Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Raunchy, retro and ridiculous: why every woman needs a classic trashy book club

helen ellis

Writer Helen Ellis and her friends gather regularly to discuss their favourite retro, raunchy and ridiculous reads. But, she says, a good trashy book is about more than just sex and scandal.

Here, the author of American Housewife shares the delights of a Classic Trashy Book Club – and the ten novels that should be at the top of every woman’s reading list.


My name is Helen Ellis, and I am a member of a Classic Trashy Book Club.

Our members include three prosecutors, a therapist, an interior designer, a famous Instagram cat lady, a P.I.-turned-housewife, and a housewife-turned-writer: me.

We formed this group a few years ago during a Super Bowl party. Some of us were there to watch the football game, some of us were there to watch Beyoncé during half time, and some of us were there to eat part of a subway sandwich that stretched the length of a buffet table.

Whatever our reason, we got to talking. What we found ourselves talking about was books – and then, our favorite books. And then our truly favorite books, which we’d only admit to after a couple of Chardonnays and a fistful of onion dip: our favorite classic trashy books.

jackie collins

Author Jackie Collins, one of the queens of trashy books.

For a novel to count as a classic trashy book, certain criteria must be met. A classic trashy book must be at least 20 years old. At one point it may have been banned, made into a TV mini-series, or spent a summer on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s classified as erotica, chick lit, romance or trash.


Read more: Boozy literary adventures: 15 of the best book-and-drink pairings


There is usually a woman’s face on the cover of a classic trashy book. Sometimes she’s wearing a large-brimmed hat to infer mystery, or a veil to suggest tragedy. Often she’s holding an index finger in front of her lips, as if to say: Shhhh, listen up. I am going to tell you some secrets so juicy that you’ll want to tell your friends my secrets before I finish telling you all my secrets.

One of this woman’s secrets is predictable: sex.

books

“Have you got to the bit where he –” “Yes, Margaret.”

Central to a classic trashy book club is the belief that the only thing better than reading about sex is discussing the sex that you read about.

These novels might be about sex with the wrong man, or sex with the right man. Or they might be about sex with a woman. Or no sex, because our heroine has had too much sex – but gosh darn it, she’ll write about all the sex she did have.


Read more: How women have policed one another’s sex lives throughout the centuries


But there’s more to a classic trashy book than sex, and there’s more to our book club than sex talk. These books are all about second chances, and my book club is made up of women who’ve taken them.


Watch: The books guaranteed to mend a broken heart


Our members, like our heroines, have been around. We’ve made mistakes, but we try. We’ve been hurt, but we survive. We start over and then we start over again. Maybe the choice is to get out of a bad marriage or maybe it’s to start an empire. Depending on circumstances, both are equally brave.

Fun fact: a lot of our novelists wrote their first books over the age 40. Despite sales, most of them didn’t get the critical respect they deserved. Truman Capote called Valley of the Dolls author, Jacqueline Susann, a “truck driver in drag”.

But my book club doesn’t judge our authors or characters or each other that harshly. We champion a good story.

If you want to start your own trashy book club – and you should – here are 10 classics to get you started.

American Housewife by Helen Ellis is out now by Simon & Schuster, priced £8.99.

Images: Getty

Related

sex.jpg

What women want: the porn industry needs to wake up to female desire

iStock_45453806_LARGE.jpg

Bite-size novels that were made for your commute

Baileys Prize.jpg

Dating for book lovers: women drawn to thriller readers

Comments

More

Bookworms, there’s a Japanese word for people who buy too many books

Commit this to memory, bibliophiles...

by Kayleigh Dray
27 Apr 2017

12 of the best translated books to broaden your literary horizons

It's time to stray a little further afield...

by Scarlett Cayford
27 Apr 2017

The best new books to read in May 2017

It's going to be a wonderful month for bookworms...

by Sarah Shaffi
27 Apr 2017

Join us at the Emerald Street Literary Festival

The perfect Saturday for interesting women

by The Stylist web team
24 Apr 2017

Backlash as star says The Handmaid's Tale is “not a feminist story”

"It’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights"

by Sarah Biddlecombe
24 Apr 2017

Elisabeth Moss on why you shouldn't binge watch The Handmaid's Tale

"You may need a second to step back and think about what you’ve seen"

by Sarah Biddlecombe
21 Apr 2017

Exclusive: young mother who escaped Boko Haram shares her story

"I had to be prepared for the worst at all times."

by Sarah Biddlecombe
07 Apr 2017

Margaret Atwood has penned a brand-new ending for The Handmaid’s Tale

And she’s hinted at a sequel, too…

by Kayleigh Dray
06 Apr 2017

Witherspoon & Kidman are already planning a Big Little Lies follow-up

They have optioned a second Liane Moriarty book.

by Hayley Spencer
05 Apr 2017

The best new books of April

From learning to adult to haunting short stories

by Sarah Shaffi
04 Apr 2017