The High Art of Low Fiction.
The other day I was thinking about how much my reading habits have changed since I was a child. I love to read. When I was a kid I depended heavily on our local library for books. My mother would drive me there every week and let me loose on the book stacks. In my teens I rode my ten-speed bike through harrowing traffic to get to the library and ride home with the books precariously balanced on the bike rack. Rain or shine this was my weekly habit. The large chain booksellers had not arisen on the landscape and books were only available to me through thrift stores, the library and a tiny mom and pop bookstore on the boulevard near our home.
For a number of reasons I was a very poor student but a devoted reader. I tried to make up for my shortcomings by forcing myself to read books on a wide variety of subjects. My goal was to master a subject from each of the library stacks. A noble goal indeed and one that was never accomplished.
On the way toward intellectual mastery I stumbled across a spinning wire rack filled with bestselling pulp fiction donated to the library by well meaning individuals. This twirling treasure trove for teens was filled with Jacqueline Susann, Sidney Sheldon, Judith Kranz and Erica Jong to name only a few. I was irrevocably drawn into the limbo realm of high art-low fiction. Trashy books so good they could not be dismissed and too naughty to be seriously discussed in polite company. Books that demanded my full attention in secret and I remember them well to this day.
I was only thirteen when I scooped a battered copy of Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying” off the book carousel and pedaled home with it. My poor mother thought it was about a woman who was afraid to fly aboard commercial aircraft. Perhaps an inspiration book? She soon found out what was between the covers and I was pronounced “A little alley cat looking for smut.” Yes, I agreed. That’s exactly what I am and I’m grateful everyday that my true nature showed itself early on and allowed me to be who I am. What my mother didn’t understand was that “Nice” women were also sexual and they were getting into the habit of speaking their minds, living out their desires and they really enjoyed reading about other women’s sexual adventures.
There was a beneficial side effect to reading naughty fiction. To stay in good standing with the librarian I also checked out lots of quality books and used them to hide the Jacqueline Susann novels in the middle. In that way the Bronte sisters, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov were just as likely to enjoy my full attention.
I remember the books I read in my teens more clearly than I remember what I read last summer. I think that’s sad. There are certainly a lot of wonderful books to read these days but the choices are overwhelming. It's almost too much, nothing like the “old days” when I read a favorite book slowly, in secret and went back to read it again.
Did you ever have a favorite forbidden book?
XXOO Katalina Leon