I don’t do light reading very well. I’ve preferred challenging reads with engaging characters and creative (though not purple) prose for years. As a teenager, I once picked up an Agatha Christie novel – I still recall the cover with an old-fashioned typewriter on it – hoping that it would be as good as some of the film adaptions I had already grown to love (I was a teen after all). About five pages in, I was bored rigid. It was simply too simple – the characters two-dimensional, the language too straight forward.
That incident was followed by decades of John Updike, A.S. Byatt, William Faulkner and the occasional dip into James Joyce. Added to this were some hefty works in translation from Dostoyevsky, Fuentes and Eco, to name a few.
A glutton for punishment? Quite the opposite. There’s an intense feeling of satisfaction that comes from working to understand a text – learning new words, decrypting the symbolism – while being entertained and moved by the story.
I’ve tried to lighten up over the years. When I was in the grips of insomnia, the doctor advised some light reading before bedtime. After I explained about Agatha Christie, John Updike etc., the good doctor offered a compromise with Jane Austen – reading that for modern audiences isn’t particularly light, and with well-developed characters, but which is more-or-less predictable, especially given the umpteen screen adaptations of each novel. It did help send me off to sleep. These days, I often have a non-fiction book by my bedside, such as travel writing or memoirs, that I can read in small bits without getting hooked into a red-eyed readathon.
To add to my light-reading credentials, I’ve read a lot of Marc Levy, described by many as a light read. The French call his books ‘romans des gares,’ train station novels, or ‘airport books’ for anglophiles. Levy’s works are light, but not simplistic. There are twists and turns and interesting sympathetic characters, but his books do read like rom-coms or thrillers, often with a dose of magical realism. Fine by me. But I probably wouldn’t be reading them in their English translations. Yes, dear reader, I tackle these light reads in French, which make them not such light reads after all, especially with the profuse colloquialism in the dialogues. I guess I can’t escape a challenge after all.
Of course, what’s ‘light’ for some might be ‘serious’ reading for others. There’s an element of subjectivity to consider. Or not – why even discuss the lightness or seriousness of books? This blog is usually about politics, literature, feminism, art and society. As I’m in the middle of several academic marking assignments and writing projects, perhaps I needed to convince myself that I could still engage in light writing.