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The Unexpected Side Effects of Trashy Novels

My first exposure to books was my mother’s extensive library. She is a voracious reader, and over the years, she’s collected an impressive array of books, both fiction and non-fiction. I read Perry Mason, Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart at a young age, though I never got into Agatha Christie (for some reason), and when I started making major inroads into her collection, she quietly hid the Harold Robbins and James Hadley Chase books so that I wouldn’t be tempted. She didn’t realize that I had friends whose mothers weren’t as selective about what their children read…

We were undeniably curious. And we did anything we could to satisfy that curiosity. We scoured bookstores, old books fairs and small shops (no internet back then—I know. That really dates me! And, libraries didn’t stock popular fiction, only literary fiction), looking for forbidden fare, and found all kinds of treasures as a result. I found Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon (really, look these guys up; you’ve heard of Stephen King, but you don’t know what you’re missing if you haven’t read Sidney Sheldon), and discovered Mills & Boon and Harlequin in the process.

I got into the habit of reading every night, and couldn’t sleep until I had read something. I was reading trashy novels, and lots of them, under the cover of darkness (and I was also making inroads into my mother’s library at the same time). But I had limited access to books, and very little money to spend on them, particularly as I was in school and not earning. So, either I hoarded all my pocket-money, or I found friends who also read trashy novels. Friends, and cousins; it turned out, there were loads of them. Everyone read, and they read everything—trashy, popular, literary—it didn’t really matter, as long as there was a book in their hands.

We exchanged books and reviews, and that led to other books—non-trashy books—equally entertaining, and worth the amount of time I spent with my nose in a book. I found S. E. Hinton and Paul Zindel because of a cousin who also read Mills & Boon, and we bonded (I grew up outside of Pakistan, and barely spoke Urdu when I returned—books were the first things we bonded over). I read Jean Plaidy because I introduced Georgette Heyer to a school friend. I found Anne Rice, Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut because I traded Nora Roberts with strangers on the first day of school (and there were a lot of schools—eight, in total, not counting college—and the best way to make friends, I found, was books). I introduced a friend to John Wyndham, who got me hooked on to Asimov and C. S. Lewis’ adult fiction. And, when my grandfather passed away, and no one but my mother volunteered to take his books, I found Shaw, Victor Hugo, Shakespeare’s complete works, and a bunch of fiction writers I had never even heard of.

Reading gave me all kinds of joy, which led me to choose literature as an ‘A’ Level subject. Over the course of two years, we read fourteen works, and my friends (who were all taking accounts and economics) hated me because all I needed to do was read.

I realize now that I got into the habit of reading because of trashy novels. I often wonder, if they released all popular fiction novels with a disclaimer…

Warning; excessive reading may lead to more serious and literary works, and may be habit-forming and/or addictive. It may also lead to new friends and possible bonding with complete strangers

…more people may be inclined to turn their secret guilty pleasure into an open one. Because the key is not what kind of books you read, but that you love reading.

By Sabahat Muhammad

A graduate of the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture in Karachi, Sabahat is a graphic designer, and a senior editor at Indireads.

10 replies on “The Unexpected Side Effects of Trashy Novels”

Couldn’t agree more with you. Reminded me of my college professor who used to coax our class, “Children, at least pick up a couple of Mills & Boon and read, let your language improve. Who knows, you might even get interested in reading some good books even.”

As for me, been breathing books since I first discovered Enid Blyton at the age of 9 🙂

You brought back many memories Sabahat. Pirates, stone of Danny Fisher etc are some of my hidden sins. 🙂 would never forget my nail biting moments with if tomorrow comes. Thankyou for this nostalgic post. What good readers for class8 could not do- these books could do- got me addicted to reading:)

That bit about Sidney Sheldon made me smile – it was my first peek into the world of the “forbidden” (at the very impressionable age of ten). I used to sneak those books between my academic ones and read late into the night when everyone at home went to bed 🙂

Loved the post, Sabahat! I grew up on Mills & Boon. My friend’s mother used to get the latest from her ladies’ library and she had no problem lending it to me and my sister. She had the full collection of Georgette Heyer and I just loved every one of them. My sister is the Perry Mason fan. While I read the books, she revered them. I have been trying to hard to find Perry Mason books in the market, but none are available, sadly.

The first time I read ‘The Other Side of Midnight’ by Sidney Sheldon, I was too shocked to finish it. I did manage to a few years later, when I was older and wiser. 😀

Found this link through Andy Paula’s Facebook page. Sabahat, you made my weekend a bit sweeter with your words. More so when you said, “Because the key is not what kind of books you read, but that you love reading.” A lovely read!

A delightful read, Sabahat! I can so relate to this. From hiding a Mills & Boon inside the geog book to flaunting The Mammoth Books of Literary Anecdotes, life has been a feast 🙂

Don’t know about others, but I discovered Ken Follet, Sidney Sheldon and many others in my father’s collection of books. I used to wait until my mom slept in the afternoon and sneak the books out and read them stealthily. And I was more or less a permanent fixture at the old book shop in Mylapore way back in the the nineties!

And I too have read a lot of trash and have discovered many precious gems from the same trash. Loved those days 🙂

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