Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Guilty Pleasure Reading: The Claudia Novels

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.

36 comments:

kookiejar said...

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.

Gentle Reader said...

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...

Sam Houston said...

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.

QBobicus said...

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, http://book-dragon.blogspot.com. First off, I love your blog's title - and I've really enjoyed reading what you post. :)

Bybee said...

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.

joemmama said...

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

herschelian said...

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!

Bybee said...

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.

Lesley said...

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.

Aline said...

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..)

Patricia said...

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.

maggie said...

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.

Bybee said...

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.

Judy said...

I finally decided to look up the David and Claudia books to see if anyone else remembered them or even if they really existed. I remember reading them when I was a teenager and loving them. ( I was born in 1941). My sisters and I have been discussing the books we read when we were kids and this one came up. I love your site and just forwarded the link to my three sisters. We live in different cities, but have an Internet book club.

Bankpinky

JEAN-O said...

I have ALWAYS loved the Claudia books.
What would Claudia have done without Bertha, though?
Bertha's line "I'll bet you 50 cents", always won the bet!

Zudit Says said...

To Jean-O: the line is actually, "I'll bet you twenty cents", I beleive. I just read "Claudia" and own both "Claudia" and "Claudia and David". I feel stupid reading them, but I can't help it.

appacom said...

There were other Claudia and David books, ending, I think, with "Claudia and David: The Golden Years." Had them all, many years ago, and loaned them, unfortunately, to a woman who lived in my apt. building in N.Y. I have mourned the loss of those books ever since she moved out in the middle of the night. That's been nearly forty years ago.

Anonymous said...

I am 67 years old, and I enjoyed all the Claudia books...things were different then, just like Anne of Green Gables. There was a lot of wisdom in those books. I loved them and am going to look for them again to enjoy.
IEH

Anonymous said...

I have most of the Claudia books, they are available on EBAY. I love them, and re read them constantly. Does anyone know the title of the book where David went off to war?? That seems to be the only one I don't have.

M. Bradley McCauley said...

I foundyour site when I googled, Claudia and David novels. I read them years and years ago, and have looked for them now and then over the years. Thanks for this article, it was a delight to read.

Kayotic said...

too funny.... Found your blog when looking for the Claudia & David books. My Grandma gave me the books when I was about 16. She told me my Dad named me after the Claudia character - not that we have anything in common....

Patricia said...

One thing that irritates me is...Claudia always had a housekeeper (such as Bertha) to cook, clean and take care of the kids for her. It was easy for Claudia to have a nervous breakdown and hide in bed for six months---the housekeeper did everything for her! And David was very "remote" and detached from his own kids. Did parents act like that in those days?

Anonymous said...

I discovered the Claudia books in my teens and have read them off and on since. I like them for the wisdom they impart and also the characters. I have read and own Rose Franken's biography and it is excellent. Her books were very popular in the 30's and 40's. They were made into two movies and radio programs

Susan R said...

Have you read When All Is Said and Done? This is her autobiography. You will find that many of the things that happened to Claudia (in the first few books anyway), did happen to Rose. I found her autobiography even more interesting than the Claudia books.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this...I was just thinking about the Claudia series that I read when I was about 13 or so and was engrossed in the idea of life as examined (in my brain at that time, I thought this was an insiders view of marriage--as it could be)by a young, hip interesting soul. I remember wondering how someone could be so honest while revealing the most basic of human emotions and human observations. I remember loving Claudia and wanting to be like her, even with the painful events in her life. Thank you for blogging and revealing your own infatuation with a character from a book.

Anonymous said...

Lillie fille,
I read the Claudia books when I was young and I loved them. Some years ago I found the Claudia books and I kept them. I have not reread them yet but I shall. I remember crying my heart out when Bobby died and being angry with the author. By the way,I am a retired librarian and make no apologies for reading the Claudia books. It sure beats reading those Harlequin Romances. I could never read those.

Eve said...

It's great to find so many other people have read and enjoyed the Claudia novels. My Mum used to borrow them from the library when I was in my teens and I'd read them after her. Over the years I have picked up several of them in paperback and still re-read them occasionally. I quite liked Julia, the sister-in-law. She was quite stiff and formal, but very kind and she gave great presents.

Dave Zarkin said...

For another review on "Claudia and David" go to my blog www.cheezymovies.blogspot.com
I found the novel quite compelling. it's the latest posting on my blog. please comment.
I hadn't read your review when I wrote my comments.

Nancy said...

Claudia and David were among the first "grown up" books I ever read--early 50s-10 or 11 years old. I never forgot them. I suspected they were fairly "corny" years later, but to me they were very romantic and David was my idea of the man I wanted to marry.

Manifan said...

Can't believe I found this spot. I have loved the characters of Claudia and David ever since the moment I opened the first book 43 years ago. I've never met anyone personally who read it so it's wonderful to hear of others who have enjoyed the series too. How can a book be "bad" if it has affected so many people in such a positive way? We all love the characters, and that's the mark of good writing. Just because it's different from what's written today -- and to my mind, most of it's drivel -- doesn't make it poorly written. In my opinion they're masterpieces!

Anonymous said...

I'm 68 and totally over apologizing for my reading choices which includes the Claudia novels. And, if you haven't read Georgette Heyer's Regency novels you're missing out big time - they are the books that got me through the pain and grief of my young husband's death 30 years ago. I re-read them until they fall apart - comfort books extraordinaire (start with The Grand Sophy or Friday's Child or Arabella or Frederica - too utterly delightful and so beautifully written). All these are a HUGE cut above some of the slimy material that pervades bookshop shelves these days - who apologizes for reading Fifty Shades of Grey? - I wouldn't pollute my mind with such stuff. So, no more apologising for what you love to read (and I love Peanuts!)

Anonymous said...

When are you going to create another blog on what people think of the Claudia books now? I too discovered them when I was about 16. I am 66 now. I was fortunate to find them in a little tobacco shop. They had the 3 volumes in paperback of the whole series which is better reading than the Book of Claudia. I carried them all thru different moves and finally a couple of years ago on a move lost them. I looked them up on Amazon and they were selling for $50 and up. For books that I paid $2.95 for. I think there was a limited edition of these books as that was why they are so expensive now. However, I bought all 3 and guard them with my life. I agree with most of the people that wrote in. I look for the wisdom and humour. I suggest you read "When All is Said and Done". She lived an amazing life!

Anonymous said...

I adore the Claudia books. I read them for the first time when I was in seventh grade, which was about 1957. I found this blog g entry as I was searching for the chronological list of the books. I might have collected them all, though I'm not sure. I pulled them out because my friend Claudia had heard of them but had never read them. Actually she'd heard of the movie because her parents had seen it while her mom was pregnant with her.

I haven't retread them since probably 1985 or so, and I'm going to read them again.

I'm 72 and my taste now is mostly British chick lit and bestsellers. Pretty sure I'll still love the Claudia books!

Anonymous said...

I have posted before but I agree with a lot of the comments. I just want to share what Maxwell Perkins (that he was one of the great editors of all time, responsible for shepherding Thomas Wolfe, Scott Fitzgerald and innumerable others into the ranks of literary prominence) said about the Claudia books - it isn't light fiction, don't ever belittle writing that doesn't strain for profundity, but achieves it through simplicity. And I also want to mention that it is better to read the books individually rather than the Omnibus version.

Anonymous said...

I have posted before but I agree with a lot of the comments. I just want to share what Maxwell Perkins (that he was one of the great editors of all time, responsible for shepherding Thomas Wolfe, Scott Fitzgerald and innumerable others into the ranks of literary prominence) said about the Claudia books - it isn't light fiction, don't ever belittle writing that doesn't strain for profundity, but achieves it through simplicity. And I also want to mention that it is better to read the books individually rather than the Omnibus version.

Anonymous said...

I have posted before but I agree with a lot of the comments. I just want to share what Maxwell Perkins (that he was one of the great editors of all time, responsible for shepherding Thomas Wolfe, Scott Fitzgerald and innumerable others into the ranks of literary prominence) said about the Claudia books - it isn't light fiction, don't ever belittle writing that doesn't strain for profundity, but achieves it through simplicity. And I also want to mention that it is better to read the books individually rather than the Omnibus version.