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‘Basic’ is not so bad when it comes to books

The usage of words can evolve as quickly as the typical relationship on Married at First Sight. Take the word ‘basic’. Those born in the ‘80s and earlier might remember a time when the term referred to basic maths or clothing basics; a starting point or foundation.

More recently, it has been used as a derogatory term, defined in the Urban Dictionary as: only interested in things mainstream, popular, and trending. 

However, no sooner than that definition took root has the term begun to evolve again, with ‘basic’ being reclaimed by those unashamed by their mainstream tastes. On Twitter, a thread recently called for users to nominate the ‘basic’ things they loved. Hundreds wrote about their appreciation for leggings as pants, Coldplay, and cats with grumpy faces. They wrote about their appreciation for spring flowers and holidaying in Bali.

This latest development is a good thing, as, reading the thread, I realised that my own tastes are pretty basic. At times, I have wondered why people criticise things as being ‘too mainstream’; as I backpacked around western Europe or fell in love with London during a gap year, enjoyed watching Love Actually during the festive season and ordered a chardonnay with my dinner I have marveled at the quality of mainstream tastes. Over the years, I have started to recognise that there is usually a good reason behind the popularity or places, bands, drinks, clothes and experiences for so many people to love them so much.

Recently, I finally got around to reading Gone Girl. Published in 2012, it quickly became a bestseller and was adapted for the screen two years later. Here I was, seven years since its publication and its storming of the bestseller charts that I was reading it. And as basic as it might sound, I liked it. Even though I knew there were twists, I still loved the ride, and reading about the dreadful but magnificent Amy.

I find that this is often the case with books that have attracted a lot of hype. They might not be literary triumphs that make the reader feel worthy, but they are very, very enjoyable.

A few years ago, it was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Rosie Project, The Beach, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Girl on the Train and even The Da Vinci Code. While I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey yet, I’m starting to think that maybe I should. All of those readers who love it can’t be wrong.

Then there’s Tim Winton, Liane Moriarty and Ian McEwan – authors whose books are so popular that they are now ridiculed for their popularity.

The reasons for these authors’ and books’ mainstream popularity vary. According to New Statesman, it might be because they have the word ‘girl’ in the title, due to their use of ‘n’t’ instead of ‘not’, a light use of ‘very’ and a heavy use of ‘ok’, which have been shown to be common to many bestsellers.

However, to my mind, the reasons these books stood out to me was that they were all so readable. The Da Vinci Code might have been criticised for the standard of its writing, but it really was a great yarn that appealed to so many different readers. The Rosie Project was easy to read, but entirely engaging. Gone Girl was difficult to put down, with its twists and turns.

All of this makes me think that it’s actually a little basic to scoff at the mainstream. Just as beards and tattoos have lost their irony after becoming something a little too familiar in Brunswick and Fitzroy, choosing against the mainstream just because it is mainstream is also beginning to seem a little disingenuous.

So, like many words that have evolved or been reclaimed, I am going to consider basic to be a compliment. I might share my taste in books, television, and even leggings as pants, with a lot of other people, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

Now, I think it’s time for some cookie and cream ice cream before I fill my hot water bottle and turn on Midsomer Murders. How wonderfully basic.


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