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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  • Once, and only once, I went to a writers’ guild in my town, and there I learned — from a romance writer guest — that the reason women pick up those mass market marvels is because it’s easy to disguise the book addiction when it’s mixed in with the grocery bill!

    And another thing … all the female models or forms on the covers have at least DD cups.

  • Thanks for the tips and the suggestions for new reading material! I always wondered what “mass market” meant.

  • We have very similar taste in books.

    Mass paperbacks are also called “pocket books.”

  • Er, Pam? The admittedly wonderful book you reference is called “Started Early – Took My Dog.” After a poem. By Emily Dickinson. We read it in English class. Ask your younger son. = )

    And, since I am NOT old, I have it in my Kindle. Nyah.

  • Pamela Redmond Satran
    May 7th, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Ha! I knew that! Though “Left Early etc….” is more of a middle-aged title, don’t you think?

  • Have just “discovered” your blog via the lovely Gretchen of the Happiness Project. And have ordered your book from our local online store. I’d ask my kids to give it to me for my birthday but I don’t think they’d dare!

  • Pamela Redmond Satran
    August 30th, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Ha! Thanks for buying the book, Shirls. I hope you love it!

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