If you’re a “Mad Men” fan and you haven’t caught up with the latest episode yet, you might want to skip this post for now. It’s an excellent episode, and you really should watch it deliciously unfold.
Unlike the book the woman who sat beside me during gymnastics class was reading on Saturday. She’s watching her daughter, I’m watching my granddaughters, and we’ve both brought our usual reading material. Mine has pictures. I flip through Better Homes and Gardens or Country Living because I can easily scan recipes and rec room remodels while I watch exuberant girls flipping through their skills, flying through their childhood faster than I can say, “Freeze! Just for a moment.” My bench buddy isn’t scanning. She’s engrossed in her novel. Never looks up. She’s actually moving her lips as she reads.
Okay, confession time. I spy on readers. When I’m sitting in an airport or a waiting room, any public place where people read, I give a silent cheer for the novel reader, and I try to get a look at the cover. Once—on a plane—it was actually a book of mine. I would love to catch someone moving her lips while she was reading one of my novels.
But no such luck last Saturday. The lady was devouring what has lately come to be known as “mommy porn.” I’m, well, nonplussed. It seems such an odd environment to be reading that stuff with such intensity. Second confession: I haven’t read the books. I’ve read a teaser (as it were) or two thinking I should find out why the books are so popular, but I can’t spare the time for a whole book that’s that poorly written. And it does bother me when I see the TV ad that refers to it as “a steamy romance.” I love Romance. I know Romance. And you, book with the gray cover, are no Romance.
Which brings me to Sunday night and “Mad Men,” which is no Romance, either. It’s a period piece—can we call we that already?—and at it’s best it invites us to take a hard look at said period even as we enjoy a little nostalgia. There’s such depth of character, and the man who has recreated himself, deluded himself into thinking he’s killed his original tortured self, was exquisitely developed in Sunday’s episode. It’s really well-written. You watch handsome Don Draper take his mistress from one of his regular liaisons through scene after scene of increasingly unpleasant manipulation, and you realize that this character you’ve rooted for most of the time, at times sympathized with, often drooled over, is over the course of this hour making you feel queasier and queasier. Toward the end of the episode when his mistress stands up to him (there’s no physical abuse, by the way) you cheer for her. It’s his turn to be nonplussed. Game over. He has no more control. The whole dominance-submission deal in the bedroom is a foil for what’s going on in Don Draper’s business life. And he’s losing control there, too.
And that’s the difference between porn and real story. Pornography serves to titillate. Real story plums the depth of human nature and the breadth of the human experience—including sex, absolutely—through character.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in favor of censorship. I’m sure pornography has its place. But poorly written porn? I just hate to see it at the top of bestseller lists. That must mean people are reading it, giving it their precious time. So many good books, so little time.
I’ve wanted to broach this subject for some time, but I needed the right excuse. So thank you, gymnastics mom and Don Draper. I hope we’ve opened a floodgate. What are your thoughts?
After you tell us, check this out:
Hot off the press from Bell Bridge books, you can read the prolog at Amazon or find a little more detail at my website. WHAT THE HEART KNOWS was names a “Tom 5 Romance of the Year” by both Library Journal and BookPage, and it’s a personal favorite of mine.