Thursday, May 12, 2011

"What is the guiltiest pleasure on your bookshelf?" An un-answer to an impossible question

by Katia Lief

When I was asked to write about “the guiltiest pleasure on my bookshelf,” I wandered around looking at book covers and spines, searching for something to confess.  If the question hadn’t included on my bookshelf, the answer would have been easy:  watching the royal wedding on TV (condensed by fast forward) was a true guilty pleasure on a work morning.  But finding a guilty pleasure on my bookshelf proved elusive and, finally, impossible.It’s true, some of the books that found their way into my life bored me to distraction, and were abandoned to the shelf.  Others make me recall a passion akin to a past love affair.  And then there are the books that were good for passing the time in an enjoyable way, but that I couldn’t summon the energy to either recommend or regret or, sometimes, even remember.  Guilt doesn’t even factor into it.

The more I tried to answer the question, the more I veered away from it.  The real question, I suppose, is what am I reading now that I most enjoy but feel I shouldn’t be I wasting my time on.  Hmm.  Maybe because I write paperback thrillers, I find that question impossible to answer.  As a writer, I write for love and money.  But as I reader, I read only for love.  How can you feel guilty about love?

Even the coffee table book about shoes, stacked in my living room near the TV remotes, doesn’t shame me.  Nor do the cheap paperbacks shelved beside the literary classics.  I don’t subscribe to the idea that mass-market paperbacks are bad books—how could I?  For me, reading is not about compartmentalizing a market, branding your intellect, or how pretty a book looks in your hand.  Reading for me starts with a yearning for that ultimate escape, and I know I can get that anywhere, regardless of the subject or style, shape or look of the genre or package.

A good book is a good book, and in the endless quest to find a new one, I don’t discriminate.  At the same time, I’m impatient, and if a book doesn’t grab me pretty quickly, I move on…feeling only the faintest twinge of guilt.  I believe that any book that commands my time and attention should give me pleasure on some level, and if it doesn’t, I shouldn’t sweat tossing it.

Here’s a snapshot of my bedside table right now:  Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel; The Awakening, by Wendy Corsi Staub; Catching Fire and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins; It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini; Unexpected New York, by my friend Sandy Miller; and a few half-finished New Yorker magazines.  I’m reading a lot of young adult these days because I may be interested in writing some, and I’m totally enjoying the research.  Wolf Hall is quirkily intellectual and fun.  Sandy’s book is there to enlighten me with random surprises about a city I thought I knew.  In short, any book that ends up on the prime real estate of my bedside table is there because I want it there, because it reflects my desires and consciousness at the time I put it there, and just like the children I summoned to life without knowing them at all, I embrace each one with unconditional acceptance.  Unlike the children, however, if the book turns out to be no good, it’s cast aside…I can be ruthless that way.  I’ve never met a book I didn’t want to open, though I’ve met plenty I was happy to relinquish to that dusty place I call the bookshelf.

And no, I don’t feel guilty about it.  If a book doesn’t please me, it gets the boot.

She said.  Spoken like a queen.

The first two thrillers in Katia Lief’s new series, YOU ARE NEXT and NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME, were published by HarperCollins in the fall of 2010, and have been called “brilliantly diabolical,” “chilling,” and “impossible to put down.”  The third in the series will be published in 2011.  They will also appear in the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands.  Katia is the pseudonymous author, as Kate Pepper, of five previous thrillers. She teaches fiction writing at The New School in Manhattan and lives with her family in Brooklyn. 


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Very well said, Katia, and welcome to Criminal Minds! Like you, I don't feel one bit guilty about shutting a book that doesn't grab me. Neither can I think of any books I've enjoyed that I feel guilty about reading. My book shelf guilt comes from not having enough time to read.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for being our guest today, Katia! I became liberated when I realized I didn't have to finish every book. Like Sue, I hate that I don't have as much time to read as I used to, so I save that pleasure for the books that really grab me.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for a great post, Katia!

We seem to be a very guilt free bunch on this, don't we? I was more concerned about keeping books in good condition than guilty about what I read too.

Now, if it was my refrigerator..