Sunday, October 5, 2014

trash talk

Yesterday afternoon I finished reading Don't Look Now (which I'll get into more tomorrow when I talk about it here) a collection of nine stories by Daphne DuMaurier from NYRB books.  My favorite story in this collection turned out to be "The Birds," the story  that Alfred Hitchcock loosely adapted for his movie of the same name. In fact, I was so taken with this frightening little tale that I went on line to see what other readers had thought of it.   I didn't make it past the second place I landed, which is a blog that shall remain anonymous.  It wasn't so much what the blogger had noted, but one of the comments on what he'd written that stopped me in my tracks -- the person wrote something along the lines of "Du Maurier's  work is trash, but fun to read." There was no explanation given about what the term "trash" means to that person.

I have to say that the use of the word "trash" really bothered me.  What exactly does it mean to say that an author's work is trash?  Does it mean not literary enough?  Does it mean strictly grocery-store fare?  Does it bring to mind bodice-ripping romance novels with very little in the way of plot but lots of steamy sex and the use of the words "his throbbing manhood?" Is it fiction that gets churned out by certain authors who seem to have a new book every year? Is it just genre fiction in general? Is there a consensus on the definition of "trash" that has been put together by some cabal of  elite literary critics? Or can it be that "trash" is merely in the eye of the beholder?

I googled "trashy books" and one of the first entries that wasn't based on romance novels was from Flavorwire. In all honesty, Flavorwire is not one of my normal reading sites, but for my purposes of trying to get a handle on what books someone might consider trash, it's a good starting place. The article I've linked is called "40 Trashy Novels You Must Read Before You Die." Here the author comes up with a list of 40 novels she considers are trash, without saying exactly what she means by trash.  Here are the ones I've read:    #17 is Lady Chatterley's Lover, by DH Lawrence. Trash?  #24 - Silence of the Lambs? If you like serial killer novels, this is one of the grandaddies of them all. Will it go down in the annals of the world's greatest literature? No. Is it creepy fun? Yes.  #26 - The Bad Seed, by William March. If you ask me, this is a good one, and even though it was written in 1954, it asks questions that are very much pertinent today.  And #28 - really? It's The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which was a retelling of the story of King Arthur from the pov of the women. #32: The Stand, by Stephen King: while his Dark Tower series is my favorite out of all of his work, The Stand scared the bejeezus out of me when I first read it.

It wasn't until the day after her article was published that the author of said article offered a definition of "trash"  after an internet flaming session led her to write:

"When I think of the word “trash” I think of work written to titillate and entertain." 

So, is "titillating" at the root of trash?

What exactly constitutes trash? The books I noted in the paragraph above didn't seem "trashy" to me at the time, so I'm still NOT sure what it means. If someone could enlighten me, I'd be forever grateful.


  1. Nice post. I take trash to mean no redeeming value. Titillating still has value. I did have one example that I thought was a waste of paper, but I am sure there are lots of folks who won't agree with me. It was Gillian Flynn's SHARP OBJECTS. Everyone has their own idea, perhaps.

    1. I suppose you're right - "everyone has their own idea..."
      But I still don't believe that Daphne Du Maurier should be considered "trash!!"


Say what you will, but at least try to be nice about it.