I’ve been pondering this idea of ‘guilty pleasure’ reading lately. I’m not sure what brought it on, possibly discussions of genre vs canon and the worth of a reader that I’ve seen or heard lately. The idea that someone should be ashamed or thought less of for what they read bothers me on a fundamental level, and so it got me thinking about the term ‘guilty pleasure’ reading. I even did some experiments of a very unscientific manner to see what I thought of books that might often be called this. Also find out where and why I thought they were books I needed feel guilty about, find the root of the problem.
‘Guilty Pleasure’ reading says it all in it’s title. I used to use this term generously referring to books I read that were light, fluffy, or that I felt bad about reading. And that last one is the problem, and what brought on my drawn out brainstorm (more like brain-waves-tickling-the-shore-because-life but you get the idea). Why should I feel guilty about I read,
and where does that idea come from? Is there some sort of built in shame about reading certain books?
The books I would refer to this way were books typically about were romances or really sappy YA contemporaries. I finally narrowed down where my idea that this were reads I might be ashamed of as soon as I really looked at the books in question. I grew up reading epic fantasy and science fiction. When I really put on my reading pants my bread and butter were authors like Robin Hobb, Anne McCaffrey, and Raymond E. Feist = in other words 80’s and 90’s style SFF. That’s what my mom read as well.
I had, in my travels through my library’s SFF section, stumbled on Laurell K. Hamilton. The first four-ish (I don’t really remember when this happened, it was a long time ago) books I enjoyed, after that they stumbled down a slope of just too much sexy times for me. That being said, even those first few books had some pretty sexy covers. This is from a girl raised in the Southern Baptist Belt, going to school in the South, talking and dating people in the South… can you see where I’m going here?
I was quickly shamed into hiding these books. That is how the Romance books got shoved in the dark ‘Guilty Pleasure’ part of my mind. Growing up in an environment that didn’t encourage female exploration or awareness of sexuality. I could go on and on about the things I didn’t discover in just my reading till college but lets leave that one there. Because in college I discovered the divide between SFF and YA.
True, it’s a recent divide. Most people don’t realize that until, what was it the mid to late 90’s, that YA was not really it’s own genre. I still remember finding my first bookstore display tagged Young Adult and thinking ‘Huh, that’s new’. It was new and so it was exciting so I dove in. I started picking up these new YA books but ‘well-meaning’ teachers, and I put this in quotes because I’m sure if they were, quickly informed me that these books were simply not good enough.
BAM! We have there my two biggest categories on the guilty pleasure shelf. The idea for this post was to take apart why I thought these books to be guilty or shameful books. But they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination! It’s like a subconscious extension of the reading genre fiction vs the almighty canon debate. But one that’s already been won in our minds. I should never have to be ashamed of what I’m reading, I don’t give a rat’s ass what it is.
I challenged myself on this. I didn’t need to break any aversion to YA, even though there is that part of me that says in peer’s voices ‘Oh it’s just YA’ I’m better at telling it to stuff a sock in it. What I needed to read and discover it was as ‘bad’ as I thought was some good old romance. I’m all caught up on certain Paranormal Romance authors. My problem with some of that genre, like the Laurell K. Hamilton is just an overwhelming (for me) amount of sexy times. I’m Demisexual, leaning heavily towards more Ace, and just not comfortable reading that constantly. But I do enjoy love stories, and I can handle one or two scenes like that.
I did however pick up one well known Paranormal/Urban author, Nalini Singh. I had a bad start with her Guild Hunter series, it fell out for me half way through the first book (I found the male lead very
domineering in an uncomfortable way) , but I love her Psy-Changling series. It can get pretty hot and heavy at points, but that’s what skim reading is for! That being said there have been scenes, one in particular stands out to me, that transforms from maybe just about the sex to a particular character breaking down a barrier/hindrance from her development. It was so well done! All of her pairings are so different as well, I’m impressed each book how she can change up a dynamic and make it fresh and new.
I also went into regency romance and picked up Courtney Milan, as she is a recommended author of one of my favorite Booktubers. Let me say, I loved what I picked up. I’m not ashamed of it. The story was so sweet, so genuine. I started with her Brothers Sinister series and I’ve eaten through the first and two shorts with the second lined up after I finish book three in the Psy-Changling series. I really like the writing, the characters are unique and engaging. It’s just so much fun.
I fully plan on continuing this ‘experiment’. I want to try and branch out, read more books that I previously would have been ashamed of. I don’t enjoy watching and reading reviews about these sorts of books and the honest thought that goes through my head every time ‘I wish I was brave enough to do reviews about those sorts of books’ goes through my head. There is a problem there, and a serious one.
The long winded point of this is to challenge the idea, for me and for anyone reading this, about shame in reading. Also to challenge the idea of ‘Guilty Reading’. Me, I’m going to try to drop the phrase. As I’ve stated, it implies some sort of shame in what I’m reading. Either because of the content or the style and frankly I’m not okay with that any more. So reflect, stew, mull over what I talked about. See if there is anything that maybe you consider guilty that just really shouldn’t be. If you enjoy it then enjoy it. It shouldn’t be gauged on other’s expectation or ideas. Read anything and everything you like. Read all of it. All of it.
So I’ll close with an image and quote from one of my favorite ladies Amy Poehler. Remember this when you’re reading that romance with the girly cover or the half naked dude and you feel incredibly silly or stupid.