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The Pleasure, The Shame, The Fun: Taking Back Our Guilty Pleasures!

August 23, 2018

Everyone has guilty pleasures, don’t they? Something that you know you shouldn’t like, but you still secretly do. There are many kind of guilty pleasures, of course, but here at WOTS, we’re wondering about those books we secretly love. What draws us to our literary vices and why do we feel so guilty about it?

The Pleasure

According to Bookstr, the top 5 selling genres are romance/erotica, crime/mystery, science fiction and fantasy, and horror. If you look up “Top Guilty Pleasure Books” into Google, there’s something you’ll notice with all the lists. They’re full of romance, young adult, and speculative fiction!

Readers love these books! Bookstores are filled with fantasy series that span dozens of books. Authors like Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, and many, many more are bestselling authors with publication lists as long as your arm. Stephen King continues to publish a new novel practically every year, and his older works are continually being adapted for TV and film!

If we love to spend the money on these books, what makes us so ashamed to tell people we read them?


The Shame

Guilty pleasures are often relegated to only being read on beaches, in bathtubs, and in our private reading nooks. They are the books we don’t want anyone else to know we read…but they’re also the ones that are the most fun to read.

But are they really as “low-brow” as some think they are? After a study was published in 2013 that made the claim that literary fiction improved our empathy over genre fiction, another study by professors Chris Gavaler and Dan Johnson made a slightly different claim.

In their 2017 study, Gavaler and Johnson gave 150 participants short texts, about 1000 words in length. There were two versions: the “narrative realism” version, which takes place in a contemporary setting; and the science fiction version, in which the same events take place but in a futuristic space station. Afterwards, the participants would rate how easy or difficult it was to relate to the characters within the story.

What Gaveler and Johnson found was that, even though the texts were written so that they should have been equally easy or difficult to empathize with the characters, they weren’t. This was a surprising result that led Gaveler and Johnson to conclude that “the difference is a product of the readers’ prior social constructs regarding texts like Science Fiction and Narrative Realism.”

In essence, what they are saying is that the difference in reading comprehension in the texts isn’t due to the writing itself, but the perceptions of readers that they bring to the texts. That is to say, the readers expect the texts not to be literary as soon as the setting changes to a space station or alien planet. The value of a text isn’t in its genre—it’s in how the reader approaches the text, and how it meets their expectations. Finding value in guilty pleasures comes from finding the empathy to understand why other people enjoy things you might not, and how that’s valuable, too!

Plus, guilty pleasure genres are havens for changes we need to see in the books we read—while simultaneously being books we’re eager to read! Speculative fiction has become incredibly diverse and innovative. Romance novels put women at the front and have become increasingly more engaged with feminism. Reportedly, horror and thriller books even help us deal with our real life anxieties! Historically, these types of books have not been given the credit they deserve, but these books are accessible in a way that is enjoyable and relatable.


The Fun

Did you know it might be healthier to indulge in some bathtub reading than to try to abstain from it?! Researchers like Kelly Goldsmith from Northwestern University and Leonard Reinecke at the University of Mainz in Germany have found these indulgences help to restore your willpower after you have been feeling depleted.

So if you find that you’re dragging yourself through some of those harder literary texts, you may just need something to refresh your mind. Give in to those guilty pleasures—not in shame, but in celebration! Give something a read that maybe won’t change the way that you see the world, but will at least entertain you for an evening or three.

Reading should be fun and enjoyable. The best parts of being a reader come from dissolving into what you love: like the way an entire evening can pass you by because you keep saying you’ll put the book down right after this chapter, right before you begin another chapter. Or the way that you might wonder how the characters of books long finished might be faring after all this time.

If you aren’t truly enjoying what you are reading, that just means you have to put that book down and find the right book for you. With so many genres and subgenres out there, and the continued blending that happens between them, there is or will be a book that scratches every single one of your literary itches.

As we’ve said before on our blog, WOTS wants everyone to be able to enjoy reading. So that means that everyone should be proud of the books they do enjoy—guilt free!

What are your favourite guilty pleasures?


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