Guilty Pleasures

I was rummaging through one of the ever-present stacks of library-books-to-be-returned when I found something unexpected. This:


I was…surprised. My children's reading tends toward fantasy, magic, witches—not these.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it's basically about everything you fear, as the parent of a girl: a vicious pretty-rich-girl clique at a middle school, with all the nasty, fierce girl-on-girl emotional violence a person could imagine. There are losers, kids in the in crowd, many many many designer labels—it's a sort of girls horror story: all the violence is social and emotional. 

I'd read the arguments, the hand-wringing, the despair of parents over this series years ago when it first came out. I thought, at the time, that I wouldn't want my kid to read it. But here it was, in my living room, and what was I going to do about? Well, I was going to read it, of course.

I got through the first two chapters when it was time to make dinner, and though I itched to get back to it—have I mentioned I'm an omnivorous reader? Have I mentioned that I love to read junk of all kinds?—there wasn't time that night.

The next day when Diana and I were both on the subway heading to the city and the library, when I realized that I'd forgotten my own book (there are no accidents) and said, "Do you have anything I can borrow?"

"Try this," she said, handing me one of a stack of books on their way to being returned. Wizards Holiday. But that wasn't what I wanted. I spied, buried deep in the bowels of the backpack, that which I sought. "How about this?" I pulled it out, and found where I'd left off (they've painted the back of our heroine's white pants red to make it look like she has her period) when Diana said, "Um, mommy, that's for teenagers."

"Oh yeah, I know, it's OK with me that you read it…"

"Yeah, but I think you'll really like this one instead."

"No, I know, it's junk, but I like junk."

That's when I felt the book being forcibly removed from my hands. "I think you should read this." And with that, Wizards Holiday was placed in my hands, The Clique was returned to the dark recesses of the backpack, and I was left to wonder. "You don't want me to read it?"

"It's really junk, Mommy," but let me be clear: the face with which she said this registered not disapproval but profound embarrassment. And with that it was gone, I was left with Wizards Holiday (which I don't love), and she just didn't want to talk about it again.

I am still not exactly clear why this embarrassment happened: was it like watching a sex scene with your parents: You'd rather not acknowledge what everybody knows? Or was it that she, who is constantly receiving unsolicited grown-up accolades for the books she is reading, was embarrassed to be slumming? Or just the constant state of embarrassment that descends around age 11?

I don't know. I wonder though. It just never occurred to me that with guilty pleasures, the guilt would be transferable, somehow, along with the pleasure.

All I can tell you is that the book got returned without my pushing the issue, and I saw it get slid across the desk, tossed in a box, and whisked away from my crass reading desires. And there is this, dear reader: I really wanted to know what happened next.

7 thoughts on “Guilty Pleasures

  1. I remember the constant horror of that age. Like if my parents knew that I had read “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” then, then, then… then they would know! Know what? I don’t know. That I had genitals? That I read dirty books that talked about breasts and periods? I don’t know. Maybe that I was trying to sneak my way into being older when I thought they wanted me to be young?


  2. I’m forty-six and can remember at age 11 sneaking around my parents’ house to read bits of Jacquelyn Susann and Harold Robbins. I’ve always been a voracious reader and a bit of a literary snob, but I do remember guiltily loving Harlequin romances. In other words, I get it. And I love this post!


  3. My guilty pleasure books were the “Flowers in the Attic” series by V.C. Andrews. Such thrills!
    And yes, I think you should absolutely go back to the library on your own and either check it out or finish reading it.
    My final point is this: I know that there are times when I gravitate toward “airplane books” or mysteries – things that let me escape without having to think so much. I enjoy a good literary journey as much as the next person, but there are times when “guilty pleasures” are good for what ails ya.


  4. I’ve been reading guilty pleasures a lot for the past year (or more…?) while going through rough stuff in real life. I love me a good Spenser mystery, or some chick lit, and when I’ve needed to cleanse my palate (or assuage my conscience) with something with a little more gravitas I’ve been going to the novels I read as a tween/teen: Madeleine L’Engle, Cynthia Voigt, etc. I’m not ashamed. Books are both soul food and mental vacation for me and if what I need is not what I’m “supposed” to read, I don’t care!


  5. As Oscar the Grouch is wont to say… “Oh, I love trash!” VC Andrews was my drug of choice when I was younger, as an adult it’s lately been the Twilight series. Now I want to read this one! The funny thing is, I have never been embarrassed about it, nor am I embarrassed about watching reality shows or reading about celebrities on web “news” sites. Maybe we could call these things visceral experiences rather than guilty pleasures? I figure it’s like nutrition – you get enough healthy fruits and veggies in you, there’s no need to feel guilty for eating a candy bar or two.


  6. This morning my daughter and I were curled up in my bed, each reading a different Louise Rennison book (hilarious British, teenage-girl fiction). I’m 43, and my daughter is 9, and we are so NOT the demographic for these books, but neither of us cares!


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