This month I decided to share what some major mainstream women's magazines in Britain suggest we all read this summer.
Description: A complete trash fest. It’s a magazine that specializes in pictures of celebrities looking rough with a bad reputation for its intrusive paparazzi.
Books: Heat has a surprisingly large book selection for such a trashy mag, but then again it is an entertainment publication and so it allots the same amount of space to books as it does to films, music and DVDs.
The two books taking up the main space are How to Look Good Naked, by Gok Wan following the television show of the same name and Young Wive’s Tales, by Adele Parks. The description of the second makes it sound like a repellent vision of the destruction of sisterhood to me, but it gets a positive review in another magazine so it must have some good qualities. I don’t know if I would read it based on these reviews but if someone who had read it said they enjoyed it I might add it to my beach bag.
Then Heat has a list of their readers' top ten books. This features Simply the Gest, David Gest’s autobiography, at number four, so you can guess this list is pretty frothy yet strangely attractive. Three books (Young Wives Tales , Lucy in the Sky and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter) turn up in the selection of other magazines, illustrating the sad fact that women's magazines use their power to back the blockbuster to the top rather than help lesser known books climb the ladder to commercial success.
My Pick: Love Life, by Ray Kluun. Just because I would be intrigued to see how a story of "how a man copes with his wife’s cancer by sleeping with other women" can be emotional and beautiful instead of repugnant.
Description: We all know Elle. Shopping luxury for the seriously wealthy with the added substance of interviews with designers and slight, fascinating features.
Books: Elle also suggests that Lucy in the Sky is a good read, but the way that they spin the description shows the different target audiences of this magazine and Heat. Elle relates the most edgy plot element of the book (that as Lucy gets on a plane for a 24 hour flight she receives a text telling her that someone has slept with her boyfriend four times this month) while Heat placidly describes it as "a fun slice of chick-lit".
Other books in Elle are You Don’t Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem about a customer service worker falling in love with a complaining caller, and Joshua Spassky, by Gwendoline Riley in which two people go away to see if they have a real connection. Contemporary Footwear Design, by Rebecca Proctor, is full of pictures of shoes. Finally there’s a misery memoir called Abandoned, by Anya Peters which looks and sounds pretty standard. The book was generated by Peters's blog which Elle terms "compelling," although, judging by the excerpt, this does not translate into an intriguing book. I’d just like to make a little plug for a blog that I think is compelling enough to become a bookm which is 63 Days. This blog follows a woman who, as a teenager, was sent to an 80s "boot camp" for troubled children and the writing is masterful.
My Pick: Got to be the shoe book. I don’t even need shoes to have an intellectual backing to drool over them but when a handy theory about shoes being works of art or architecture is provided, that makes the book even more of a treat.
Description: Up market, classy but also high street friendly. Into pop and girls who look good. Glamour knows how to have fun, and now, since it’s always come in a small enough edition to fit in a fashionably boho handbag, I think it is my favourite magazine.
Books: Glamour has a book club now. It’s choice this month is The Caller, by Alex Barclay, which I have to admit sounded pretty creepy when I read about it in my book magazine; it freaked the book club members out. The benefit of having a book club in the magazine is that you get real opinions from several people -- not just those of the magazine’s book editor.
Although I love Glamour it does play it safe with its book section, predicting that Joanne Harris’s Lollipop Shoes and A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner, will be big hits. Who woulda thunk it? However, A Thousand Splendid Suns did get a dressing down in last week's Telegraph books section and the piece about Joanne Harris’ work in the Times was, although long, mostly indifferent with little to say except praise for her descriptions of food. Of course I strongly disagree with this as Joanne Harris is an amazing, if solidly established writer.
There are two other books making up the main content, Young Wives Tales (a la Heat), which when advertised here, sounds sappy rather than bitchy. The other is Riveria Cocktail a coffee table book of "off duty" celebrities taken by Edward Quinn.
There is a little something extra in the form of short blurbs about three books from brave women in the Middle East. All three sound fascinating. In The Prisoner of Tehran, a woman is
"sentenced to death for complaining that her math lesson had been replaced by Koran study." Kabul Beauty School is a book everyone has been talking about for some months now, the story of a woman who gives women hope and independence by opening Kabul’s first ever beauty school. The last one, In the Name of Honour, contains stories of rape and if written by a western author could have ended up edited and packaged as a misery memoir. It is instead the uplifting tale of a woman taking the positive step of speaking out against her attackers and winning.
My Pick: I’m torn between The Prisoner of Tehran, by Marina Nemat, and Kabul Beauty School, by Deborah Rodriguez. I’m drawn to quirky titles, so I think I pick the second book.
Description: Packaged as the women’s magazine with issues, Marie Claire is perhaps the most proactive of the mainstream magazines. The clothes are nice but more often at the pricey end of the market. However, it has great make-up tips, Spree vs Steal, spotlights on the key pieces for the month and great gift ideas at Christmas.
Books: Grrr urgh -- another magazine making safe choices. Again we get A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Lollipop Shoes as well as When We Were Bad, which, with its fashionable ethnicity, is bound to do well. You Don’t Love Me Yet is in there, and I’m beginning to wonder if this one was supposed to be big but just hasn’t quite made the right kind of splash. They’ve even gone against The Post-Birthday World, by the previously loved up Lionel Shriver, and that is certainly the safest bet ever after the flop of her tennis centred second novel. The Times was down on it as well and also highlights the strained cockney patter. Bad British accents have become unforgivable to the British audience so it is unlikely this book will do very well.
On the positive side, Marie Claire is running a section about the best books ever, highlighting a classic choice every month. Of course this is another example of them avoiding any risk as the staying power of classics is already proven but it should help encourage new people to read classic literature. This month they’re looking at I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou.
My Pick: Oh let’s go with The Lollipop Shoes. We all know it’s going to do well and I’m longing to buy it.
On a final note, Philippa Gregory is doing a big ad campaign this month. The Boleyn Inheritance had a full-page ad in three of the magazines I looked at. Please sir, could we have some help for the lesser-known authors?