A week or so ago I followed a link from somewhere to an article about our attitude to certain books and why we happily dismiss things we enjoy as trashy. I'm rubbish at bookmarking things so can't remember where I saw the article, who it was by, or even all the points it made, but it did make me think.
Guilty pleasure is a term I have a bit of a problem with, I want to think that no pleasure (as long as it's basically legal) should induce feelings of guilt, but in truth there are lots of things I do which I know I probably shouldn't and don't want others to know about. These include, but are not limited to, a liking for take away fried chicken wings (and not even with the excuse of having been drinking), eating giant chocolate buttons with tea so they melt in my mouth (best done in total privacy, and not with the lapsang souchong or Russian caravan tea I drink when people are watching), a love of super hero films (I'm a grown woman for heavens sake), and occasionally binge reading Mills & Boon.
It's taken me 3 days of thinking about it to be willing to admit to any of those things in a reasonably public forum, not because any of them are particularly terrible, but because non of them feel like things I should be doing (fried chicken is not healthy, and they're certainly not organically reared high welfare standard birds - and so on) and obviously that's part of the pleasure. Also, no guilt would probably mean no self control whatsoever and that's not good.
The one that I've really been thinking about though is the book question. The article (if anybody can identify it please tell me - it was probably in The Guardian, but might not have been...) questioned why we were so ready to dismiss as trash books we clearly enjoy, and suggested that we stop doing it. Trash invariably refers to genre fiction of one sort or another, and nothing is considered trashier than romance. I picked up the Mills & Boon habit from my grandmother, she devoured them by the carrier bag full from the market, inevitably I ended up reading piles of them too. And around this time of year, which I find difficult (I really dislike the beginning of autumn, winter I'm fine with) I find I crave those books.
The reason I'm not overly keen to take any sort of pride in this, or reclaim it in any way, has nothing to do with the literary merit (or otherwise) of these books, and everything to do with why I read them. Everything else I read, including all sorts of (now vaguely respectable) pulp type fiction, is about engaging with the world, exploring ideas, understanding past attitudes - all sorts of things, but all of them outward looking. With M&B books it's the opposite, they're about not thinking, about shutting everything out for an hour or two, and generally retreating. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. I am sure after writing this that they will, for me, remain a guilty, trashy, and essentially a secretive pleasure, in times of stress - and are all the better for it.