On ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Reading

We love books, right? Otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. And something I see often – especially among women readers – is that habit of saying they particularly enjoy this genre, or this series, or this author, or this book, but they stumble over the words and add on the end, like an apology, “You know, it’s my guilty pleasure.”

This isn’t just women, by the way. All readers do it. But there do seem to be common genres where people feel the need to justify their reader. Or if someone reads primarily one genre, or are involved in that genre (such as Horror), they seem to feel they can’t also enjoy other types of work without clarifying “Oh that’s not what I normally read.”

What one person sees as a ‘guilty pleasure’ another won’t. There are diehard True Crime fans out there who would roll their eyes at True Crime being noted as a guilty pleasure. A friend told me her guilty pleasure reading is cozy mysteries, while on Twitter, Erik told me his was Edgar Rice Burroughs. Another friend said sexy thrillers, someone else ‘Historical Fiction’.

And of course, inevitably, ‘Romance’ as a genre usually comes up when we discuss Guilty Pleasures. Not so long ago, before it saw a huge boost and became as big as it is now, YA Fiction would have been thrown in as Guilty Pleasures. There was a time when YA was seen as simply written with easy to read trope-filled plots.

But these genres have stood the test of time and have dedicated fanbases of their own, so why is it when it’s not our primary genre, we feel the need to defend our desire to read it?

The thing is, so many of the genres typically thought of as ‘guilty pleasures’ – Romance, and various subgenres (including paranormal), YA, Erotica, ‘Chick Lit’ and even ‘Women’s Fiction’ and so on – tend to be largely dominated by women, and read largely by women. Until men realised how popular they were and turned their hands towards trying to make money from those particular trains.

I’m not innocent of doing it myself, especially in my early twenties. When The Hunger Games gained popularity, I wasn’t the only one at university who hesitated over reading it. We were, after all, adults now, so what would a book for teens possibly have that could appeal to us? Then a friend suggested that no, I absolutely do need to read it. Flashforward to stopping at Manchester during my five hour journey home, having just finished the first book and grabbing the second and third in WHSmiths. I finished the second before the train pulled into Cardiff.

Thing is, when you shy away from a particular genre because you see it as ‘beneath you’, when you try and make out that your own preferred genre is better than others, you’re just being judgemental. Writing any book is hard. Writing a good Romance that readers will honestly enjoy is difficult. Writing a good Horror that has readers clutching pages and their heart racing is difficult. There’s nothing superior about reading or writing ‘Literary’ fiction over other forms.

So, two things to keep in mind. One – do not judge others for what they read. We all love books, whether they’re Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Romance, Fantasy, and so on. Whether someone reads Graphic Novels or heavy epic Fantasy tomes, it’s all valid forms of reading.

And don’t judge your own reading, either! If you enjoy a particular book or genre, if it brings you comfort and joy when you need it the most, embrace it! There should be nothing guilty about pleasure, and whatever you read, if it makes you happy, it does its job.

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