In our culture, the dog days of summer mean “beach reads” or “guilty pleasure” books. I don’t really believe that we should feel guilty about reading silly or escapist novels, but I do think it’s fascinating when a book we read for pure enjoyment or a quick plot fix ends up seducing us with its delights.
We become converts. Or, at the very least, the Greyhound ride becomes that much more pleasant (thank you, Da Vinci Code, for redeeming one such Greyhound ride for me).
So in the spirit of honest inquiry, I polled the Flavorwire staff on the guilty pleasure books that they genuinely liked — and as you can see, the results are a charming mix of predictable and weird.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris
I started reading Twilight because I was teaching teenagers, and all my students were obsessed with it. Yet its sexual politics seemed kind of dodgy. Eager to understand What The Kids Were Into These Days, I picked up the first Twilight. Three days later I resurfaced, having read the whole series, hollow-eyed and fiending for more sexy vampires. “Where have I been?” I asked. “What just happened to me?” “Did I really like that?” “What’s with the heavy virginity metaphors?” “Am I the patriarchy?”
Fortunately, my newfound vampire fixation was soon sated by the slightly less appallingly sexist Sookie Stackhouse books, of which I read all 13. Yes, that’s right, all 13. They got lousy after book nine, but at that point I was pretty committed, and I had an e-reader, so I kept going. Tweet at me if you want to know who Sookie ends up with. — Sarah Seltzer.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson I’d always assumed Stieg Larsson’s books would be Ludlum-esque pap, but when I got marooned in an airport a while back, waiting for an ever-more-delayed plane, I decided that I had nothing to lose and picked up a copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I thumbed through the first chapter, found myself intrigued, and… devoured the whole damn thing in one sitting, and then the sequel on the actual plane journey. The prose is nothing spectacular (perhaps it loses something in translation), but the plot was both riveting and genuinely moving. I picked up the third book not long after I landed, and spent the next couple of weeks lamenting that due to Larsson’s premature death, we’d never hear any more about the life of Lisbeth Salander. — Tom Hawking
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Look, I know that Bridget Jones’s Diary has become some kind of shorthand for substance-free soufflé fiction — but when I read it back around 2000 or so, I thought it was just delightful. Sure, it begat unnecessary sequels of rapidly declining value, and it falls into some unfortunate tropes (and helped create a few of its own). But it’s self-aware, sweet, and funny as hell, a far better book than the reputation it seems to have acquired. — Jason Bailey
The Draco Trilogy by Cassandra Clare (characters by J.K. Rowling)
Cassandra Clare wrote the bestselling YA series The Mortal Instruments, but once she was only known among enthusiastic, dorky, and somewhat horny circles of Harry Potter fans for her slash fiction — especially the Draco Trilogy. As a middle schooler, I came to understand my (homo)sexuality through my considerable preference toward gay Harry Potter fan fiction, which I — along with my suburban group of straight, somewhat conservative girlfriends — would clandestinely consume via Windows 98. I was therefore reluctant to partake in fan fiction, like the Harry/Hermione & Draco/Ginny-pairing Draco Trilogy, that wouldn’t elucidate what was behind my illicit desire for porny Ron Weasleys. I either wanted “real literature” or pure trash. But when my budz began discussing the Draco Trilogy as though it were an actual part of the Harry Potter world, I decided to give in, and became completely engrossed and shocked by Clare’s immense, meticulous, and structurally sound commitment to a world she didn’t create. — Moze Halperin
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I picked up Flynn’s and Collins’ books for the same reason: because the film adaptations were imminent, and I figured I should read the source material first. In both cases, I expected getting through the novels to feel like homework — and in both cases, I found myself consumed by the fast-paced, intentionally addictive storylines. In the case of The Hunger Games, I bought the sequels immediately and read the whole trilogy in something like a weekend (during which, I’m ashamed to say, I also had at least one anxiety dream set in Panem). Though I wasn’t as enamored of the final two books in Collins’ series, what I like about her and Flynn is that, while neither is what I’d call a first-rate prose stylist, their writing is crisp and clear enough that it doesn’t get in the way of the main attraction: the story. — Judy Berman
The Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar
Granted, I was squarely in Cecily von Ziegesar’s “aspirational preteen” demographic when I first stumbled across her books, but suffice it to say, Gossip Girl did not fit into my self-image as a Very Serious Young Reader. That didn’t stop me from guiltily but dutifully acquiring each soapy installment, not to mention a good chunk of spinoff series The It Girl (Jenny Humphrey goes to boarding school!). Eventually, I outgrew the habit, but not before I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t above von Ziegesar’s catalog of brand names disguised as a novel. But hey—neither is Janet Malcolm! — Alison Herman
All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed and Me, by Jeff DunhamOn March 23, 2012 (thanks, Goodreads!) I started reading Jeff Dunham’s autobiography All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed and Me. I didn’t really want to — a friend had it at his apartment (don’t worry; he didn’t pay for it), and I grabbed it as a joke but then also started reading it on the subway ride home. It’s awful. It’s atrocious, actually, and I vaguely remember that at one point Dunham talks about healing the nation after 9/11 with one of his racist puppets. Anyway, I got about halfway through before I stopped and instead have been picking it up sporadically for three years to read a page or two because I can’t stomach reading more in one sitting. I wouldn’t exactly call it a guilty “pleasure,” but I do get some sick entertainment out of reading one of the worst comedians as he feeds his own delusions. Maybe eventually I’ll even finish it. — Pilot Viruet
We Can’t Afford It (author unknown)
Even though my family was going through a financial rough patch, my mom still pooled enough money together to buy me this little-known children’s book. I felt guilty — and yet, how much I wanted to read We Can’t Afford It. A snapshot of my own life, it tells the story of a young child whose is scolded repeatedly by his father because he (frivolously) desires a bike that his family can’t afford. In the end — for no apparent reason — his family suddenly buys the bike. For me, at that age, it was a valuable lesson about life’s basic randomness and the cruel ups and downs of personal finance. I took much of this with me as I returned to college for my sophomore year. — Jonathon Sturgeon