How To Have A Trashy Book Club

A primer for anyone who wants to start a club that reads books with little literary value but lots of smut, rock-n-roll, mental breakdowns, drugs and narcissism.

One of my favorite quotations is from Gertrude Stein:

“You should only read what is truly good or what is frankly bad.”

What is truly good is a very subjective thing. As it turns out, what is frankly bad is much easier to agree upon. Several years ago, I started a Trashy Book Club with some friends of mine. The mission was to read bad books and watch the accompanying movie when available.

We’ve had our ups and downs over the years but eight of us are still hangin’ tough. I’m getting ready to host book club this Saturday for the book I’m With the Band by Pamela Des Barres (movie will be Almost Famous, game will be “Name That 70s Rock Tune”) and the process of getting ready has me thinking about how much I’ve come to love this group.

So, if you’ve had enough of The Kite Runner, Bel Canto, The Help, Middlemarch, Water For Elephants, Three Cups of Tea (bet you feel burned by that one!), Eat, Pray, Love and My Sister’s Keeper, maybe it’s time for you, too, to embrace The Trash.

Here are some Trashy Book Club Pointers, which were devised with the help of my fellow members, to get you started.

1. Form your Trash Club with friends, people you’ve had some face time with or people who come recommended by friends. And once your group is going, choose new members carefully.

This sounds harsh, but it’s important that everyone have a sense of humor and understands that the group will not be reading Life of Pi. You might think that just about anyone could get into a trashy book club but you’d be wrong. Case in point: we had one early group member who never quite grasped the concept of the trashy book club and was confused and shocked when we did a live reading of our favorite scene from The Howling for a Halloween meeting. She never attended again.

Another thing to know: most trashy books have some sex (we hope) but they also have incest, bestiality and, for some reason, a whole lot of rape. Once we counted up and realized that most of our books contained a rape scene, a reference to rape or hinted at rape and this was not something we were seeking out by any means. So, as Flavor Flav says, considered yourselves warned.

2. Resolve to keep it trashy. As our group member April said, “Beware attempts to class it up, even ‘just this once.’  We know our fellow members are smart, and that they can and do read ‘real books.’ That’s kind of the point.” Yes, our group has slipped on more than one occasion, which is fine. The last thing you want is a pedantic trashy book club. But one lit slip must be quickly remedied with several trashy books. If Sylvia Plath slips in (or, shudder, Agatha Christie), make sure you read something like one of several (hundred?) in Susan Mallery’s Sheik romance series. Try out The Sheik and the Bought Bride, for instance.

3. Watch the movie. It’s fun to trash the trashy book and then get mad that they didn’t follow the book when they made the trashy movie version! If the trashy book in question has no movie version then pick a random trashy movie that may or may not have anything to do with the book. Two of our best movies, in my opinion, The Baby (1973) and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) were not really connected to anything we read.

4. Always serve alcohol (and food) (and order pizza). Our meetings are not Get Trashed at Trashy Book Club sessions (except for this past July when we had access to a pool and a lot of booze) but a glass of wine helps get someone in the mood to discuss the sex-when-she-had-her-period/tampon scene in Endless Love. As my group member Kate says, “Check your self-consciousness at the door!”

5. Book quizzes with prizes are fun. Don’t underestimate how much people like to win stuff.

6. Celebrate your group milestones. Our group met for the first time in December of 2006. Our first book was Flowers In the Attic, one of the best trashy books of all time. Since then we celebrate every December with a larger feast than usual, a look back at the year that was, a group photo and we draw months to see when each of us will host (we are trashy but also organized and busy) during the coming year. Being the book nerd that I am (yes, I also love to organize closets), I try to circulate a list of Trashy Book Suggestions that I’ve compiled but the host of the month chooses the book and movie and the rest of us vow not to complain (sometimes).

7. Don’t overlook memoirs! Some of our best reads have been trashy memoirs and bios. Many “rock stars” like to write tell-alls.

8. Theme food helps bring on the party atmosphere. You’ll score points for making that Valley of the Dolls pill-shaped cake or for bringing a baggie of powdered sugar for Less Than Zero.

Now, what books might you choose to get your trashy book club going? It depends a lot on your idea of trash and what you have a predilection for. Luckily, there are no shortages of bad books in all kinds of categories. But here are some of our picks that I’ve enjoyed and that could serve as a primer for a trashy book club:

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Mommy Dearest by Christine Crawford
Wifey by Judy Blume
The Howling by Gary Brandler
Tom Cruise: The Unauthorized Biography by Andrew Morton
Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown
Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins
I’m With the Band by Pamela Des Barres

And here is some trash we haven’t read that I’m hoping to get to:

Goodbye, Janette – Harold Robbins
The Love Machine – Jacqueline Susann
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus – John Gray (explore the area of self-help trash!)
Some Girls: My Life In a Harem – Jillian Lauren
One Lifetime Is Not Enough – Zsa Zsa Gabor
Fall To Pieces – Mary Weiland
Tommyland – Tommy Lee
Anything by Tori Spelling
I Just Want You To Know: Letters To My Kids – Kate Gosselin
Hammer of The Gods – Stephen Davis
Hollywood Babylon I, II, III – Kenneth Anger (OK, I’m cheating because I’ve read them but they are, by far, some of the best, trashiest books out there. It’s like reading a hard bound version of a lengthy US Magazine written in 1975).

So don’t get classy, get trashy!