There’s a café near my house where you can take a book off the shelf for free on the assumption that you eventually bring it back or replace it with another one.
I’ve popped in and out of this place frequently over the last year or so, occasionally buying a coffee and other times just sneaking a book, and the last time I was there I picked up a copy of The Jungle by Clive Cussler.
Having been raised on a steady literary diet of George Eliot (a woman, in case you didn’t know) and Charles Dickens since I was in diapers, I have to admit that I didn’t discover any really exciting* books until I was about, oh, twenty-six. At this advanced age a friend finally introduced me to a David Baldacci book, and thereafter I was hooked, gorging myself for about six months on one after another of his books.
At the time I was also mostly brain-dead on weekly holiday, so the one-dimensional characters and the fast-paced plots provided the perfect escape.
Eventually I burnt out on all the drama and had to take a break for another six months from all the action-packed intensity, but by the time last holiday rolled around I was ready again for another thriller.
And I have to say—aside from the shameless and clumsy racial stereotypes, including Koreans with “family kimchi money,” an American Southerner who says “Ah” instead of “I” and a whole host of swarthy Muslim terrorist baddies—it’s a great read!
I won’t give away the plot a) because I’m too lazy to summarize it, and b) so I don’t spoil it for you.
In a strange way, discovering how much I enjoyed reading these books has freed me up to actually enjoy “good” books. No longer am I reading under the pretense that a book will stretch or deepen or dare I say improve me in some way, but instead just for the pleasure of it. Apart from whether I enjoyed it, the only real standard I have for a book now is whether I remember it or not, whether a character or scene makes a lasting impression on me. (I had almost completely forgotten The Jungle not a week after I finished it.)
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t actually enter the competition to meet the author that was advertised on the front of the book— but only because it was already expired.
*Actually Dickens’ plots are some of the most engaging around, it’s just that you have to wade through about three feet of words to get to the action. Not to mention the maze of minor characters to weave your way out of. Which is why his stories work best turned into movies.