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How Do I Break My Trash Addiction?

June 29, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

For the last few months I have been rotting my brain with nothing but trash. (I am ashamed to admit how trashy, but let’s just say a certain mommy-porn trilogy may have been involved.) And the worst part is, now I find myself unable to read anything good. How do I transition back to respectable books? Sincerely, Trashy

Dear T.,

I think this has happened to a lot of us, in one form or another. I’ve also had a variation on this experience with movies: the Ozus and Bergmans in my Netflix queue mock me as I sheepishly skip over them, yet again, in favor of season 2 of The Borgias or some competitive-cooking show that forces people to re-create a taste memory using one hand, a Bunsen burner, and a palm frond. Sometimes we need transitional fare, the literary equivalent of a basically formulaic romantic comedy with a low budget and indie pretensions, if you will.

The good news is, there is no shortage of reads that are every bit as fun as what you term trash, but won’t leave you feeling like you just wasted six hours of your life. Lorin gave a good rundown not long ago. To his list I’d add classics like The Secret History, Case Histories, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Bonjour Tristesse, and newer titles Skippy Dies, The Chaperone, and Ghost Lights. If you like thrillers, there’s no shortage. I enjoy Tana French, although she’s not everyone’s idea of a beach read. If you’re really having a tough time weaning yourself, maybe try a different genre entirely: humorous essays always go down easy, and, along the same lines, short-story collections provide a gradual transition. Personally, I’m a sucker for a juicy biography: The Sisters, American Gothic, and Savage Beauty all got me through periods of intellectual exhaustion. Good luck, and I look forward to more suggestions from our readers!


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  1. Christine | June 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I think this calls for the hair of the dog treatment, which means another helping of trash, but more potent and with bitters:

    “Gordon” by Edith Templeton
    “To Bed with Grand Music” by Marghanita Laski
    “The Craigslist Murders” by Brenda Cullerton. (not as erotic as the first two, but a very good and funny novel about the decorating business)

  2. Max Abelson | June 29, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Taboo is a quadrilogy.

  3. Tyler | June 29, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Dear T,

    John Le Carre. Just do it. Personal favorite is the Little Drummer Girl. Tinker Tailor is a good start as well.

  4. Nick | June 30, 2012 at 2:59 am

    What “humorous essays” would you recommend?

  5. Joe Carlson | June 30, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Science fiction might serve as a good transition from trash back to literature: DARWIN’S RADIO by Greg Bear.

  6. Amie Barrodale | June 30, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Why fight it?

  7. Hannü | June 30, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I find travelogues more engaging (than say a novel) and I wrote a unique one about Tibet – Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han.

  8. Irene | July 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    The Beatles by Bob Spitz. I was reaching for a different one when an angelic librarian recommended this. “You’ll like it,” he said. “It’s juicy.” It is; and also entertaining, thorough and HUGE. By the time you’re finished, you’ll be ready for something completely different.

  9. Shelley | July 2, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Writers clear the palate with something that is not trash (trash sticks) but simply not “literary.”

    Try reruns of the BBC Life On Mars.

  10. Rufus Dog | July 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Would it be too forward and pretentious to include a blog that has lots of personal story essays, say like Yes? Oops sorry.

  11. MLP | July 2, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Grab a book of David Sedaris essays – cleanly written and hysterical. Shame-free beach reading.

    Ann Patchett’s page-turner, State of Wonder, is also delightful.

    I always recommend Evening by Susan Minot as well. Novelists who are also poets create beautiful images, so it’s good-for-you reading; but the juicy love triangle is hard to put down, too.

    And yes, the occasional blog by a writer can make for entertaining reading on the iPad. (Perhaps a parody that’s a few shades short of Grey would help?

  12. Natalia | July 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

    I think Nick Hornby is perfect for this, especially his collections of Believer columns (“The Polysyllabic Spree” and “Shakespeare wrote for money”), which besides being a great read for themselves are also a great inspiration for future reads.

  13. Amy | July 2, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I just read Skippy Dies, and it was extremely enjoyable. It reminded me a bit of Heather McGowan’s Schooling. I’m glad that you’ve decided to link to IndieBound instead of Amazon.

  14. Anthony Martin | July 2, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Anything by John Irving will do 🙂

  15. Rufus Dogg | July 2, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    @MLP Love the parody.. if I admitted to actually reading 50 Shades, it would be positively hilarious… ok, since I admitted already that it was, I may as well come out of the red room and admit I read 50 shades… just the first two books through… I never finished the third.. too much commitment.

  16. MLP | July 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm


    Oh, Jonathan Tropper’s another great writer who does quality light reading that won’t rot your brain. I really enjoyed This Is Where I Leave You.

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