Why am I always spying erotic paperbacks being read on the bus? There’s no shame in indulging in trashy literature, but doing it in public is weirder than pooing on the pavement. I used to always have two books on the go at once: my trashy secret book and my intellectual public book. This lead to lots of confusion, including an awkward conversation where I eagerly raved about Middlemarch for a good ten minutes until someone told me that I was actually describing the plot of the second Twilight. It felt as if I had been caught two timing. To avoid the reoccurrence of such a horrendous mishap, I decided to find high-brow books that had all the cheap thrills of low-brow paperbacks. I now have a pretentious book collection that succeeds in satiating all my complex literary needs. Here’s a list of my top ten.
1. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
This book gives you a real case of the heebie jeebies without resorting to gratuitous scare-mongering.
Our unnamed narrator marries a mysterious rich widower, only to become part of a household haunted by the memory of his dead wife. My favourite part is when the mentally unhinged housekeeper tries to get our protagonist to jump out a window. The whole thing feels as if it was written by Austin when she was going through a cheeky gothic stage.
2. Oedipus the King – Sophocles
Poor old Oedipus finds out that he’s been sleeping with his mum and gouges out his eyeballs with his fingers as a response. This is meant to give the audience catharsis, but all it gave me was a queasy stomach. Your own dysfunctional family will look tame in comparison.
3. Franny and Zooey – J.D. Salinger
When someone dismisses Salinger as being ‘whiny’, it feels as if they’ve plunged a dagger through my little bookish heart. He’s not ‘whiny’, he’s just sick of all the fakes and phonies in this goddamn world. Make yourself a martini and prepare to weep over Franny’s articulate breakdown.
4. She Came to Stay – Simone De Beauvoir
Simone takes a break from writing about existential feminism in order to pen a revenge novel. When Beauvoir invited a young friend to stay with her in Paris, she thought she would be showered with gratitude. Instead, the whippersnapper tried to steal Sartre off her! Seems pretty unrealistic, what with Sartre being really ugly, but some girls are suckers for the intellectual types.
5. Philosophy in the Bedroom – Marquis de Sade
Complete and utter filth. I was too delicate to finish it, but perhaps you are made of stronger stuff. I do warn you though, it makes 50 Shades of Grey seem like it was written by Enid Blyton. As far as I could see, this play mainly involves the deflowering of a French maiden. But apparently it’s actually about establishing Libertarianism in France. Very blush inducing, but still acceptable to read in public, what with it being a philosophical text.
6. Trainspotting - Irvine Welsh
Most people who rave on about Trainspotting have only seen the film. This is probably because the book is written in a foreign language (Scottish) and is yet to be translated. Persevere and you’ll be rewarded with lots of gory heroin anecdotes. For a multi-media experience, listen to the film soundtrack whilst reading the novel.
7. The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
Choc-a-block with rainstorms, jealously and Catholic guilt. What more could you ask for? When Gossip Girl couldn’t think of another reason to keep Chuck and Blair apart, they borrowed the plot of this book for an episode. I like the excessive use of pathetic fallacy and the lack of a happy ending.
8. A Lover’s Discourse – Roland Barthes
Casually deconstructs the entire concept of love, making it a great read for the deeply infatuated or the broken hearted. Despite slagging off love, Barthes manages to describe it in painstakingly accurate detail. It’s like soppy poetry, only all postmodern and whatnot.
9. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Janie Crawford gets married three times, then returns home weary and ready to tell her story. My favourite thing about this book is the fact that her last husband is called Tea Cake. My second favourite thing is that there’s a plotline concerning rabies. It gives the whole novel a 28 days later kind of vibe.
10. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
A great love story for a generation of divorced parents. A suburban married couple pretend to be bohemian for a while and then give up when they realise how much they bloody hate each other.
As you’ve hopefully gathered from my brief descriptions, these books aren’t nearly as intimidating as they appear to be to the untrained eye. You can enjoy the vacuous content that lies behind the pretentious words whilst impressing a bunch of strangers that you’ll never see again. If that’s not happiness, then I don’t know what is.
Written by Phoebe Eccles