, had me crying with her ‘The Memory Book’, a touching story about a woman facing early onset Alzheimer’s.  So who says chick lit is fluffy and meaningless?

Sometimes I worry about reading too much froth but I love it. It is escapism and as a member of Mensa and with numerous educational and work qualifications under my belt I don’t feel the need to prove myself by ploughing through heavyweight political stuff or some of the drier of the classics.  If that’s what you love, then I say go for it, but it’s not for me. I love Shakespeare, John Donne, TS Eliot and I’m currently reading Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which has long been on my to-read list.  But I’m interleaving this with the latest Val McDermid.

So read widely and read what the hell you like and remember: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

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