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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.