On Reading

Guilty Pleasures?

Thinking about Death Comes to Pemberley and fan fiction, my mind wandered to the idea of “guilty pleasures.” As I understand it, the general consensus definition of “guilty pleasure” is something you enjoy but think you shouldn’t, like say, a really bad pop song: everyone agrees it’s terrible, but you can’t help liking it anyway.

This takes me to a podcast I listened to back in December. I’m a bit of a National Public Radio junkie, and a group of their pop-culture staff (reviewers of  movies, music, books) put out a weekly podcast touching on pop culture topics. They discussed the idea of “guilty pleasures” on their Dec. 9, 2012 edition. If I recall correctly, the group mostly felt that there really isn’t such a thing as a “guilty pleasure”—we enjoy what we enjoy and shouldn’t have to defend it. (Unless of course, we’re talking something that really does involve guilt, say serial murder. Ahem.) So by that rule, it doesn’t matter how bad the tune is, if you love it, so what?

I’m inclined to agree with this second perspective. If you saw my iTunes playlist you’d understand: I have almost every style and era represented, excluding non-Western music, with which I have little familiarity. (Some might say I have no taste, but that’s another discussion… 😀 )  I like what I like, and when the mood strikes me I’ll listen to what I want. But when it comes to books, I’m not so sure. After all, it only takes up a few minutes of time to listen to a typical song, but a book can take a couple hours or more. When I’m seeking to be abducted by these books, to have my world-view turned upside down, to lose myself to their seductions, do I really have time for the throw-away, but terribly fun novel? On the other hand, sometimes all I have brain power for is that fluffy read.

Defending our reading choices, or even just feeling the need to defend them, seems to take a terrible ton of energy, not just in the book blogging world, but beyond. How many of us have ever been asked, disdainfully, “are you really reading that?” Or for that matter, felt the need to justify a reread, when there are “so many other books out there”?

I’d like to say I stand strong and pooh-pooh the whole conversation: we like what we like and what does it matter to others, but I know that I’ve felt the need to defend myself in the past, or more especially, to selectively edit when answering the “so what do you like to listen to/read” question. Certainly, I’d rather not spend my energy tied up in justification of something, that when it comes down to it, is really rather pointless. At the same time, then, I need to remind myself not to judge others for their pop-culture choices. We like what we like, even when we don’t understand someone else’s preferences. And let me tell you, there are some I really don’t understand!

Oh, and for the record: if there is such a thing as a bookish guilty pleasure, my sin is thrillers, poorly-written or otherwise.

So what about you: do you believe in bookish “guilty pleasures?”

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23 thoughts on “Guilty Pleasures?

  1. I would say that there SHOULDN’T be literary guilty pleasures, but I do think that there are. At least for me, because I do feel guilty about some of my book choices. Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting my time reading a cheesy YA novel with a poorly fleshed out heroine in a love triangle, like I should be focusing on something that’s more intellectually challenging. But then other times I think that I deserve to read lighthearted, escapist reads and there’s nothing wrong with that. I oscillate back and forth between these two mindsets.

    Like you, I tend not to mention these so-called guilty pleasures in literary conversations. For me, I don’t think it stems so much from worrying what other people will think. Rather, deep down I judge myself for them and don’t want to share my secret shame with a vast audience. I should give myself to permission to enjoy the books I enjoy.

    Great discussion!

    1. Thanks! It does seem, really, to come down to giving ourselves permission. I think it can be really hard to stick with just the challenging reads and never take a lighter break, but it can certainly be guilt-inducing sometimes. Sometimes, though, I think it’s good to take a break from the difficult books, a sort of “breather,” or a palette cleanser before returning to the challenge.

  2. I really, really do. As a literature student I get so fed up with articles, books on literary theory and so careful readings that I need a detective best-seller. Not P.D James, not Kate Atkinson, but something cheap (or commercial, or simply, something I have not labelled as “high-quality” yet, previous consideration about the book or the author plays a key role for me). Obviously, the book has to keep me interested, but it does not have to be very deep, have complex characters or have lots of intertextuality. I usually compare these books to CSI: easy to watch and it goes with a box of cookies and a hot coffee.

    The concept of “guilty pleasure” related to books is for me, very influeced by what I should read (college being 99,9% responsible for this!). But, sometimes, I’m tired of early 20th or 19th century characters and plots and, as the compulsive reader of detective fiction I am, I need some crimes, some DNA tests and lots of forensic science. Is it as edifying as a classic, an academia book? I don’t know, but the fact that crime novels deal with human psychology should be reason enough for me to fight for my right to read them. Sadly, not so many people approach these novels as I do and it is hard for them to see it this way.

    By the way I still have to read “Death comes to Pemberley” but I’m dying to read your review 🙂 That is one of the high-quality detective novels I have to read.

    Talking about fan fiction and intertextuality. Do you watch the TV show Castle? Have you read the published novels he is seeing writing during the series? I think it’s so… interesting? Curious? Still haven’t read it, but it’s waiting there, close to “Death comes to Pemberley”.

    1. I think the easiest reading I have ever done was when I was in school and my brain was otherwise fried, so I totally understand your need for “cheap” reads! The CSI comparison is perfect.

      There have been mixed opinions about Death Comes to Pemberley, but I thought it was fine, just not top-notch. I do watch Castle, but I haven’t tried any of the associated novels. They don’t quite sound like the mysteries I usually read, but I imagine they’re completely fun! Maybe one of these days…

  3. For me it’s romance novels, although I generally try for at least a fantasy romance so it feels a bit more substantial. I generally don’t like romance, but if I’m having a really bad week it’s just nice to sit down to a book where you know there will be a happy ending and your favorite character won’t die.

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever read (or even seen) a fantasy romance. I guess there’s a sub-genre of everything, isn’t there? And yes, the comfort read. I often return to old favorites when I need a bit of a pick me up.

  4. My guilty pleasure is mysteries, especially series mysteries, although I usually prefer historical mysteries. e.g., Anne Perry, Jacqueline Winspear, Kate Sedley. The “guiltiness” about this pleasure is that I don’t even try to figure out “who dun it” but just go along with the plot willing to have the author surprise me with the solution at the end.

  5. I try to read up against whatever my level of concentration can handle. If I read that detective novel when I am alert, rested, and capable of something more demanding, I might feel a little guilty. Not very, but a little.

    1. I try to read up against whatever my level of concentration can handle.

      That’s a good way to put it. Sometimes the concentration just isn’t there for the intellectual read…and sometimes I just don’t care!

  6. I’ve ben thinking about the same thing, having just put down Clarissa and picked up The Hunger Games! Whilst I don’t feel embarrassed to be reading them (maybe not so guilty) I do feel like it is the equivalent of junk food. A bit of a treat, perhaps. After struggling with ‘worthy’ books that I eventually came to like, there are less serious books that I race through and adore reading- usually teenage fiction. In my head I do think of them as a guilty pleasure but it does make me wonder which reading experience is more enjoyable. I don’t always think its the literary one.

    1. Yeah, sometimes the literary one is just plain hard work. Of course, sometimes that brings its own pleasure. I think sometimes, though, we just need a little bit of a palette cleanser. Or a little junk food. (And I’ve decided that I’ll try The Hunger Games after I’ve made it through some of my list–a reward, I suppose!)

  7. How do you always manage to write such accurate posts on such burning topics?
    I am continually a little stressed by my guilty pleasures, at least when it comes to books. I’m reading at a tortoise’s pace, so I spend about a week reading one averagely long book. I am not so sure anymore whether I truly want to waste a whole week reading something which is enjoyable but in fact without any value. My great guilty pleasure is fantasy, until last November that was what I read almost exclusively. I have never regretted my decision to focus on classics, but I have to admit that I didn’t use to have such a bad conscience whenever I read something that wasn’t planned.
    I am still reading some fantasy titles, but they are becoming fewer and fewer because I cannot really enjoy them anymore, I feel to guilty.

    1. I think as we start generating our lists of books to read (classics and otherwise) and they grow longer and longer, it becomes harder to not feel a little guilty about deviating from them, but at the same time I’ve found that sometimes it’s better just to read that “fun” book. Otherwise, the pressure of trying to stick to planned reading just builds up until even that reading isn’t fun anymore. It’s all a matter of balance.

  8. I certainly call some of the things I enjoy reading, or viewing, or listening to “guilty pleasures”, but to be honest I never really feel all that guilty about them. If I can get joy out of the latest original series Star Trek novel or a prize-winning piece of literary craftsmanship that is all that really matters. I’ve read books that can be considered art and books that can be considered throw-away rubbish, but to me any book that I read and come away from having been glad of the time is in itself a work of creativity that I cannot help but be a tiny bit in awe over. I mean, someone created this thing, out of their imagination and possibly from inspiration of other sources. And the got it printed, or filmed, or recorded, and now I get to enjoy it too. That is so cool. And nothing at all to feel guilty about.

    1. any book that I read and come away from having been glad of the time is in itself a work of creativity that I cannot help but be a tiny bit in awe over

      I love what you say here. It is so easy to get caught up in “merits” of something that we forget all that went into the making of it. And then that we enjoyed it as well–that should be merit enough. Well said, thank you!

      1. No problem. I guess I just don’t think we should have to justify the innocent things that give us joy and pleasure. At least we shouldn’t have to do so to fellow lovers of the same medium.

  9. I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures. I believe in different music (or books) for different moods, I believe in different tastes, but if I’m reading something it’s because I either enjoy it or I thought I would (because I can’t for the life of me leave a book unfinished). However, I have felt tempted to defend my taste more than once. Sometimes, when somebody asks who my favorite authors are, I know I’ll get eyed suspiciously when I say the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens and Nora Roberts with the same breath. And it irritates me, because I don’t want to feel like some of my choices are less valid because they don’t hold lifetime lessons or some grand revelations.

    1. That “eyed suspiciously” is why I sometimes tend to self-censor my lists when asked. Unless I’m speaking with someone who I don’t really care what they think (or want to surprise them). But I’d really rather just be able to enjoy what I enjoy–and allow others to enjoy what they enjoy–without feeling the need for justification. That last part can sometimes be the tricky part…

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