Gawker last week made pretty vicious fun of Lauren Conrad’s list of favorite books, which she, perhaps naively, shared with Entertainment Weekly. I can’t deny that anyone who lists SparkNotes as among their favorite books is sufficiently un-self aware to deserve a poke with a metaphorical sharp stick. But mostly I felt bad for her. Nobody should get through life with a list of cherished books that’s made up of Goodnight, Moon, The Great Gatsby, Sparknotes, Bang Bang, Are You There Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Lord of the Flies (which she admitted to not finishing), The Notebook and The Contortionist’s Handbook. Not that there’s anything wrong with Gatsby or Lord of the Flies. But if those are the two best books you’ve ever read, there is a lot you’re missing out on.
Conrad’s writing a young adult novel, her second, with the same basic elements: her main character is a girl who is on a reality television show. Clearly, she’s writing what she knows. But that also appears to be the extent of what she knows. I’m not saying that reading more widely is a substitute for living. Of course it’s not. But the more you read, the more kinds of stories you know are possible. If you read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, you’ll know that artistic innovation is possible, that great personal tragedy can be overcome, and that it’s possible to grievously hurt the people you love most in both processes. If you read Little Women, you know that integrity is critically important in your personal and professional life, that family can be a bastion of support in the most difficult times. On the other hand, if what you know is that anything can be overcome, and that glitz is glamorous, you’re not prepared for much.