One of my proudest accomplishments of 2021 was finally beating my yearly Goodreads challenge. I set a goal at the beginning of the year to read 18 books and, as God as my witness, I read 21. As someone who loves reading but has been fighting the good fight for years to find time for it, this is huge.
But under that accomplishment lies a dirty little secret.
At least half the books I read were trash. Frivolous, silly, fantastical, horny garbage. And I loved them all. Sure, I read a few New York Times Bestsellers, one or two classics I’d missed in school, even a little poetry and nonfiction. But I never would have surpassed my yearly reading goal if it weren’t for what I like to call “junk food books.”
Please do not misunderstand me. When I refer to these books as “trash,” “garbage,” or “junk food,” I do so lovingly. These are the books that are not known for their groundbreaking prose or praised for their worldview-shattering plots. They’re just fun, compulsively readable, and perfect for a little something before bed. I use the term “junk food” because if they were sustenance, they would be of little to no nutritional value but they’d go down easy and satisfy your cravings.
If you want to get back into the habit of reading but find that you no longer have the attention span of your youth, these books are the perfect place to start.
In mid-2020 at the onslaught of the pandemic, while trying to juggle the claustrophobia of staying home forever with a toddler, the global anxiety of “unprecedented times,” and uncertainty about my own professional future, I found myself desperately wanting to somehow stimulate and shut off my brain at the same time. I needed to find a way to break the mind-numbing habit of distracting myself with binge-watching and feed-scrolling, while also giving myself the chance to turn off the part of my brain that seemed to be in a chronic state of endless shrieking.
One night I picked up a book I’d bought secondhand as a joke (I won’t even tell you which, but I will tell you it’s the first book in a trilogy with a color in the title that was wildly popular and controversial) and brought it with me to bed to have something to look at besides the ominous rectangle of bad news and doom my phone screen had become. I read the first page out loud to my husband as a comedy bit and as I finished my eyes just kept going. I still believed I was doing all of this ironically and every few minutes I’d say something like, “Oh man it doesn’t get better.” or “Listen to this it’s so bad!” But naturally, before I knew it I had not only finished the entire book but I’d checked out the other two books in the trilogy on my library’s e-reading app and finished those too, and now I was ready for more. I took the logical next step and read another popular series, this one about sparkly paranormal teenagers in the Pacific Northwest. You may know the one.
Eventually, I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t reading anything “as a bit,” I just genuinely loved these silly stories.
Just like I make sure to eat my vegetables, I try to make sure I get in some more nutritious reading as much as I can. Life is all about balance after all. But there is just nothing better than the feeling of becoming deeply invested in the impossible lives of these wildly transparent narrators, discovering magical worlds unknown, and fretting over steamy love triangles. The troubles of these characters are always unlikely to remind you of your own.
After tackling the two previously mentioned most obvious junk food series in 2020, in 2021 I tore through Sarah J. Maas’s A Court Of Thorns And Roses series and a few cute romances by Jasmine Guillory. I’m currently enjoying Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels which I’d highly recommend to fans of HBO’s True Blood, or anyone who doesn’t mind an occasional vampire romance but who finds Anne Rice to be too serious and Twilight to be too adolescent.
Go ahead, mama. You work hard, you’ve earned a little treat. And with e-readers and Amazon and self-checkout kiosks at the public library, nobody even has to know. We all deserve to make time for ourselves. Put on the soft pants. Eat the chocolate. Read the trash.