MR Book Club: The Ones We Feel a Little Guilty for Loving

What is guilt?
What is pleasure?
What are books?

These are not the questions I posed to my colleagues last week. Instead, I asked them to tell me their favorite guilty pleasure book and explain why they feel guilty about it! As someone who feels guilty 80% of her waking hours, I was surprised to find that choosing a book that I was ashamed of loving wasn’t easy — maybe it’s because reading is inherently “good”? Or maybe we’re moving away from the idea that pleasure is bad for you if it doesn’t meet some outdated moral standard? Either way, these books are funnnnnnnnnnn and the personal definitions of “guilt” are broad and fascinating and worth a read even if you don’t really care about the books.

Without further ado, I invite you to please indulge in our literary indulgences for this installment of MR Book Club.

The Coldest Winter Ever by Sistah Souljah

Picked by: Simedar, Partnerships Strategist

Genre: “Urban Fiction” (I don’t make the rules this is what they are actually saying this book genre is)

Synopsis that doesn’t give away the plot: Winter Santiaga is the teenage daughter of a Brooklyn drug kingpin. When a new gang threatens her family and her father’s business, Winter is forced to get scrappy and implement her father’s teachings in order to face the culture of drugs and violence she was born into.

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? I don’t remember many details about the actual plot of this book (now I want to reread it), but I remember my friends and I talking about it excitedly and giggling over the raunchy details we knew we shouldn’t be privy too. It had sex, drugs and hip hop! I’m can picture my younger self in a full BabyPhat outfit, listening to B2K and secretly reading this book. When mom was around it was all Harry Potter. But when the adults were gone this would make an appearance.

Why do you love it? I love this book because it holds a special memory for me about black authors and the different worlds they’ve created. I think it’s safe to say The Coldest Winter Ever was powerful for many black and brown women. I was absolutely not old enough to consume the content at the time I was introduced, but even then I felt how important it was for black femme writers like Zane and Sistah Souljah to be in this space and write from a black perspective – even if it wasn’t my own.

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg

Picked by: Haley, Deputy Editor

Genre: Memoir

Synopsis that doesn’t give away the plot: Bill Clegg is now a successful literary agent in New York (he reps writers like Otessa Moshfegh and Emma Cline), but when he was newer to the industry, he fell into crack addiction. This book is about that fall.

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? Addiction memoirs have a bit of a reputation for being exploitive of suffering and hitting a lot of the same beats. They’re also disproportionately written by wealthy white people, which means they don’t often tell the stories of the lives and communities most systemically affected by drugs.

Why do you love it? There is something inherently hedonistic about addiction stories — not because it’s fun to watch someone fall (it’s horrific and you’re cheering for recovery the whole time) but because a “responsible” life is so governed by control and denial of what sounds immediately pleasurable, that watching someone choose otherwise offers a kind of mental release. A check on your own desire to shove all your responsibilities aside. Addiction memoirs are usually about recovery, too: a process that demands 100% of someone’s attention. And there’s something satisfying about that as well — about watching someone focus completely on themselves in service of their own wellbeing. Addictions memoirs offer a one-two punch of satisfying selfishness. Bill Clegg’s memoir achieved this incredibly well — he’s a talented writer and clearly knows what makes a good book. Many of the scenes stuck with me.

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

Picked by: Starling, Office Coordinator

Genre: Coffee table film book

Synopsis that doesn’t give the plot away: Biggest takeaway: I need Suzy Bishop’s pink cape coat

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? Time spent vegging on my couch is so hard to come by that when I see it on my calendar (yes, I actively schedule down time) I always go into it with the intention of delving into one of the novels on my bedside table, but usually get lured into the glossy pages of Wes instead. I feel a bit guilty for choosing a world curated to exemplify perfection over a novel that would push me into a deeper understanding of a darker subject matter.

Why do you love it? This coffee table book was gifted to me by my aunt. It’s really a state of mind more than it is a book. Whenever the chaos of the world seems too much, I find solace by plunking on my couch and flipping through photos of Wes films. The book also includes interviews, behind the scenes shots, and inspiration board imagery that was used during the films’ creative processes. After a day of working with screens, my eyes feel blessed to be able to delve into big juicy glossy pages of a world where vintage outfits and symmetry are prominent.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede and Little Birds and Delta of Venus by Anais Nin

Picked by: Emma Bracy, Assistant Editor

Genre: YA Fiction

Synopsis that doesn’t give the plot away: 

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles: Cimorene would rather befriend dragons than be a princess, so that’s what she does. Best decision she’s ever made in her life. Wanna know why? Read the damn books.

Little Birds and Delta of Venus: Both Nin books (short and steamy erotic stories) are most accurately summarized by the Salt N’ Peppa lyrics “Let’s talk about sex, baby.”

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? My first choice is a YA series I read as an adult and my second choice is erotica that as I read as child — need I say more?

Why do you love it? I will forever love The Enchanted Forest Chronicles and do not care who knows it. Yep it’s YA fantasy and to all the haters I say: dragons helped me understand that the gender binary is bullshit and they can help you, too! ALSO I found both Anais Nin’s Little Birds and Delta of Venus on my living room bookshelf when I was eight years old. My early experience with those books could be an episode of Big Mouth and subsequently informed my decision to read them on the train (as an adult) with book jackets ON.

The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein

Picked by: Leandra, Founder

Genre: Self-help

Synopsis that doesn’t give away the plot: The title does a p.good job of laying down the synopsis, which also gives away the plot to the extent that there is one.

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? The fact that I am compelled to take the book cover sleeve off the book seems to indicate that I am embarrassed about my reading choice, no? And why is that? Because! I hate proving the stereotypes that are true about me right! The mentioned book cover features a black and white rendered, perfectly coiffed blonde woman with symmetric features and a shiny-in-the-good-way forehead. She stares into my eyes as if they are my soul which I suppose to a degree they are. She says all the kinds of things you might think she will say: take time for yourself, learn to meditate, surrender to love, look to the light, don’t drown in the darkness and I eat it all up like nutella-stuffed cheesecake. In full disclosure, I must admit that I haven’t actually cracked this baby open since I was trying to uh, get a baby but I haven’t read a uniquely guilty verifiable pleasure since this one.

Why do you love it? Because the cheesy and predictable and eye-roll worthy stuff that she says sincerely makes me feel better, which makes me feel like a more calculable person and lately, I am finding great comfort in that.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Picked by: Nora, Managing Editor

Genre: Murder Mystery

Synopsis that doesn’t give away the plot: Jackson Brodie, a grizzled Scottish detective with a heart of gold, solves some murders.

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? It’s a murder mystery! The best of the best IMHO, but it still has some archetypes and is largely plot-driven and we’re supposed to be drawn in by how brooding our protagonist is (I think? right? not just me?). But Kate Atkinson is a bang-up writer so it’s very very good.

Why do you love it? I just love emotionally reserved and/or damaged people solving crimes in the rain and that’s never going to change.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Picked by: Harling, Fashion Editor

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis that doesn’t give away the plot: Stella Lane is a high-functioning autistic data analyst who has a lot of (self-earned) money and almost zero dating experience, so she decides to hire a professional male escort to help her “practice” dating.

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? It has some VERY steamy sex scenes (paragraphs?), which I wasn’t expecting when I first picked it up.

Why do you love it? It’s a quick, enjoyable read that almost feels like watching a romantic comedy. It also has an interesting backstory — the protagonist is an adult woman with autism, and the author (Helen Hoang) was diagnosed with autism at age 34 as she was writing the book.

Any book by Octavia Butler

Picked by: Patty, Head of Partnerships

Genre: Science Fiction

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? She’s my favorite science fiction writer and I promised I would pace myself with her books to make my first experiences with them last…but as Beyoncé says “every promise don’t work out that way.” I’ve read them all and there’s no telling how many times I’ll reread.

Why do you love it? Butler possessed the genius of incredible imagination and clear-eyed observation. Example: “Make America Great Again” appeared in her Parable series published in the 90s as the political platform of an American presidential candidate who incited a violent, fear-based movement in the 2030s.

The Rider by Tim Krabbe

Picked by: Nikki, Director of Ad Ops & Product

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis that doesn’t give away the plot: The rider takes you through Tour de Mont Aigoual, describing every aspect of the race and recounts stories of training and racing in a way that makes the reader feel like they’re riding along.

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? I’ve re-read it 3+ times in the past two years. I feel people put emphasis on always reading something new as if after completing a book you’ve gotten everything out of it that you can. I thoroughly enjoy this book every time I read it and get excited to get to a page that I’ve dog-eared to try to remember or feel what part of the page resonated with me when I’ve previously read it.

Why do you love it? This book is a cycling cult classic. It pulls you into cycling culture and always inspires me to get back on my bike.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Picked by: Amalie MacGowan, Social Media Manager

Genre: Fantasy Softcore Erotica for Adolescents

Synopsis that doesn’t give away the plot: Well there’s a gal and she just CAN’T see how special and beautiful and wonderful she is so she has to have two jacked, hot mythical dudes go fisticuffs for her every single day until she decides on one. ~*~*WHo could iT be!?!*~*~*

What about it makes it fall under the umbrella of ‘guilty pleasure’? I don’t… believe this question even needs to be answered in this context.

Why do you love it? First of all, Nora bullied me into including this because I hinted at my torrid history with this series. Let me just say she has NO idea. I grew up reading only classics and this was one of the first books that aroused anything other than… excited readerly interest, if you smell what The Rock is cookin’ (the first being 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez). I was OBSESSED with these books because I, like Bella Swan, believed I was plain! Homely! Un-special! And WOW if someone like her could have two beefcake monster men foaming at the mouth for her, then maybe I could too? I read these books (the first three, because the fourth is trash) so many times the spine broke and the pages were dogeared/torn to death. I know these books so well I know that I know the author is StephEnie Meyer, not StephAnie Meyer. I know these books so well, I would read fan blogs daily and was a self-labeled “Twihard.” Don’t be embarrassed, everyone, I’m here.

*Can we add in here that I haven’t read these books in 10 years just to save my reputation?

Okay! Your turn! Tell me your fave guilty pleasure book and I will add it to my Kindle posthaste!

Nora Taylor

Nora Taylor

Nora Taylor is the Editor of Clever. She can frequently be found knocking things over in the greater New York City area.

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