G is for guilty pleasures - books you might be ashamed of reading

Author: Anne

Date Published: Jun 21st 2017, 5:16pm

Since I first wrote this blog which I am republishing here I have acquired a taste for Regency romances - I'm not ashamed of that either !!


To call something a guilty pleasure implies that there is something sinful about it – that perhaps it is not entirely good for you. For someone on a diet a guilty pleasure would be a cake or some chocolate; something too small to completely eradicate the effect of the diet but something that might have a minor effect and which shouldn’t really be eaten in the circumstances.

Sometimes people refer to a type of reading that they undertake as a guilty pleasure. They are thinking of a type of reading which they think isn’t really serious and is something a bit self-indulgent. This arises because there is an underlying feeling in our society that some reading is GOOD and some is not. We think of good books as the classics, works which have won awards, those which are critically acclaimed, or books of literary fiction with low sales, impenetrable prose and dull covers. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration but I don’t think that it’s too far from the truth.

When people start apologising for what they read, being embarrassed by it or describing it as a guilty pleasure you can pretty sure that what they read doesn’t fall into the above categories and is what we might describe as populist or genre fiction. In other words, it is what the majority of people read and reflects most of the books sold.

I have little patience for the idea that some books are somehow more worthy than others. It is true that some use language in new and innovative ways or have exceptionally clever plots or better than average characterisation but that doesn’t mean that there is anything intrinsically wrong with the other books or that they won’t be enjoyable if you read them.

I like to read the odd classic or work of literary fiction but I only choose those which I enjoy. I am not one to spend my time struggling with a book only to get nothing out of it except the opportunity to tell people that I’ve read it. I am also now much more prepared to abandon a book if I am not finding it worth my time. Most of my reading is crime/thriller/suspense, fantasy, or novels with a romantic/family emphasis. I rate and review these according to how much I enjoyed them and how much I think that other readers will. If they are a crime novel, how do they compare with other, similar books and how well do they build up suspense ? If they are fantasy, how is the worldbuilding, does the magic make sense and how much did I feel the supernatural ? If it is a novel, how realistic is it, how gripped was I and how much do I feel that I knew and empathised with the characters ? For all books I judge how much I want to tell others about them or to lend them.

I do have genres and types of books I particularly enjoy and they are a pleasure, although not a particularly guilty one in my view. I do like urban fantasy with clever and independent women characters. I like crime novels with a complex puzzle and have a soft spot for serial killer stories which are not too gory. I like complex conspiracy novels about hidden books or artefacts especially when connected with religion. I like easy to read romances about couples having a second chance. I like books that play with words and language in a witty way. I like books about dysfunctional families drawn together by a life event and having to come to terms with one another. I do enjoy books set in idealised small towns, with a bit of heroic self-sacrifice, with archaeological digs in the setting, police procedurals and the odd cosy crime novel.

By the way I also like Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh, Joseph Heller, Marilynne Robinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Donne and William Shakespeare – and I don’t feel guilty about that either !