It's a funny thing, but the format of a book can tell you much about its contents, for instance, those trade paperbacks, you know, the ones that have exactly the same story as your regular joe paperback but cost twice as much. Of course, the kind of trade paperbacks to which I'm referring would not be caught dead in the form of one of those low brow less than tomes. No, these are stories that will never appear in any other form. They will follow the lives of ineloquent, white bread residents of the Midwest, or women with psychosocial "problems," or nonwhites in some distant country. One thing they all share is that nothing much seems to happen, or that by the time the one thing does happen the reader has ceased to care.
I blame Oprah for the rise of the trade paperback, although I do so with a heavy heart. Oprah has done a good thing with her book recommendations: rekindled the interest of many women in reading, stimulated a portion of the beleaguered publishing industry, and generally presented reading as a good thing in our increasingly non literate society. I used to read all of her selections until Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, circa nineteen ninety something, which was so depressing it crystallized for me what was wrong with them. The people were boring, and their lives were enough to send me reaching for the scotch that must be somewhere in the back of the junk closet. In the past few years, thankfully, she's turned to the classics so at least we can be depressed with more style. Here's a complete list of her book club titles.
Actually, I don't object to all of them, just the contemporary trade paperback titles. Have a gander at the summer reading list in her magazine here. Don't think I'll be picking up any of these babies anytime soon. Call me a Philistine, but I have my own theory of what a summer reading book should be. It should have a beginning, middle, and an end, even if the end is at the beginning. It should have interesting characters, not lumpen. Most importantly, something should happen. For sitting on a beach, nothing beats murder, mayhem, international espionage, even romance. What I don't want while on the sand is a book that forces me to think, that makes it a struggle to focus. Instead, engross me, make me care about your characters, carry me along with the strength of the writing, and stay away from the passive voice. Let me have a little vicarious thrill. There will be time enough for serious matter in the fall.