In defence of the trashy summer read
It’s time to redefine how we think of trash.
Not in the matter of waste disposal or class hierarchy, but the stuff of pop culture, of film and literature, that offers levity, fantasy, mystery, romance, deceivingly intricate narratives, puns, plot-holes aplenty, women who only ever work as struggling magazine writers or successful independent bakers (even in this economy!), and men who are solely investigators — of crimes, political and passionate.
Because the thing is, trash – mostly as it pertains to pop culture – is a lovely thing. And the very best, the most vacuous and lighthearted, is deliciously digestible. Like devouring a brightly-coloured cupcake or the jelly donut you know isn’t going to offer you anything more than needless calories and a sugar migraine, devouring a trashy novel is the utmost not-giving-a-damn that literature is able to offer.
Who cares about extra calories? Who cares about a jelly stain? Who cares if you’ve named your cat Fabio after an iconic romance novel cover star?
Yes, E.L. James is no Joan Didion; John Grisham is no Norman Mailer; Sophie Kinsella is no Jane Austen — and thank god for that. Because sometimes, in place of a two-page long vivid description of a wooded area or a contemplative soliloquy, all you really want— nay, all you really need — is simplicity. In summer— when one is most consumed by a uniquely ceaseless craving, for a good story, a delicious meal, skin against skin; when patience for artifice is low and the thirst for a fast and painless escape is high — this is particularly true.
But it’s a curious sort of hunger that summer brings, especially when the heat reaches its peak from mid-July to August and begins to liquify your brain as if it’s been left out too long, and your skin sweats out the wine from the weekend before. Summer after all, as countless novelists have illustrated over centuries, is a marriage of want and supreme hazy laziness; basic conversations become difficult to withstand, work is phoned in, romances become flings – and time, it’s been said, stands still.
The lemonade of literature, romance novels and the sort of mysteries that are currency in an airport lounge, become your nourishment.
Those epic, sweeping novels become buried in the dust on your bedroom floor. Instead, nestled alongside your bathing suit and sunscreen, you pack only the paperbacks, light in weight and in depth, and often embossed with salacious titles. The lemonade of literature, romance novels and the sort of mysteries that are currency in an airport lounge, become your nourishment. Not only do they go down easy, but fast, one after the other, like the beers you’ve been tossing back all afternoon, or that bowl of guac you may or may not have finished all on your own. What’s one more drink; one more chip; one more prurient paragraph?
The temptation offered by the trashy read is the escape; that means no reality, no melancholy Plath-like poetry. One could argue it also means no truth, but even in the shallow lies something familiar, something perhaps more accessible entirely due to its digestible nature. Whether it be trash or art, joy of the adventure is key.
In her noted 1969 Harper’s Magazine essay “Trash, art, and the movies,” New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael wrote, “The pleasures of this kind of trash are not intellectually defensible. But why should pleasure need justification? … Without this kind of playfulness and the pleasure we take from it, art isn’t art at all, it’s something punishing, as it so often is in school where even artists’ little jokes become leaden with explanation.” In fact, she concluded, “Trash has given us an appetite for art.”
Because there is ultimately little difference between those who frown at and consider themselves above what is popular, and those who love what is popular and attempt to fit it into an intellectual box, it must be admitted that trash is not particularly artful. However, we must also concede that this is why we love it.
Still, there is a far thinner line between what one considers trash and another considers art than many artists and self-proclaimed intellectuals would have you believe. Both provide an escape from reality. But only one offers an immediate shedding of the skin, a quenching of the perpetual sort of longing only alive in the summer when the days are longer and attention spans are shorter. It’s in this here and now that what you want, what you thirst for most, is garbage at its finest.
Long live beautiful, gorgeous and fulfilling trash.