Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Guilty Pleasure on the Bookshelf

By Tracy Kiely

Okay, first of all, I should admit that I keep my guilty pleasures off the bookshelf and well out of sight. I have kids. Kids that can’t find their shoes in the morning, but will find every thing else, if it is in any way inappropriate. The funny, but off-color card my husband gave me for my birthday? Found. The DVD of Animal House? Got it! The outline for the report on the Civil War that’s due tomorrow ? Still looking.

So, that said, only the “classy” stuff gets a spot on the shelf – Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen – they are all front and center. Even the stuff I didn’t like – Wuthering Heights, for instance, is on the shelf. (Speaking of which, did anyone else find Heathcliff to be…umm…completely psychotic? If they had restraining orders back then, that boy would so be on the receiving end of one.) The Sound and the Fury – a book I’ve tried to read eight times now without success – is also on the shelf. (As for that one, I never could get through Benjy’s narrative – it makes the time my four-year-old tried to explain the plot of his favorite Sponge Bob episode to me in real time seem like a particularly concise summary in Cliff Notes.)

Anyway, I was raised in a typical Irish Catholic family, which means that guilty pleasures are not spoken of, let alone displayed in plain sight. No indeed, those are the things that are swept under the proverbial carpet – or, in the case of books, lovingly placed in a box in the basement. In my case, they are the books by Judith McNaught. As I mentioned, I was raised in a typical Irish Catholic family, which means that the sex talk was largely non-existent. (Unless “Don’t!” counts as the talk.) Like many of my heritage, sex education came from the pages romance novels. In my case, it came from Judith McNaught’s wonderfully trashy tomes. Best of all, her covers did not have busty women falling out of too-tight bodices as they fell into the arms of an overly buff pirate/warrior/nautilus instructors. No, these novels had discrete and tasteful renderings of flowers on the covers. Perfect in case your mother wandered into your room without knocking. Like mine.

I adored these books. I would read them over and over again, leaving them under my bed for easy access. As an Anglophile, I loved that the majority of them took place in London society (or “the ton”) during the 1800s. The heroines, while beautiful, feisty, and smart, were somehow looked down on by “smart society” – whether due to loss of fortune or some (misperceived) social misstep. The men were dangerous and cruel, but only because of some past hurt. This hurt would, of course, be healed by the heroine by the end, turning the previously caddish hero into an adoring teddy bear.

And, really, isn’t that how all cruel men turn out to be? (Well, minus Heathcliff, of course. And oh, yes, every guy I knew in high school.)

But that was part of the fun. These books were such a lark despite, or maybe because of, their ludicrous premise. It was pure brain candy – or libido candy. The writing was good – as I remember it, anyway. In some ways, they were like the premise of an Austen novel, but with sex. Lots and lots of sex.

I admit that I haven’t picked one up in awhile – not that I’m beyond such books, far from it – but rather I’m afraid that reading them now, from the perspective of a grown woman with three children, and a husband who was not a psychotic in hiding, will change my memories. I don’t want it to be like the time I went back to Baskin-Robbins and got a scoop of my childhood favorite flavor – Pink Bubble Gum and was dismayed to find that I found it disgusting. (Really – gum? In ice cream? Pink ice cream? )

So my guilty pleasures are still here – neatly tucked away.

Until the kids find them while looking for their Civil War outline.


Meredith Cole said...

Hilarious! And you're so right about the kids. Every morning there is the search for the homework/backpack/shoes but my kid never loses track of his candy stash.

I just looked up Judith McNaught-I remember reading some of her regencies. I was interested to see if she was still writing. Her last book apparently came out a few years ago, but she's got a new one coming out this year. Love to see those long writing careers...

TracyK said...

I looked her up last night as well! I was happy to see that she was still writing. I looooved her stuff. I may have to buy another one for old times sake! Hey, we need to chat about the bookstore thing!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for another funny post, Tracy! Sorry about the bubble gum ice cream.

I predict that you will find the Civil War essay by the umbrella stuffed under the bench in the front hall.

TracyK said...

Well, what do you know? I did find the essay there! But, strangely enough, it was next to a well-worn copy of A Trace of Smoke. Hmmmm... odd, eh?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Very funny post! And it brought back so many memories. My mother used to hide her trashy reading and, yep, I always found them. The most memorable books were Tropic of Cancer and The Happy Hooker. She also kept a stash of True Romance magazines under her bed. I was reading those before I even hit Jr. High.