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>Guilty Pleasure Reading: The Claudia Novels

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>I define “guilty pleasure reading” by these 4 criteria:
1. I know I’m reading crap.
2. I’m enjoying it immensely.
3. I really, really REALLY don’t want anyone to see me reading this stuff.
4. My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm taunts me unmercifully.

My first case of GPR so far remains my worst case: The Claudia novels, by Rose Franken. Published in the late 1930s until the mid-1940s, this series is about Claudia, an 18-year-old girl who wants to be an actress until she and David Naughton, a young architect about 7 years her senior, fall in love at first sight. They quickly marry, and the novels (Young Claudia, Another Claudia, Claudia and David) detail the ups and downs of their marriage.

Rose Franken was actually a playwright, and it shows in the very worst way: The chapters read like they were originally play scripts, with their choppily episodic plotting, rushed pace, stilted dialogue, and stereotypical characters. In addition, Franken threw comedy (lame) and drama (overblown) at the readers the way novice cooks will throw pasta against the wall to check its doneness.

The comedy is mostly the same tired shtick over and over again: Claudia’s young and she’s a little goofy, but David discovers about 3 minutes after meeting her that she’s a wise soul underneath. After the marriage (a month later, I think) Claudia continues to act goofy, David makes caustic remarks, then Claudia says or does something serious and profound which has David stammering by the end of the chapter, “Forgive me, darling. I’ve been a perfect so-and-so…” or worse: “You’re not bright. You’re not beautiful. But you’re all the wife I’ll ever need or want.”

The drama is laid on with a trowel. In the first book, Claudia gets pregnant about 6 months after the wedding, then nearly dies in childbirth. David: “Come on, darling, you’ve got to fight. Fight like an old so-and-so…”

On the very day Claudia finds out she’s going to have her second baby, David gives her some bad news. He has accidentally found out that Claudia’s sweet, widowed mother has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The mother knows she’s dying, Claudia and David know she’s dying, but nobody talks about it. They all pretend everything is fine, and everyone is so brave. The mother starts rolling downhill in earnest just as Claudia’s labor pains begin. When Claudia wakes up after the baby is born, David is pressing her hand sympathetically, and Claudia knows, without being told, that her mother is gone.

I first discovered the Claudia novels (in one volume, The Claudia Omnibus) while browsing in my undergraduate library when I was, like Claudia, just 18. I stood there in the aisle and read for a while, then replaced the book. My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm and I curled my (our?) lip contemptuously and thought: “What shit.” It was almost time for my next class, so I left the building.

Here’s the strange part: I was back in that same spot the very next day, surreptitiously enjoying another chapter! I’d read with an eye on the page and an eye on whoever might be walking by. I was in constant danger of being discovered; even back then, anyone who wanted to find me knew that the library was the perfect place to look.

To complicate things, I had a new boyfriend, MEM. He was a little different from previous boyfriends I’d had in high school. Sure, MEM liked to look me over and perhaps steal a kiss or two in the stacks, but he also had a disconcerting habit of actually noticing what I was reading. (Now that I think about it, he may have been my first literate boyfriend.) My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm jeered and I quailed at the thought of MEM’s intelligent gaze falling upon my trash reading. He thought I was smart. I’d be exposed as an impostor.

The obvious solution was to check the book out, take it home, hide it under my bed and read by flashlight, right? Problem: I was too embarrassed to take it up to the desk, either by itself or smuggled out in a big pile of literary criticism. The student worker at the desk and I had been in the 5th grade together. In the end, I just came back and visited the book regularly. Unbelievably, this went on until I graduated, with a few close calls.

A few years later, I came back and took a night course or two. Of course, I had to stop in the library and look at Claudia. I happily reread my favorite sections; the attraction was still there. Even armed with a B.A. in English by that time, I still couldn’t understand it.

I haven’t seen any Claudia books at the libraries I’ve used lately. If one should pop up again anywhere, my Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm is heartily sorry to report that I’ll most likely be all over it.


13 responses »

  1. >I like your new look, Bybee. It’s sort of soothing. I’ve never heard of these ‘Claudia’ novels, but I know what you are talking about. I have a secret weakness for chick lit. It’s not good for my brain, but boy is it fun.

  2. >I have a secret weakness for Georgette Heyer novels. (Not so secret, if I’m saying so here, I guess) I love your description of going back to the stacks for another peek…

  3. >Maybe you can cut yourself a little slack by calling the “Claudia” novels, “classic crap” based on their age. 🙂 That has to be better than current crap, I would think; you can call yourself a literary historian while reading them.

  4. >Mmm… I love GPR. It’s like recess for the brain. And I love that you’re brave enough to stifle that inner critical bookwork and tell the world about your GPR books! I wanted to drop you a note and let you know that I’m linking to you from my new bookblog, First off, I love your blog’s title – and I’ve really enjoyed reading what you post. 🙂

  5. >Kookiejar,Thanks for the feedback. My blog was giving me a headache; I needed a less glare-y background color. Don’t know if this one’s quite right.Every now & then I get an urge to buy a chick lit book, but I haven’t read one since “Bridget Jones’ Diary”.Gentle Reader,Georgette Heyer? Is she English? Romance novels? No, you’re right, it’s no secret anymore!Sam Houston,Yeah, I like that: “Literary Historian.” My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm is mollified. Thanks!Book Dragon,Thanks for the link. I’ve linked you as well. Glad you like my blog title. I got some crap about it recently…these nude advocates said that I was perpetuating a negative mindset about bareness by equating it with loss and vulnerability.

  6. >As a longtime naturist…I love the title of your blog…”negative” my bare fanny…Keep up the great work!!

  7. >Thank you, thank you, thank you for reminding me of the Claudia and David books and the name of the author. I read them in the dark ages when I was a teenager and I was completely hooked. Now I will track them down again – I do hope I enjoy them just as much second time round, 40+ years later!

  8. >Joemmama,Well, then I’ll forget those other people and accept your word as the definitive one. Thanks!Herschelian,OMG, I’ve unearthed another Claudia and David fan, but you don’t sound reluctant at all! Glad to have helped. I’m interested in reading a future blog entry that discusses what the books are like for you now as opposed to then.

  9. >Hahaha, great post! I love your criteria for GPRs. I find far too many people do not really feel guilty about what they call a guilty pleasure, but that’s certainly not the case here! Bravo to you for being brave enough to come forward and proclaim yours to the book blogging world. :)And I like the new look! Very calming.

  10. >here a note from the Netherlands: I too love the books of Claudia. Have read them hundreds of times. Who cares that they are ‘crap’, They are my ‘comfort books’. Whenever I feel lousy, sad, depressed or just sick, are re-read them (and I cry every time when I get to the part where Bobby dies..)

  11. >I’m in my 40’s now and discovered the Claudia books when I was 14. I loved them! I still read them occasionally. Now that I’m older and a bit wiser, I see the flaws in the characters. For instance, David is just a little TOO wise for his age! But they’re good excapist entertainment and an example of “gender roles” in those days.My only complaint was….Rose Franken killed off too many good characters in the series! I especially liked Jerry’s wife, Elizabeth, and she died at age 38. And Claudia’s mother couldn’t have been too old, if Claudia was about 20 when she died.

  12. >No, No, I won’t accept the Claudia books defined as either classic or modern ‘crap’. In my view there is no need for anyone to feel guilty about reading books with so much heart. I too discovered them when I was in my teens (I’m now 50 (apparently!). They were from a different era even then and I was from a different country, different culture and yet I could identify with Claudia. I have come back to them at 10 or 15 year intervals in so many stages of life, ie married as opposed to single; graduate as opposed to high school education etc. etc. I still love them. They are incredibly warm and wise. Of course I see the flaws now but also appreciate the depth. In fact Claudia’s nervous breakdown saved me from one as a young woman when I discovered I wasn’t the only person in the world afraid of fear itself. I sometimes wonder if I have lived better because of the wisdom I discovered in those books at a very impressionable age.

  13. >Maggie,I’m sure that the main reason I’m irresistably drawn to this series is because of the goodness in the books. I’m attached to the characters. Claudia and David seem even more part of my landscape than people I’m related to that I haven’t seen in years.


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