Monday, March 10, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

Since I read everything and am not big on guilt, I have few guilty pleasures as far as books go. The things I check out of the library and read just for fun (recently: Paretsky's Bleeding Kansas, Keillor's Pontoon, the Davidson catering mystery I already mentioned, and mysteries by Laura Lippman, Margaret Maron, and David Baldacci) aren't really guilty pleasures; they're just mind candy. I learned to enjoy mystery novels in the last few years, so there are still more of them I've not read.

My car books are guilty pleasures, though. I know this because one time a male person who teaches Sociology at OSU came by my car while I was waiting for a kid to come out of school, and I was a little embarrassed to respond to his genial "what are you reading?" Car books are paperbook romance novels that my friend Amy's mother passes along. I keep one or two under the seat of my car at all time so I always have something to read in an emergency, like a longer-than-anticipated wait or forgetting to take a book with me. Car books are the kind of books that you can read for a while happily enough but don't have to take in the house to finish. More than just embarrassing, though, car books can actually be bad for you. If you read enough stories about women getting romanced by rich and powerful men, your own life suffers by comparison, no matter how good it is. Also, the farther back in history the romance is set, the more passive the female character has to be. Amy and I can tell when her mother is more depressed than usual, because we start getting more 16th-century Scottish highlands romances with pictures of Fabio bare-chested on the covers. When her mother cheers up, we get Jennifer Crusie, set in the present day, and J.D. Robb, set in the future. (Note: these last two are good enough to take in the house and finish. I went out to the car to see what my current books under the seat are, and they're Belva Plain's Secrecy and Katherine Kingsley's The Sound of Snow.)

Besides romance novels, there are other books that are guilty pleasures because they're bad for you. Some fantasy novels are like that. I'm talking about the ones marketed to the "young adult" audience, like the Sword of Shannara, itself the best of a bad genre--and it has lots of lesser imitators. Bad fantasy has two dimensional characters, no rules (and often no limitations) for the magic, and it promotes the idea that violence solves all problems by showing that the only way to defeat evil is to be stronger than the evil.

Ron mentions action/adventure books that feature lots of testosterone-fueled explosions and some tactical thinking as guilty pleasures for men. I asked if he meant co-authored books with Tom Clancy, and he said those were the best of the genre, and there are lots of worse examples. I'm guessing that the bad thing about these books is that your own life suffers by comparison--it's less exciting, and you're less powerful in it.

So I'd like to know--what other kinds of guilty pleasures are available? Do you have a favorite that I haven't mentioned here? And why should you feel guilty about reading it?


Jeanne said...

Oh, I see. You feel even less guilt than I do!

lemming said...

One semester I read 100+ romance novels for a seminbar paper. (For teh record, I got an A.) It took me about eight yeras before I oculd read another one again,and I do still read them with an academic eye.

Yes, I've read Janice Radway.

lemming said...

Yikes! What horrid typos! Sorry - my keyboard needs to be replaced, rather desperately.

Anonymous said...

I think my greatest guilty pleasure in books is manga. Chock full of stereotypical world images, predictable plots and passionate romance to capture the masses. Even though there is nothing remotely thought provoking about manga I guess most people join me in saying "but hey, it's got pictures!"