Thursday, April 7th, 2011...8:54 am

#155: Don’t Read Mass Market Paperbacks

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OK, this may seem like an odd directive.  Why not: Don’t read trashy novels?  Or maybe: Don’t read any kind of fiction?  And wait a minute, didn’t you tell me way back at Number 42 that I wasn’t supposed to read anything at all? And what is a mass market paperback anyway?

A mass market paperback is one of those small, cheap, usually chunky paperbacks, usually with lurid covers featuring big purple type against a shiny black background and an air-brushed picture of a kissing couple or a gun.  They’re sold in supermarkets and they fit into a purse — you know, like your mom’s purse. Or, as my mom used to call it, her “pocketbook.” Pocket book: get it? (Thanks, Lee.)

My mother-in-law reads mass market paperbacks.  She reads them because they cost $7.99 instead of $13.99, because her favorite commercial authors are available in mass market right after hardcover, and because they fit in her, yeah, her pocketbook.

My daughter and son, however, who basically comprise my entire focus group of young people, never read them.  Never ever.   Ever.  Defying the dire predictions of the book industry, they do read books and neither of them has any desire for a Kindle and would use an iPad only for watching pirated television.  They even read fiction over non-fiction, but both prefer trade paperbacks — larger, more expensive, but most important of all cooler-looking and more aesthetically pleasing than the tacky little mass markets.

Ebooks are permissible, but only for hardcovers you must read right now, like Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad or Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom or Kate Atkinson’s (love her, great not-young yet not-old characters) Started Early, Took My Dog, all fabulous and worth buying in whatever form.  Bonus: The type is big enough on the Kindle and iPad to read while you exercise, which in my view is about the only thing that makes exercise worth doing.

But if you really want to not act old while you read, I recommend the trade paperback novel.  My favorite book all year was Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, a gorgeous, gripping, and insightful novel about a young person in olden times (you know, the 50s, when I and the author were both born) written with a grownup’s perspective and sensibility.  It’s about the Brooklyn of our parents and grandparents, before it became the Brooklyn of our children.  I defy you not to break into wracking sobs at the end, even if, like me, you read it on the beach.

Oh, and right, doesn’t someone you know have a birthday coming up that cries out for a copy of How Not To Act Old? (Available only in trade paperback and ebook versions, naturally.) I love you.

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