Friday, August 13, 2010

A comment on summer reading, before the semester begins and "reading" becomes nothing more than a dream.

I didn't do a lot of reading this summer, outside of work stuff and my daily addiction to reading my favorite blogs in Google Reader, and a whole lot of People magazine, which I know is completely vile and worthless stuff but good brain chiller.  I don't buy it, so relax.  But it is ubiquitous, particularly in my allergist's office, and when one is getting allergy shots twice a week, one likes to indulge in brain chillers.

There are lots of crap novels to be had in the summer, too, right?  I mean, who am I to call them crap?  I've never written a novel.  But you know what I mean.  Paperbacks.  A step up from Danielle Steele romances, maybe, but not a big step.  With those watercolor covers and grayish paper.  Fat and lurid, but current somehow, too.

The two I went for this summer were by Elin Hildenbrand.  I'm not even going to link to them because you can just find them laying around any old airplane, park bench, or yard sale.  Both were quite enjoyable, and oddly moving in a certain way.  I'm trying to figure out why this is.  Here's what I'm thinking:

1.  They both featured lots of women who were in crossroads with kids, parents, careers, spouses, lovers, or all of these things.  I mean, what woman doesn't feel at a crossroads with one or more of these things pretty much at one moment, or all moments, of her life?  I mean, I am.  Or like to imagine I am.  Because the worst thing of all would be stasis, right?  The romance is in the crossroads.

2.  The women in these novels reflect lots of body types and types of beauty, though none struggle with being fat.  Being skinny in these novels, however, is typically a sign of stress or distress:  a sign of losing one's self.  As they get "healthy," whether by leaving their bothersome husbands or checking out of the rat race or whatever, they actually gain weight and take on "healthy glows."  They let their hair get "streaked with gray," and "fall in soft curls around their shoulders, held back with a simple headband someone had left behind in the summer house."  The ultimo fantasy:  let yourself "go" and you actually become more beautiful.  We need not note that they are all white, usually tall, straight, and struggle with looking too much like supermodels.  Of course.

3.  All are desired by one or more men at any time, and therefore have choices to make.  There is rarely a character who does not have choices.  The lushness and agony are in the choosing.  See #1.

4.  There are sex scenes, but they're not with Fabio.  The characters are always sneaking around, maybe with their kids' babysitter, or their student, and it's the fear of getting caught that makes them hot, not the "romance" of the situation.  Naughty, naughty.

5.  There's always a retreat.  Set in summer, the characters always have a beachfront bungalow/cabin/colonial home to retreat to, where they find themselves, their strength, and eat ice cream everyday but walk it off with long walks on the beach.  Which means they are also wealthy and are not worried about money, leaving their jobs, losing health care, or any of that stuff.  Cause that stuff is booooring.  Awesome.

Clearly some hetero suburban porn here, people, which is perhaps why I liked it.  What else am I missing here?  Why else do these books appeal?  What  other kinds of fantasies are they enabling?

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