We hear a lot about “guilty pleasures”, but so far I have seen no analysis of what this constitutes in the world of reading. (Or if there are such things, I have given in to foresight and avoided them.) There are, however, different sorts of books in the Guilty Pleasure line, so I have put together a sort of diet list–or, if you prefer, cookbook—to put them in some sort of order.
Salted Peanut Books: This book is made up of a lot of short segments that you are willing to read one after another: they don’t really count, since they’re so short. There is actually a trivia book called Salted Peanuts, by someone who knew exactly why some people would sit and read such a thing straight through, but other possibilities include joke books, collections of comic strips, and books of short nonfiction tales such as Bernhardt J. Hurwood, or Paul Harvey used to produce.
Box of Chocolates Books: These are those novels from your favorite genre, or an author whose very appeal depends on predictability. Kingsley Amis applied the term to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Amis LIKED the James Bond books—he eventually wrote one himself—but he said their appeal was similar to that of your favorite brand of chocolates, where you opened the box knowing where the caramel was, where you’d find the lemon cream, and so on
Chain Pizza Books: Books of this type are likened to your favorite pizza chain’s product. You may order sausage one week and spinach artichoke the next, but you know how thick the crust will be and how the cheese will taste. This has been applied by some online savants to political commentary and political humor. Buy books by your favorite commentator, and you KNOW what the content will be. You just want to know how they serve it up this time.
Ice Cream Sundae Books: For some reason, they never say what KIND of sundae is suggested (hot fudge would seems obvious) but what is implied is a massive and indulgent dish, replete with whipped cream, sprinkles, and at least one cherry. This has been applied to great, big fat books in your favorite genre, sort of a box of chocolates deluxe, where you will be able to indulge your taste for World War II tactics or swords against dragons fiction for nearly a thousand pages.
Wheat Toast and Cottage Cheese Books: This is an outdated term: nowadays we’d probably say Kale and Quinoa Books. These are books which are GOOD for you: they will make you healthier, wealthier, or wiser. They may not strike you as much fun to read; the indulgence comes from the feeling of virtue when you have finished reading it. Believe it or else, there are people who cannot resist these volumes. They may or may not ever apply the precepts and practices in the book, but just having read it conveys enough virtue to keep them glowing.
These are the basic nutritional components of a decent Book Fair shopper. I’m sure some shoppers will deny ever indulging in this way: they may claim the bags they carry home from the Newberry as being filled with apples or T-bones. No matter: we ought to be able to supply the dietary requirements of just about anyone. This stack of pulp magazines about trains, mainly nonfiction, from the 1940s: may well sell to someone who regards them as their ice Cream Sundae for this year, and then read them like Salted Peanuts. Or it may be a balanced diet for a scholar who is researching train employees of World War II. These Christian Romance Novels of the 1890s (yeah, that was a serious genre at the time, and occasionally since) might be Boxes of Chocolates or Wheat Toast and Cottage Cheese, depending on the reader. Or, like the train magazines, it might be calves’ liver and creamstyle corn to someone going for a Ph.D. in the history of women’s literature.
It all depends on what you do when you get these books home. And that, as long as you pay for them, is no business of mine.
Two more weeks.