lip lit: should we feel guilty over ‘guilty’ pleasures?
There are over 200 Baby-Sitters’ Club books sitting proudly on my bookshelf. Logic tells me I should be ashamed of them, but I’m not. I used to be, between the ages of twelve and fourteen, when I was too old to be reading them and they hadn’t yet reached the ‘coolness’ stage of nostalgia, the way characters from Sesame Street are all the rage at three, babyish in primary school and so cool it’s out of this world in high school. By the time I was fifteen, I dug the books out of the bottom drawer of my dressing table and reorganised them into chronological order on my bookshelf. I still read them now. They’re my secret vice. Some people have Mills & Boon, others chick lit. I have The Baby-Sitters’ Club.
These books are not literature by any means. I’m not trying to pretend they are, and the author, Ann M Martin, certainly isn’t either. The more I read them the more I cringe at what’s written inside and wonder how I ever could have been so engaged by those books. Yet, they got me reading at the tender age of five, when I started with the Little Sister series. I devoured book after book, reading the same ones over and over again. I graduated to The Baby-Sitters’ Club when I was about eight, and started collecting the books in earnest. I constantly read these books, but at the same time I delved into other books and read whatever I could get my hands on. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have a love of reading and writing if I hadn’t been obsessed with the series, but they were certainly my first experience at how wonderful books can be and how a person can grow attached to them.
The books opened my eyes to another world, and I loved trying to figure out the meanings of certain Americanisms, such as ‘napkin’ instead of serviette, ‘fall’ instead of autumn and the one which took me the longest to figure out was ‘bangs’ instead of fringe. The sentences were at times clunky, the plots contrived and only sometimes believable, but they still taught me so much about language. I am a firm believer that ‘it doesn’t matter what they’re reading as long as they’re reading’, because if kids at least learn to love to read while they’re young, that will stay with them forever and maybe even encourage them to explore more literary texts as they get older, as was the case with me. I did, eventually, move away from the books onto a greater variety of texts, probably to the relief of several of my teachers.
What’s more, I can credit The Baby-Sitters’ Club books with making me want to become a writer. I wanted to write like Ann M Martin. I wanted to know everything I could about her and I was devastated to find out that most of the books in the series had been ghost-written by other authors. I felt so cheated, that I decided on the spot that when I became an author, I would never let anyone ghost-write for me. If my name was on the front of the book I’d make sure each word was my very own. This was my first lesson in the business of writing.
There is much intolerance for books which are not considered ‘literary’ within the industry, as though they are not good enough to share a bookshelf with other, literary-tagged works. But I wonder, if we asked all those authors of literary texts what they read when they were younger, I’m sure they wouldn’t all cite classics on their reading menu. I don’t know anyone who would eat the same thing every day by choice, and it’s nice to eat dessert sometimes. It’s enjoyable to devour a book in an hour or two, one that makes you laugh, or forget the one thousand and one other things you were supposed to do today, or even makes you cringe and wonder how such a book was ever published. But even as you think it, I bet deep down, you know you couldn’t write something just like that yourself.
I spent so many hours reading those books throughout my childhood, why should I throw them away as as outcasts now? Or maybe I just can’t bear to give them up because I still suffer withdrawal symptoms if I don’t get a fix of The Baby-Sitters’ Club at regular intervals. Don’t be ashamed by your reading past. Those early experiences shaped your reading habits and opinions about reading and writing. I display my reading past proudly on my bookshelf, and I won’t stop searching until I find every last Baby-Sitters’ Club and Little Sister book and can pronounce my collection complete.