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Summer Reading: Trashy Novels? Or Social History?

Our contributing editor Magda Pecsenye told us about an eventful summer series her book club read a few years ago. It sounded so good we asked her to share it with you:

Our club called the series "Trashy Novels of Yesteryear," picking it because we knew we wouldn't be able to make it through anything more literary during the summer months. But these novels surprised us -- and inspired some of the best discussions we'd ever had. We talked about how the books reflected the social mores and anxieties of the time periods in which they were written, how women's roles have and haven't changed, and how sex and betrayal are timeless themes. Don't rent the movies until after you've read the books.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. Rich vs. poor, unquenchable gossip, murder, and scandal after scandal in a small New England town. There's a reason the book was turned into a movie and later a TV series. You just can't stop turning the pages.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. With its candy-pink cover and promise of titillating scandal, it lures you in. But soon you find that you actually care about the characters (as poorly-drawn as they are) and wish they could stop undermining themselves, and it almost turns into a self-help novel of How Not to Let the Patriarchy Keep You Down. But not quite.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. In a perfect Connecticut suburb no one can hear you scream. Way more horrifying than Levin's Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives is the most chilling horror novel since Kafka's The Metamorphosis.

The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith. Darker, raunchier, and much more scathing social commentary than the marshmallow fluff movie, this book explores early 90s notions of age, beauty, self-confidence, and darkly funny revenge.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday June 28th 2007, 10:07 AM
Comment by: Susan P.
Yesteryear? The oldest thing on this list is fifty years old. Considering the history of the novel, I was hoping for a list with more substance. "The Mysteries of Udolpho" anyone?
Thursday June 28th 2007, 4:10 PM
Comment by: Magda Pecsenye
Laiane, I did say trashy novels, with emphasis on the trashy, so you'll have to look at a different list for actual substance! And yesteryear just means past (some sources actually say recent past). So I stand by my list as titled.

I just looked up The Mysteries of Udolpho, though, and it sounds like something I'd love (and my book club would probably like, too). Do you have any more suggestions for a Trashy Novels of Yestercentury list? I bet I'm not the only one who'd love to see it.
Friday July 6th 2007, 1:16 PM
Comment by: Maureen M.
I think this is so often true. Books considered "trashy" when they're first published -- simply because they're accessible and readable and hard to put down -- are with time revealed to be important social commentaries. I mean weren't both Dickens and Austen considered trash in their time?

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