Judge me. Inspired by Helen Finch @HelenCFinch and Sylvia McLain @girlinterruptin, but much less organised, I have decided to lay myself metaphorically bare and reveal the shame that was my bedtime reading in 2012. Or at least what I’m pretty sure I read in 2012 based on what is still waiting to be put away and what I think I associate with my current house, which we moved into last January. Before I begin, I would just like to add that this was the year after I handed in my PhD and therefore completely vacuous literature is perfectly acceptable. I was resting my brain. With that caveat taken care of, judge away.
In no particular order, in 2012 I read:
Douglas Adams’, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
I put off reading these for years having been obsessed for most of my childhood with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I used to listen to Hitchhiker to get to sleep at night and I remember laughing hysterically on a sleepover with my friend Vicky at the line ‘he just rang up to wash his head at us’, so I approached these books with some intrepidation. But I loved them! They’re nothing like the TV series, they infinitely more complicated and convoluted than that. I will have to read them several more times to have the faintest idea what was going on. Though it pains me to say it, Douglas Adams was never great on female characters, but then you can’t go around judging books like that, or you’d never have anything to read. So all in all, I would happily, and in fact will probably have to, read them again, and would certainly recommend them to others.
Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist
I read this because I felt I would like to understand economics better, and because I found myself at my parents’ house with nothing to read and this was lying about. I began, naive and open minded. He convinced me to change supermarkets on the grounds that apparently there are no expensive shops, only lazy shoppers. Then I got to the bit about airports. Airports don’t have to be the soul destroyingly awful places that they are because there isn’t the money to make them nicer he says. They have to horrible because otherwise rich people won’t pay extra to wait in first class lounges. He said this not in a ‘and so that is why wealth should be redistributed’ kind of a way, but in a ‘this is how it is, and we are powerless to change it, and why would we want to anyway, since this system is perfect’ kind of a way. It was at that point that I began to lose faith in his arguments and continued to do so, on much the same grounds, for the rest of the book.
Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic ties the knot
Chick lit tends to be my standard trash book. Everyone has their genre – boyf’s is SciFi, for my parents its murder mysteries – we all have a sort of comfort trash genre in which all critical faculties are temporarily suspended. My 8 year old daughter and I had watched the film, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and I’m ashamed to say, both very much enjoyed it. So when I saw this, for 50p at a school fair, I snapped it up. On reflection, I possibly should have looked for a different one in the series. I have no wedding fantasies (I only realised I was supposed to watching Friends in the late ’90s); I grew up reading Virago press. The big climax of the book is that she has two lavish and expensive but subtly different weddings. I could not bring myself to care.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
I dare not say very much about this because I gave up any academic study of English Literature at 16 and feel I’m almost certain to get it wrong. All I can say is that I enjoyed it, and a lot more than when I read it as a teenager.
50 Shades of Grey
I feel I ought to say these were badly written and misogynistic, but in truth I didn’t find either to be true. They’re not Salman Rushdie, Literary awards type good writing of course, but I found them to be an effortless read, and fast paced enough to prevent too much dwelling on the occasional awkward phrase. And of course Dickens and Rowling were similarly regarded as too popular to be well written when they came out. In terms of misogyny, again, didn’t find them to be so. They have the standard chick lit tropes of course, slightly older, impossibly good looking and even more improbably wealthy, bossy man; woman adored by all but unaware of her own attractiveness. But at least the man was often wrong in his bossiness and challenged on it in a way that men in standard chick lit never are. And this is essentially why I liked them. The books were lent to me by a friend, so I was already predisposed to at least trying to like them, but also I read them as chick lit, and in that context I think they faired pretty well. In particular, the female protagonist was not amusingly flaky and incompetent. She was perfectly self contained, clear in what she wanted and how she felt, and was able to stand up for herself and articulate her feelings in a way my 21 year old self would never have managed. Also, there is a lot of sex in all three books (did you know?), and alongside it what I chose to read as a subtext on the relationship between trust and intimacy, though it is just possible I maybe over-intellectualizing. Obviously the neat cod psychology ending grated a little, but then no one has ever pretended this was social realism, and chick lit does require a happy ending.
Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha
Like films, the more a book is praised and promoted, the more disappointed I feel sure I will be when I read it and find it doesn’t live up to the hype. For this reason, and more often than not because I simply never get round to it at the time, I like to avoid the much hyped until all I can remember is that there was hype, but none of the reasons why I was supposed to like it. Memoirs of a Geisha came out years ago, I only read it now because it was in a friend’s pile of books for the charity shop and she said I might like. And I did, very much. It gave me the illusion of learning all about early 20th century Japanese culture, while at the same time being very readable and with a good story. Probably shouldn’t have been so suspicious when it came out.