Saved in many a phone, notebook or wall-poster is a list of books the owner swears they will read before they die. Heavily featured on this list will be the classics: Austen, Steinbeck, Wilde. Maybe some more modern but hard-hitting novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale and The Book Thief will make it too.
Nearly always excluded from the list are so-called ‘fluffy novels’. Fairly convoluted plots, epic romances and happy endings tend to typify this kind of novel. Fluffy novels aren’t quite Young Adult fiction (although YA books are a vital part of any fluff collection) but they are not to be taken too seriously. Synonyms include ‘light reading’ and “chick-lit.”
Because of their fun, often frivolous nature, fluffy novels tend to be seen as only one up from celebrity magazines. Intelligent, interesting individuals (we are lead to believe) read Hemingway on the train, and when given the free reign of a holiday will reach for something dark and deep that will see them returned home with a new worldview. New books are permitted, but they should probably be nominated for at least one award by either The Times or The Guardian.
But what’s wrong with a bit of fluff?
Today, there is a lot of pressure to constantly strive for self-improvement.
Employer requirements are becoming ever more demanding. Good exam results seem to mean very little without relevant experience and ‘meaningful’ interests. It is very possible to get great enjoyment out of reading magazines and going to beer gardens, but this probably won’t tick the box.
Meanwhile we are unceasingly bombarded with new ways to look better/eat better/perform better/be better.
Multi-media channels such as apps, podcasts and ebooks mean that it is now possible to be in a near-constant state of active learning. One of the less healthy by-products of this, however, is the sense that we actually should be in a constant state of active learning.
This can be especially pervasive if you fall into an identity category which people usually stereotype as frivolous or less intelligent. Young people, women and people of colour tend to bear the brunt of this, and so feel as if they need to prove their intellect and steer clear of anything that might be considered ‘pointless’.
But can we get anything meaningful from fluffy novels? Is it healthy to take physical and mental breaks from all the heavy stuff? Most importantly, isn’t that what going on holiday is for? Yes, yes, and yes.
Frivolous does not equal pointless
My favourite read from my holiday this year was Sarah Mlynowski’s 10 Things We Shouldn’t Have Done. I’d read it for the first time when I was 16, and had picked it up for 10p at a charity shop for nostalgia’s sake.
For a bit of context, the book is about American teen April and her best friend Vi, who successfully trick both their parents in to letting them live alone together in a gorgeous house by the beach. It features hot tubs, virginity-losing, a heroic love interest and plenty of ridiculous drama.
Also, the title is written in fluorescent pink.
Frivolous? Probably. Fluffy? For sure. But it turned out to be everything I needed for a holiday read.
In fact, like a lot of fluffy novels, the inevitable happy ending means that 10 Things actually has a big emphasis on problem solving and the restoring of healthy relationships.
Without giving too many spoilers, after the peak of drama (featuring chlamydia, of course) April and her friends sit together (in an abandoned building, of course) and take it in turns to open up about what’s been bothering them. Afterwards, April starts actively making an effort to repair her relationship with her family (by moving to Paris, of course).
Fluffy novels may often feature a hunky hero, but protagonists also tend to achieve some kind of self-actualisation by the end. This is what makes books like 10 Things so uplifting.
Embrace the fluff
In reality things rarely end so tidily. Fluffy novels are experts in tying up loose ends or simply glossing over them.
Yet that doesn’t mean they don’t deal with ‘real’ issues. Toxic relationships, societal pressures on teenage girls and the impact of a messy divorce are all prominent motifs of 10 Things. Reading the book again as an adult, these issues seemed even more poignant no matter how convoluted the plot became.
However, when I finished the book I still felt a sense of satisfaction and warmth that only a good piece of fluff can give. This kind of fiction builds up a sense of disbelief which allow difficult issues to be dealt with in gentler ways that don’t leave you seething at the pitfalls of humanity.
Even in the depths of a ludicrous romance, a cringe-worthy piece of dialogue or an utterly unrealistic plot twist, if you’ve temporarily forgotten about the real world then your fluffy novel is doing it’s job. Taking a break does not mean you don’t care about the real world and picking up a fluffy novel will not make you regress into your 15-year-old self- I promise.
Funnily enough, a bit of humour and light-heartedness can actually be good for you.