Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The High Art of Low Fiction.

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


  1. OMG! Kat! I am looking at a mirror image of Fran the perverted teen! LOL! I hid my hot books in a copy of the Reader's Digest!

  2. Me too!! Mine was Lady Chatterly's Lover. Well thumbed, with its cover missing, it had been passed around in school; most of the good bits had been torn out!! Not a hope of finding it in a library as it was banned in Ireland.
    I was found out but my mother took a different tack. She was delighted we finally shared an interest - gardening!! I spent three weeks weeding and creating a vegetable patch. I didn't mind, I was just so grateful I wasn't caught.
    Years later we laughed about it. She felt I needed to be kept occupied - idle hands do the devil's work! lol
    I agree that there's a huge amount of choice out there now. It's great in one way but in another, new authors aren't given a chance. People tend to stick to those tried and tested few. I try to read at least one new author every couple of months. I might find the jewel in the crown.

  3. I guess I read D.H. Lawrence and Anais Nin but I considered their books literature. I pretty much read everything and since we were all avid readers of everything, nobody in my household said anything.

    I like a well-written book in many genres - I don't like anything contrived - a lot of fiction these days is filled with plot devices, not characters. I'm not interested in plot devices. I want characters to love and hate and a story that engages me. Gosh, I wish I had a secret reading habit, but like I said, we read everything growing up in my house.

  4. When I was about 14, I got a great deal of ribbing from my brother and my Dad when they saw the cover of Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love! It was the raciest book I had read to date and I was really embarrassed. My Mom told them to leave me alone and then we spent the afternoon going through her boxes of romance books in the basement that I didn't know was there!

  5. Kat, great post. DID I ever have a forbidden book? You bet.
    My mother was an RN--and older when I was born than my friends' moms. Her pov was to be accurate, kind of Victorian. My fave book was her nursing anatomy book. Read in the cellar when she was not home.
    She caught me once. Not pretty.
    Then, I sought out the biology section of the library where I was a frequent visitor for years to come. I still know more about the human body--and chemistry of it than many. And my family GP thinks I am Einstein.
    Also, btw, I am VERY disgustingly HEALTHY so when I go to the doc, he smiles, knowing I'm there for my allergies.

  6. Thank you Ladies I loved reading these comments. It's a privilege to hear about the little details that shape our lives.
    XXOO Kat

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  8. Lady Chatterly's Love and Butterfly. Read them more than once. Then, switched to Shakespeare...definitely a different path in reading!

  9. Not really April! You simply moved on from men in tight trousers to men in tights! lol


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