10/06/2014

Reader Shame – Guilty Pleasures and 'Acceptable' Books {The Birdie Musings}

Every reader has a favourite book or series – one they champion relentlessly and will recommend to everyone they come across. But what about those books we harbour a secret love for? What makes a book good enough to enjoy, but not good enough to enjoy publicly? Why do some books make you feel ashamed for liking them?

So, hands up everyone who has used the term 'guilty pleasure'!



I'm a huge culprit of this (I actually think I used it in my latest review of The Opportunist). It's something I've never really thought about much whenever I've said it, but just the other day a friend of mine referred to a book series I loved (and was constantly championing) as a 'guilty pleasure' and it got me thinking about what, exactly, is a guilty pleasure. And more importantly, why do we feel embarrassed about something we like?

We all know everybody has different tastes and what works for some people may be the book from hell for other people. But I think it's important we stop attaching stigma to certain books or certain genres, just because they're out of our comfort zone or because we feel they're not 'up to scratch' for whatever reason. 

Other people adore those books and, if you think about it, it's quite pretentious to say 'well, I liked it. But I'd never admit it PROUDLY.'



So what makes a book one we're proud to read? Does it have to be highbrow, with an immensely complex plot? Or does it have to be more than a simple romance? Are love stories the most common 'guilty pleasures' because we worry people might think we're shallow? 

There definitely seems to be an attitude of 'oh, I don't want people to think I only like chick-lit' and that sucks because 'chick-lit' (hate that word) just means a book that appeals to women. And why, if you're a woman, is that a bad thing? Heck, why is that a bad thing if you're a guy? There's no reason why any person of any gender can't like any book.

Really, if we enjoy a book then we enjoy it. There should be no guilt or shame or worry about what people think. We shouldn't need to justify our enjoyment or feel bad about it. Books are there to be loved, for whatever reason, and if a book has made you smile or made you feel something – if you liked it for whatever reason – then that book has done its job.

So whenever you finish reading something, wear your pleasure with pride!




Do you have reader shame? What makes a book fall into the 'guilty pleasure' category, for you? 


41 comments:

  1. Comic books have similar stigma issues. Even with comic books giving rise to multi-million dollar movie franchises, the only way a comic book fan can hold their head high is to call them "graphic novels". That's just a collected edition of comic books! And we can talk about "comic con this" or "cosplay that", but I've never seen someone reading a Marvel comic on a train.

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    1. Ahhh yes, the graphic novel. I've never understood why it's seen as 'bad' to call it a comic book! I definitely think there's a rising popularity in comics now, especially with all of the movies coming out. It seems to be spurring interest in them from the masses

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    2. Do you think the concept of guilty pleasure comes more from outside stigma or from one's own personal prejudice? It seems a much more schizophrenic condition to me -- to read a book and discover themes and content that you've derided other people for enjoying, only to enjoy it yourself; less to do with the judgment of others and more to do with being snared in one's own self-righteous cultural beliefs.

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    3. I'm actually of the opposite belief. Personally, I feel like it has to do with the reaction of others and the fear of being judged for liking something other people may deem 'unworthy' or 'inadequate'. For me, the books I read are a reflection of myself and I have quite personal attachments to many of them because they tend to have a big impact on me and are filled with characters I connect to. So there's a deep-seated fear that other people may find the characters and the books themselves 'trashy' or not quite good enough, and so by extension that's a criticism of me.

      That's why I feel a lot of the time when I'm talking about guilty pleasures, I'll say, 'I like it BUT' and then started insulting parts of it. As though I need to justify myself and clarify that I'm aware of all the bad points, which somehow makes me feel superior and less like I'm being judged.

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  2. Great discussion Allie! I think there are definitely always guilty pleasure issues when recommending books, especially if it is YA.

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    1. YA has such a bad stigma attached to it and I don't know why! There are some absolutely marvellous YA books out thee, so fantastically written and poignant and with all the YA movie adaptations coming out . . . I'd think people would be more open. But it seems there are still some literary snobs out there who don't see YA books as 'real' literature :/

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  3. I don't think I have any guilty pleasure reads. If I liked a book, amma shout it on the fooftops because it's a book I liked and I'm proud of it, especially favourites. Hell, I shalt not sit and mope that I loved one of the cheesiest, most unrealistic and simply written books in history, I liked it, therefore I'm happy. More and more books these days don't make my cut; I push them away, DNF them, ignore them or simply forget them and so it's wrong to deny I enjoyed a book no matter what. Great topic! :)

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    1. I love that attitude, Amanda! It's one I'm trying to adopt myself – I hate the feeling of loving a book and feeling like I can't share that love because someone might look down on me. All books have value and you're right in saying that if you enjoy it you should be shooting it from the rooftops!

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  4. The only books I consider to be my guilty pleasure are romance trash. And I call them 'trash' because I feel like it's a tradition that's been passed down from generation to generation. Most people think the only women who read romance novels are lonely and can't get a man, and read them strictly for the s(e)x scenes. The genre may have started out that way for "lonely housewives", just as soap operas did. But it evolved.

    And if we think YA tropes are predictable, romance novels all have the same formulas as well, including the steamier scenes. It's about what the authors bring to the characters and make them stand out that makes it worth reading.

    So I like my trash because sometimes you need a break to read a little mindless fluff.

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    1. Ugh, I hate that stereotype. Yes, only lonely old spinsters or housewives who have tired of ironing read romance novels. And why should 'important' people read them? They have no substance :/ blah, blah.

      You're right, it is evolving now and there are some books that are romance-focused that are fantastically written and truly well told. It's sad people can't see past what may have once been true, and keep an open mind.

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  5. I actually didn't find much book that could count as my guilty pleasure, because when I like a book I tend to go "I like it so it is good, okay? End of discussion." Ahaha.
    But I remember when I was still in JHS, I really got into The Three Kingdoms history (You know, that Chinese dynasty Han and all its war) because of my brother, and when I told them, my friend would stare at me and say "Are you an old man?" and I never mentioned them ever again, ahaha.

    But great topic Allie!

    Neysa @ Papier Revue

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    1. See, that's just what I'm saying! It's like if you read a certain book you have to fit into a certain category. It's the whole thing of 'certain people shouldn't read certain things'. Why not?! Everyone can enjoy anything, and people shouldn't try to limit the reading choices of others. Reading is something to be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what the content :)

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  6. I so agree with everything you said. I have guilty pleasure books that I'd like.. not want people to see me reading in public. Idk how books fall into that category for me. Mostly b/c of the cover, the genre or the title. Like, it's awkward recommending Vampire Academy to people who aren't really into reading as much as I am or.. if a cover has a couple kissing and lots of skin is shown? Idk. It feels weird to flaunt it in front of everyone on the bus for instance. Anyhow, not many books fall into this category for me, but should definitely wear my pleasure with pride :D good discussion, Allie!

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    1. I remember another blogger telling me they had a cover from another hardcover that they sometimes put on their 'shame' books when they were reading them in public LOL. This makes me think that maybe if more books had covers that were more artistic and featured less gropping on the cover, we'd be less ashamed of reading them in public. Covers like that totally downplay the book.

      I'm now adopting this new attitude of 'I like it, so NER NER'. It's all very mature of me haha

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  7. One word-erotica, lol. In the super conservative environment I live in, this is a word that.shall.not.be.uttered. One time I brought up the 50 Shades series and my sister (also an adult) was horrified- like seriously, mouth falling open horrified. So yeah, I keep certain books I like, to myself blech.

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    1. Ahh erotica. Yeah. That's a hard one (pun totally not intended!). I don't actually read erotica, simply because it's not my thing. It's also quite a difficult one when talking about reader shame, because since erotica is very much about sex (sometimes rather explicitly) you can understand people not wanting to shout from the rooftops about reading it, not because they should be ashamed, but because sex can still be quite a taboo subject to talk about openly and to bring up in casual conversation. Which I guess is actually quite a shame, because it's a perfectly natural thing. I think most people view sex as private and intimate, so reading books about it and recommending books about it can be a little awkward for some people, I suppose

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  8. Love this piece!! I know NO ONE agrees with me about 50 Shades of Grey, and I hid my love for it for quite a while! Yes, it's not gonna win any prizes, but I was hooked, HOOKED damn it!! I think I read all 3 in 4 days or something equally ridiculous. R x

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    1. Fifty Shades! Very controversial :P

      I don't think anyone should be ashamed of reading that book, in regards to it being erotica etc. I personally didn't like it though, because I saw it as very anti-feminist. That being said, my best friend was a massive fan of it and got hooked too, and didn't see any of the problems with it I did. That just backs up the point I was trying to make in the post that enjoyment of books is subjective and nobody should feel ashamed about liking a book just because other people might not :D

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  9. I have tons of book guilty pleasure LOL and like you i don't think we should consider them guilty pleasures if we like them but at the end of the day i wouldn't want people to find out i've read those books! LOL
    This post reminds me of that quote in the spectacular now where Sutter's like 'It's not stupid if you like it" Such simple world but they truly mean a lot.
    Great post
    Lily

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    1. Sutter speaks the truth there! If you enjoy it, why should you need to act like you don't so nobody will judge you? I don't get why it's so important to us what other people think of the things we love. Surely if we love them that's enough!

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  10. Hmm...this is a really interesting post Allie! <3 To be honest, I'm not sure I have any guilty pleasures when it comes to reading, but I can definitely relate to the "show your love of books with pride!" theme. ;) Thanks for sharing and putting this together, and, as always BRILLIANT post! I <3 the GIFs!

    ~ Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf

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    1. I think more of us need to show our love with pride. I'm getting better at doing this and now if someone rolls their eyes when I recommend something I like, instead of just getting embarrassed I'm starting to ask 'what's wrong with me liking that, snobby pants?' :P

      I'm quite enjoying inserting GIFs into these type of posts! They sum things up rather nicely :)

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  11. I feel like people use the term "guilty pleasure" for those books that they like to read but they aren't terribly well-written or the plot lines aren't that interesting. It's not necessarily that they feel guilty for reading it, but that it's not one of their all-time favorites. In general though, I think it's important to just be proud of what you like, as you said. I try not to hide too much of my interests from people because it's not like they can change me. haha

    -Lauren

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    1. I agree with that to a certain degree, but then those books must be well-written enough for us to enjoy them anyway. Even if they're not filled with purple prose and lavish descriptions, the author manages to draw us in in other ways; like with the plot or characters. And by doing that we can overlook the book's downfalls and appreciate the other amazing things.

      So it's a shame that the author has managed to really grip us with a book, and yet we can sometimes be too ashamed to admit that because we think the books may not be 'literary' enough.

      I try not to hide too much either. If you can't have me at my worst books, then you sure as heck don't deserve me at my best books ;)

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  12. If I absolutely love a book then it would never be classed as a guilty pleasure. I think I have used it more to refer to books that I enjoyed but can't really explain why. For example, I quite enjoyed The Selection but I didn't think it was an amazing book, I didn't like the main character or her two love interests and got a bit bored at the plot and dialogue and yet I seemed to enjoy the book overall and continued the series. I always seem to view that as a guilty pleasure. But, if I LOVE a book then I am never going to feel guilty about it, haha.

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    1. Actually that's a good point, because a book I truly LOVE I'd never cast as a guilty pleasure and would stick to my book-loving guns about it, despite what other people said. So I guess guilty pleasures are books I tend to have just enjoyed and finished with a smile, but that I know the majority of others probably wouldn't like. That seems silly really though, because if I enjoyed a book AT ALL, then nothing else should matter :)

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    2. I think it's usually what others would think about us loving the book, that seems to be what makes a person class something as a guilty pleasure. I usually just class it as a book that I feel ashamed of myself for liking, haha.

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  13. I am a 31 year old who loves YA, so I have to wear my love of young adult proudly!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

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    1. Yes! You're never too old for YA. There was this article the other day talking about how non-teens / adults should be ashamed of reading YA and I couldn't believe I was reading a serious article. How can you dictate the age in which its appropriate for someone to enjoy a piece of literature? So many famous and critical acclaimed novels we read today, that are studied in schools for exams, started off being classed as children's books!

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  14. I agree with you! I don;'t think there are many books that would fall into that category for me, but lots of other media (tons of TV, a few movies, songs, etc.) And you're so right, why should I be "guilty" because I like them? Obviously, someone else likes them too since they're being distributed to the public. Pretty sure if I was the only one watching, it wouldn't be on TV! As for books, I am never afraid to say that I love YA! I guess if I love a book that everyone else is saying is dreadful or something, maybe I'd refer to that as a guilty pleasure. But really, you're right, why feel weird about liking what I like? Great topic!!

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    1. Oh yeah, it's definitely not limited to books at all! I have quite a few movies I love that I see as guilty pleasures. But you're right, it's ridiculous. Obviously we're not alone in our enjoyment of them, or things like that wouldn't keep getting made!
      There's nothing weird about liking something – we all have different tastes, different things that make us smile. We should embrace stuff like that and relish any opportunities that might arise to introduce other people to stuff we've loved

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  15. I read 50 Shades as part of a book club (of course) and while I didn't think it was good, I got a kick out of how bad it was. So, I think that could count because, aghh it was so embarrassing to be reading it! But I don't have many guilty pleasure books, I'm okay with reading the rest!

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    1. Yeah, see this was what I was saying to Finley - with things like 50 Shades and other types of erotica there is a certain stigma associated with it, as though someone needs to be ashamed for reading about sexual intimacy. Really though, sex is such a natural thing, it's quite ridiculous we can all still get so bashful and uncomfortable about it when it's present in books and media.

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  16. I love fantasy with romance (those with faeries and all) my friends make fun of me that I read those types of books so sometimes I just read contemporary books in front of them and just read my fantasy books at home in private because of the shame. Not really shame more like irritation. LOLOLOL

    www.lite-rate-ture.com

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    1. I hate when my friends tease me for liking something! Not so much because of the teasing, but because they'll clearly never be willing to try out these things that I love. And so they're missing out on all the awesome. More fool them I say :)

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  17. *raises hand* My guilty pleasures are probably those badly written dark fantasy books, haha! I like them when they're gothic and eerie... Take Fallen or Beautiful Creatures for example. I guess they are some of the first YA books I've read so I would like them, but still. I probably enjoyed them mostly because of the gothic themes. :P I know tons of people who bash these books, so I don't say that I liked them proudly. x_x Oh! Oh! And books where the main character ends up with their best friend--I normally don't mind the bad writing and just enjoy it solely for that reason. >_<

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    1. Ohh Beautiful Creatures! You know, I've never read the book but I did see the movie and I get what you mean. I think I need to read more 'gothic' type books that focus on the eerie side of things.
      And hey! Nothing wrong with falling for the best friend. They're normally the best guys!

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  18. I used to use the term "guilty pleasure" quite often(though it was always more towards TV then books!) but I gave it up a few years ago. I unabashedly have decided to just like what I enjoy and not be ashamed now.

    The only time I even WANT to use guilty pleasure now is when a book(or show or movie or whatever) has problematic elements but I enjoy the story. . . like if there's hint of sexism or stuff like that, I feel the need to point it out even if I still like the basic story.

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    1. Yeah, I do tend to use it quite a lot for TV shows too! I used to describe Teen Wolf as a guilty pleasure, then I was like 'uhm, hang on, I LOVE that show. Why should I feel guilty?' Now I rave about it to everyone.

      Yeah, that's what I was saying about needing to justify things. Like saying, 'I enjoyed it BUT'. There shouldn't need to be a but because if you liked it, who cares about the less awesome elements? It's enjoyable overall so that's what should matter :)

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  19. I hate this so much, but I'm definitely guilty (ha.) of using the term "guilty pleasure" and occasionally being ashamed of what I was reading.

    I guess sometimes I feel like, how you were saying, that I don't want somebody to judge me on the one book I'm reading at the time. My reading tastes are so all over the place, so I don't like that this person is probably categorizing me by only this one book.

    I try my best to be more open about stuff like that in the book blogosphere. Since I know I'm surrounded by other people with similar opinions, I tend to disclose stuff I wouldn't normally say in real life — like I read the Twilight series in high school and actually really liked it, etc. But I do hide stuff like that in real life more often.

    I remember one time somebody asked me what my book was about, and I tried to explain it by trying to make it sound like it was an Adult fiction book rather than YA. In the moment, I was just felt super awkward and didn't know what to say, because I feel like "I read YA and I'm in my 20s" just opens up a WHOLE big can of worms that can't be discussed in just a passing sentence. But now when I look back on that moment, I get so sad. I wish that I'd had the guts to be more proud of my reading choices and tell that girl that I was reading YA. But hopefully that experience will kind of serve as a lesson...maybe next time I'll be more open :)

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    1. Totally agree! In the blogosphere I'm a lot more open about my reading tastes than I may be in real life, simply because I feel like I'm less likely to be judged and more likely to find people who feel the same way.

      I'm in my 20s and read YA too and definitely get some people judging me and saying that I just read 'chick lit' or some such nonsense. But I'm learning not to care now, because if I love something then I'm not going to start pretending I don't because other people are snobby :p

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