There was a time when I believed my primary role in the library was to point the way to the “good” books; those materials which would educate, enlighten and uplift the reader. The young especially, needed to have their malleable minds molded to encourage a taste for the enduring works. So I smiled with favor on the 11 year old who was checking out Treasure Island and not so much on the one who clutched a lurid comic book… yes, it was called a comic book then.
However I’ve looked at shelves from both sides now and after reading some really fun but lightweight stuff, I realize… junk tastes good! If you’ve noticed, there is an irresistible pull towards things that are bad for us, whether it is food (french fries), relationships or reading matter. Even if they’re not really bad, they may have no real nutritional value… kind of like iceberg lettuce. Given a choice between reading Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which I plowed through in college, or Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow, guess which one I would choose on a rainy afternoon?
Faced with what I considered a quandary, (after all, I had a standard to uphold) I decided to create a totally new classification: junky good books. These books would have all the adventurous, exciting, romantic or prurient things you look for in a less-than-classic work but would not elicit sneers from the purists. The list started off small but as I began it, I realized that some of my titles actually were rather “classy” after all. Take a look.
If you’re looking for horror, in my humble opinion nothing beats Stephen King’s The Shining. I confess I had to sleep with the light on after I read it. Although only a short story, The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, is also unequaled for its subtle horror and its ability to scare the pants off you without using blood and gore.
Spy thrillers don’t get much better than John Buchan’s The Thirty Nine Steps, which was made into a movie twice. The story revolves around Richard Hannay who witnesses a murder, learns of an assassination plot, and races across the wilds of Scotland in an attempt to stop it.
Daphne Du Maurier is one of my favorite authors and while almost everyone knows Rebecca, few are familar with Jamaica Inn. A historical suspense story which takes place on the windswpt Cornish coast, it has smugglers, pirates and a surprising ending. It was made into a movie starring Jane Seymour.
For those who desire heavy breathing, groping hands and cries of ecstasy, D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, a forbidden read when I was a teenager, has it all. Of course, by today’s standards it may be considered tame.
Although by no means a classic, M.M Kaye’s The Shadow of the Moon is one of the best stories I have ever read. Masterfully written, it is a tale of the Sepoy Rebellion in India and has history, great action and romance as well as cultural exploration. Although rather long (614 pages), it was an enjoyable read from beginning to the end.
I love french fries. Those greasy little sticks, slathered in catsup and dusted with salt, call to me from any menu. It’s pretty much the same siren call I hear when I pick up a less than worthy or edifying work, know that it’s really just “lettuce” and hurry to check it out.