Guilty Pleasures

I’m sure I’ve said before that I’m reading something as a ‘guilty pleasure’ read. For a long time, I felt that way about Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer, any urban fantasy I read, sometimes YA or rereads. And I’ve had a good think about it recently, and I’ve decided that for me, with reading, there will no longer be any such thing.

I mean, really. It’s often shorthand for “I’m ashamed of reading this, i.e. I think it is not literary enough, i.e. it is not proper reading”. It’s judgemental. If, say, reading romance is my guilty pleasure, that would imply that people who read romance regularly should also feel guilty — that it’s somehow beneath my usual standards and I’m lowering myself to read it. The intent is probably usually somewhere between that and “I don’t want people to think this is all I read”. It may be that you don’t mean anything mean/derogatory by it, but I’ve seen/heard it that way so many times, I think it’s worth unpacking and thinking about why you want to make sure people know this is a ‘guilty pleasure’.

Why should you feel guilty for enjoying something? Reading is, for most of us, primarily entertainment. For some of us, it’s our mental health; you can literally correlate my reading habits and my mood, the ups and downs of my anxiety and depression. And entertainment isn’t actually trivial. Especially when it comes to books, which offer us whole new worlds, and make us do the work to realise them. It’s important that we have these pocket universes to indulge ourselves in, and it’s important that those worlds meet our needs: escapism, comfort, exploration, imagination. Maybe what you need is a book you read as a kid, something which you know is racist and sexist, but which spoke to you as a baby queer. Maybe this particular book is terrible about homosexuality but it has an amazing portrayal of your culture. Maybe it’s just terrible, but it speaks to you right now. That’s okay.

So if what you need to read is a saccharine romance where the heroine swoons into her lover’s arms, don’t feel guilty. Please don’t! It is almost definitely worth examining why you have to minimise the fact that you’re reading it — is it problematic? Are you trying to duck a stereotype (like woman on her period = chocolate and chick flicks)? Is it about you, or about how you want people to see you?

But it’s not worth feeling guilty about taking some time out and having fun. Fuck that noise. Examine it, sure — when you have the time and energy.

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11 thoughts on “Guilty Pleasures

  1. YES to all of this. I’ve been avoiding using this phrase ever since I started blogging and started talking about books I’m actually reading – I used to hide my love of romance from most of my friends and family and colleagues, because it’s supposedly “trash”. Well, it is, really, but I like it and am through feeling guilty about it. Such a great post, Nikki! 🙂

  2. Couldn’t agree more! I see know reason to feel guilty about reading, viewing, or other choices! I read what I enjoy, and at this point, don’t care if “people” (whoever) think less of me for my choices… and if they do, they’re probably not worth worrying over anyway.

  3. I agree. I don’t use the “guilty pleasure” language either. I know some people get enjoyment out of feeling like they’re breaking a rule or being transgressive and for them that’s part of the pleasure. You know “I’ve been so good all week now I’m going to let myself have an ice cream.”

    But it’s not how I run my life.

    • Hm, that is a good point and a valid reason to consider something a guilty pleasure. But I might just as likely call that “fluff” and avoid the value judgement while still ranking it with ice cream as a treat thing.

  4. Also there’s a whole other discussion that it would be interesting to have sometime about how often “guilty” reading pleasure’s books that center women.

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