When my mum was in her late seventies to early eighties, widowed and living alone, I was a little shocked by the kind of novels she borrowed from her local library – mostly romances, indifferently written by authors not known for their literary prowess. She would get several at a time, and apparently enjoyed them. My mum, who had always had such good taste in her reading matter!
I was also a little disappointed in her that she no longer engaged with ideas and/or the state of the world in the form of current affairs programs on TV. She had always had such a keen intelligence! In fact, the evidence was that she still did, and yet (from my point of view) she was dumbing herself down in these ways.
I tried to rationalise it. 'She's an old lady,' I told myself. 'At her age, if she wants to waste her time like this, I guess she's earned the right.' She was housebound, and many of her friends had passed on; I thought I should be thankful that she could find pleasure in her reading and viewing, however deplorable the content seemed to me. But it was hard to fathom how she could sink so low.
Now here I am, in my late seventies, widowed and living alone. I am far from housebound, I'm very glad to say, and have somehow acquired such a busy social life that some weeks I am glad if I have a whole day at home. But in other ways I am following in Mum's footsteps. It's rather startling.
I promise you I have always had excellent literary tastes, and still have. Yet (thanks to the lure of cheap or free books on Amazon Kindle, which often turn out to be Book 1 of a – still cheap – series) I quite often find myself reading and enjoying indifferently written romances by decidedly non-literary authors. The ones available these days frequently have some erotic content that probably wasn't in the ones my mother got, but I don't know that for sure – I so despised her choices back then that I never actually read them.
I do use the 'look inside' feature before buying. There are some which are so pathetic I couldn't bear to subject myself to them, and don't, but most can keep me entertained despite the atrocious editing (or lack thereof).
Furthermore, nowadays I seldom watch any of the excellent current affairs programs available on Australian TV. (Except Q&A, in which public figures, often politicians, are quizzed by a thoughtful audience. I still find this entertaining – and it reinforces my prejudices, which makes me feel good.)
I'm not sure why this change has happened.
I can explain to myself the disengagement from the current affairs programs. I've experienced more than enough grief, horror etc by now, either in my own life or as an observer of world affairs; I'm not going to rub my nose in any more. I still keep abreast of the news and read some commentary online. e.g. in The Guardian; that'll do me. But what about these lowbrow books?
I don't have any romantic partners now, let alone sexual ones; but then, I don't want to go to the bother anyhow. Relationships take work, and I've never been much interested in one night stands. In any case I don't really find elderly men attractive. (It was different with Andrew; I loved him.) And although I have in the past had some relationships with much younger men, I can't say any are showing up on my doorstep these days. Even if they did, would I want to exert myself? I'm enjoying my own company and that of my platonic friends (mostly women). So I suppose the books might be some kind of substitute. My choices often contain things like dragons, vampires, feisty heroines and handsome but somewhat 'damaged' heroes, all of which I'm a sucker for (in fiction if not in life, where I have learned to prefer emotionally mature men). But the happy acceptance of barely adequate writing, even alongside my continued love of beautiful writing, that's a mystery!
'What you resist, you become'? There were many ways in which I strove not to be like her, but it seems that, in some respects at least, I am my mother's daughter.