Blockbuster Month

We are all suffering from winter ailments of one kind or another, and if someone were to paint a red cross on the front door, I wouldn’t be altogether surprised. There’s a plague cloud hovering above the Fens at present, as all the students are dropping like flies, too. One I was supposed to see last Tuesday cancelled due to an asthma attack, and my lovely student who was working on his final year dissertation with me has finally decided to degrade (which means go home now, repeat the year starting from next October) as he can’t kick his post-viral fatigue. I’m not surprised. It’s hard to shake off a head cold during your average term at Cambridge, very little chance of recuperating from a serious illness. Still, my son, who was the first of our family to get ill, is the first to be recovering. I’d done some baking this afternoon, in lieu of any more serious work, and he made an intuitive beeline for the kitchen, once he’d got in from the bus.

‘Ooh,’ he said. ‘Is that a cupcake I see before me, thrust towards my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.’

No prizes for guessing which Shakespeare play he’s doing in school.

So, a fair amount of reading has been done by yours truly of late, but I don’t feel quite energetic enough to review it with any sort of justice. I’ll get around to it. In the meantime, I thought I would mention a little reading project I’ve decided on for myself. Only a couple of weeks ago, I found myself with the taste for something truly trashy on the book front. Something low and vulgar and shamelessly plot-driven. And it suddenly occurred to me that what I wanted was some good old-fashioned blockbusters, of the kind they don’t seem to make any more. Naturally, it took me a terrifyingly short time to get from that thought to a list, to having assembled the books. Here’s what I’m going to read:

Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCulloch
Master of the Game – Sidney Sheldon

I was going to progress in chronological order, until I realized that Gone With The Wind has over a thousand pages. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that big, and I didn’t want to expend my desire for the blockbuster on the first novel and then neglect the rest. So the Mitchell will have to come last and in fact I think I might begin with Sidney Sheldon. But I also wanted to mix the reading up a bit, and I rather think I may read Herta Muller’s The Passport in tandem, as I feel that comparing the representations of power – in a Romanian police state and among the mega-rich in America – might be rather intriguing. I’m sure other comparisons will occur to me as I go along, and certainly I think I should pick up Nabokov’s Lolita again, perhaps as a counterpoint to The Thorn Birds? Well, we’ll see how all that goes. Lust, power, wealth, revenge, madness, ah yes, that ought to keep me occupied until the spring finally puts in an appearance.


31 thoughts on “Blockbuster Month

  1. I love a good trashy novel occasionally. You can’t get much better than Valley of the Dolls. I’d love to see what you might compare that one to (maybe some Edith Wharton?). I think this winter has been really hard on a lot of people–I know I can’t wait to see spring! Enjoy your books and I’m looking forward to your posts on them–this should be as much fun for us as they are for you! 🙂

  2. Ooh, what an interesting premise! I haven’t read any of the above, but I do have plans for The Thorn Birds. Just need to work up the nerve to read such a massive book. The only “blockbuster” I have on my shelf (also unread) is, I think, Susan Howatch’s Wheel of Fortune. That sounds a little crazy as well 🙂

    At any rate, those all sound like great books to read and wile away the winter darkness!

  3. I think I might have gone for Valley of the Dolls myself – it’s a fab title, don’t you think? This is perfect sick bay fodder, LL, I know just what you mean. Sometimes only some massive trash will do (especially if you don’t self-medicate with edible treats like I do). Colleen McCulloch just landed on an Australian stamp; the only woman among the 8 living Australian authors honoured. So a timely retreat into – what is it? Priest lust? I think it might be. And agreed: the Thorn Birds VS Lolita is a must!!!

    By the way, your son is just so droll and hilarious. And just READING about your winter makes my teeth chatter – it makes me realise how miserable the weather made me in London and that I’m unlikely to ever want to live in that sort of climate again. Happy to visit, though!!! Be well, LL, but not so well so soon that you abandon these books!

  4. Eva – for you, my friend. Of course! And it was already looking like a tempting idea… 🙂

    Bluestocking – I don’t blame you! It’s scaring me at the moment, too. 🙂

    Danielle – what a brilliant idea to think of Wharton! I’m loving that thought. It seemed to me absolutely ages and ages since I’d read anything like these books, and I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed Valley of the Dolls. It looks really good!

    Aarti – I have Susan Howatch’s Wheel of Fortune too, and she came that close to getting included in the list! I read The Rich Are Different when I was 18 and can remember it still. The Thorn Birds wasn’t as big a I feared, only about 500 pages, but yes, that’s still the kind of book you need a few deep breaths before plunging into!

    Di – Colleen McCulloch is on a stamp? Wow. Actually, I think she’s rather good – her series about Rome had rave reviews, and The Thorn Birds is one of the bestselling books of all time. I’m delighted you also like the idea of a comparison with Nabokov. I’m looking forward to it. And, bless you, yes I think my son is completely hilarious, but I quite accept I’m a bit biased. I used to love winter, but lately I’ve become very fed up with it and the thought of a winter spent somewhere sunny is not an unpleasant idea. Not that jobs, schools or finance would ever permit it – sigh! I guess I’ll settle for a lot of staying in with big books.. 🙂

  5. What a marvelous project. I loved “Gone with the Wind” when I was in my early teens. I have often thought about revisiting it to see what I would make of it now. Another delicious book in that vein that you might consider is “Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious. The wikipedia entry on it describes it as American publishing’s second blockbuster (“Gone with the Wind” being the first) and it’s a mere 400 pages or so. I picked it up after an episode of David Halberstam’s documentary series on the fifties devoted to it piqued my interest and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Metalious was a fascinating woman, and the cultural impact of the book on 1950s America was quite profound.

  6. GWTW is a great read: nothing to be afraid of! Everything moves along pretty fast, and Scarlett is a tremendously engaging heroine, a lot like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair–nothing gets her down, or not for long. Mitchell did a lot of research for it, too, which lifts it rather above the straightforward “trashy” novel, maybe. What a fun reading project! Maybe you should expand it to include some trashy stuff from previous centuries: have you read Lady Audley’s Secret?

  7. The only one of those I’ve read is Gone with the Wind, which I liked more than I expected. (I found the movie to be terribly overrated.) If you wanted to do another pairing, it would make an excellent companion to Vanity Fair.

  8. You want trashy, you should read Forever Amber. Oh, it’s so trashy, it’s the trashiest thing I ever read, including this trashy romance novel I once read that contained phrases like “bonny lass” and “sensitive nub”. Forever Amber was even trashier than that – it was published in the forties and good Catholics weren’t allowed to read it. I asked my grandmother, and she made her eyes big and said SHE had never read it though her ROOMMATE had and said it was SHOCKING.

  9. I LOVED Gone with the Wind when I read it one summer as a teenager…my sister and I each read it a couple of times, swapping it back and forth on our annual camping trip. We eventually cultivated southern accents and ‘fainting’ when overwarm or overexcited. My poor parents. But I have such happy memories of that book. I wonder what I would think of it now.

  10. Winter has gone on too long this year and more snow next week I hear. A great big saga like ‘The Thorn Birds’ sounds like the best idea for winter reading, though I’d accompany it with some slightly trash tv drama like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, or ‘The Grand’ because I am a classics wuss. I think your comparisons with ‘Lolita’ will be very entertaining 🙂

  11. There has been too much winter, blockbusters are an excellent idea to combat it. I loved Gone with the Wind, it really is nothing to fear. I vaguely remember the TV series of The Thorn Birds but don’t think I’ve read the books. Now I look forward to reading your comparisons!
    A couple of months ago I think I was looking for a trash read for the ‘plane and remembered Jilly Cooper (thereby moving into ‘bonkbuster’ territory). But alas, Riders was not available in the US.

  12. What a fun project! Sad to say I’ve only read GWTW on you list. But I loved it when I read it as a teen. Don’t be daunted by all those pages, they move by at a fast clip. Have fun and I hope you manage to not catch the “plague.”

  13. I haven’t read the Sidney Sheldon, but the others are all frighteningly compelling and readable – I’m sure you won’t have any trouble. I seem to remember, though, that I found The Valley of the Dolls extremely upsetting.

  14. I read Gone With The Wind during one Christmas break when I was an undergrad and was surprised at how different it was from the film. It’s a big book, but you’ll sail through it. I liked it a lot. Valley of the Dolls is by far the trashiest book I ever had the pleasure of reading. The movie is just too awful to miss, if you get the chance. I don’t know what you call that phenomena, but it’s a movie so bad that it’s good..or at least it reaches a compelling perfection of awfulness, or as John Mellencamp would say, “it hurts so good.”

  15. Something full of activity? Why, John Cowper Powys’ _A Glastonbury Romance_ is perfect. Not quite a blockbuster now, but popular enough in its day.

  16. I’m so glad I have already read GWTW because my now fear of chunksters would surely stop me. But I did read it and remember it fondly so do try it. and I love anything you say about Lolita.

  17. What an excellent idea! I loved Gone With the Wind when I was much younger; I’d forgotten, though, how long it is. I might be more reluctant to pick up such a long book now than I was when I was a teen!

  18. Gone with the Wind isn’t trashy! It is a CLASSIC, I tell you – a CLASSIC. Okay, just kidding, there – but really, fantastic story – I remember how excited my mom and grandma were when I was finally old enough to read it.

    Re:Sidney Sheldon – I’ve been working on a little reading project of my own – or,rather, thinking one through – I am interested right now in literature about and written during the 1980s, particularly about AIDS- and as I started preliminary research for my list I searched “Best sellers 1980s” and Sidney Sheldon was all over it – so I am interested to hear what kind of books he writes!

  19. First of all, I hope you feel better soon. As you know, over on this side of the pond, we have all been suffering from cold-and-flu-season yuckiness in our family (and in the community too) for weeks now. I have not read any of the four books you mention, yet I know them all well by all the commotion they caused. I remember when all the kids were reading The Thorn Birds for the titillating bits, and then we all watched the miniseries, with Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain. Ah, illicit love! I do love a trashy novel when I’m not up to the serious stuff. By the way, cupcakes sound good, might have to bake some!

  20. You have some of my favorite blockbusters on that list…Valley of the Dolls is another good one 🙂 These sound like the perfect fare for winter days when your head is stuffy and tired.

  21. If anyone can compare The Thorn Birds and Lolita it’s you, LL! Will read that one with interest. Have only seen parts of the TV series. Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward. Now that was classic TV. Wishing you best of luck with the 1000 pages of GWTW and the rest of your blockbusters. You might get so carried away that you’re happy to winter on (in dramatic diva fashion) for another few months.

  22. I read Valley of the Dolls last year (the lovely, hardback Virago copy) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, it’s trashy well written fun, but it’s also an interesting look at life for women post WW2 in the USA – so many opportunities but marriage still seen as the ultimate goal, even though it doesn’t bring happiness or fulfilment. I read it after I’d heard the recent R4 adapation and I think the radio version captured the essence of the novel, whilst reading the novel allowed you to understand the context and the social mores in greater depth. A top read! I’m contemplating re-reading Lace this year, another great blockbuster – the women have way more fun then Meggie in The Thornbirds!

  23. Kate – Peyton Place is a wonderful idea, and I already own a copy of the novel. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages and it’s a great fit with the other books. And I’m delighted to see so many votes for Gone with the Wind. I’m really looking forward to it now!

    Rohan – Lady Audley’s Secret is another brilliant suggestion, and another book I own that I’ve been meaning to read for a long while. I hadn’t thought about going back in time, but it would make for a great comparison and an intriguing mental palate cleanser. And I’m also glad to hear your encouragement for GwtW!

    Teresa – I’m half amazed so many people have read it. It really must be a classic. I haven’t read Vanity Fair either, although it’s been on the tbr for many a year. Perhaps its moment will come soon?

    Claire – then it sounds perfect for about now! I’m looking forward to that one. 🙂

    Lilian – it’s looking like a fun project, I agree! 🙂

    Jenny – I’m having to laugh at all the hugely trashy books bloggers are suggesting, when I realise that I possess copies of them all. Yup, I have Forever Amber on my shelves, although I bought it before I knew What It Was. I just thought it had a nice cover. How sweet of your grandmother to be so shocked – nice to think some things are still sacrosanct into old age. 🙂

    Verbivore – lol! I can so imagine you and your sister. How hilarious. I will read it and see whether the urge to swoon still possesses me. I suspect it may. 😉

    Jodie – it cries out for complementary tv, doesn’t it? We had more snow, winter continues to be too long and too horrid, and the blockbusters ARE keeping me warm. So books save the day, once again. 🙂

    Becky – no Riders in the US? How awful. Jilly Cooper is my trash queen, but I didn’t include her as I might read her for fun anyway. I once attended a very high powered university group where the other academics swapped reminiscences about having to have The Odyssey prised from their childish fingers and I could not compete. Mister Litlove cheered me by reminding me that none of them knew Cooper’s work so well as I. This was undoubtedly true. So glad you also enjoyed GwtW – it is a most popular book!

  24. Stefanie – oh I hoped to avoid it but alas, no. But the blockbusters are good medicine. And I’m delighted you enjoyed GwtW. It seems everyone here has liked it, which is good news for me.

    Jean – thank you for the warning! I will approach Valley with care.

    Grad – lol! I know just what you mean. I quite like that tingly feeling on the brink of sheer awfulness. I should watch the movies too, no? I mean, if I’m going to go this, I should do it right. I’m thrilled so many people have voted for loving GwtW. Certainly makes me keen to read it too.

    Jeff – thank you for another good suggestion that I hadn’t thought of! I had no idea Cowper Powys fit my genre, but I’m open to giving everything a go, and he’s an author I have never read.

    Care – I generally suffer from chunkster fear, so I have no idea really what’s gotten into me. It must be the length and bitter cold of our winter! But so glad to hear you enjoyed GwtW when you read it, and looking forward very much to reading it too. I must pick up Lolita again – now there’s another book that scares me! 😉

    Dorothy – I’m having a regressive moment! 🙂 I am quite sure I would have loved it as a teen, so it’ll be interesting to see how it falls on me now. I’ll let you know!

    Courtney – you are so right, it IS a classic, and I will be reading it as such, rest assured. And after all the build-up it’s received here, I’m looking forward to it no end. The Sheldon novel I’ve read doesn’t have any mention of AIDS, but your project is most intriguing. The most recent novel I read to mention AIDS in any way was Julia Glass’s The Whole World Over, which is definitely worth a read, if you’re interested.

    Gentle Reader – thank you for the kind wishes! We are all recovering (just about) and the cupcakes are a dim and distant memory (just weighing up whether to bake shortbread now or cheesecake topped brownies). The tv adaptation of The Thorn Birds was a defining moment in my youth, for sure, and I’m looking forward to the book no end. I’ve really enjoyed reading such easy fare – it’s been a lovely way to convalesce!

    Becca – so glad you have enjoyed them! I’ve really enjoyed my reading so far and am looking forward to them all.

    Pete – you’re right there’s enough pages here to last me well into spring! I loved that miniseries too and remember all the girls discussing it at school. As for Lolita, I really should pick that up again, and a good comparison will offer me the incentive I need!

    David – aw thank you for the kind wishes. I am recovering here, and it only took me the Sidney Sheldon and half of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (needed a palate cleanser), which wasn’t too awful!

    Fiona – I had no idea there was a R4 adaptation. How interesting – I’ll have to see whether it makes it into an audio book/recording. And oh my, Lace! That was another book that did the rounds at school when I was growing up. I never did read it at the time, and I should add it to my list. It was also seminal in its way!

  25. I read The Thornbirds during a long summer home from college, right after it came out in paperback. My father frequently asked if I shouldn’t be reading Shakespeare or something than the crap that I was reading. I loved the book, but was far too embarrassed to admit it at the time, fearful that I wouldn’t finish my degree if any of my professors found me out.

    I can’t wait to read your comparison to Lolita. Don’t remember the TV movie much, but the book starts out with Meggie about 5 years old and soon after that she becomes Fr. Ralph’s “favorite”. The seduction of Ralph by Meggie, and the manipulation of Meggis by Ralph — yes, I’m sure there could be many comparisons to Lolita.

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