The thought occurred to me this morning, as I was driving to physical therapy, that I wanted to change my reading challenge list for the year to all banned books. I'm not sure why, but I looked up the most-challenged books from the 90's on Wikipedia and turns out I've read 38 of the books on the list. Some of them I've never heard of, and honestly some of them I won't read. Just not interested.
Anyway. I'm currently reading I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Not only is it interesting and funny, but it was also listed on TIME magazine's best English-language novels from 1923-2005 list. After that, I'm probably going to read Tobias Wolff's Old School. I've read bits and pieces of it before, so it'll be nice to read it all in context.
I got my degree in English literature from the University of Georgia in 2008, so I've given myself a break from "real" literature for quite some time. I read a few here and there (notably, Hardy's Jude the Obscure--fascinating read), but most of my leisure reading was in my guilty-pleasures genre.
The idea of any book being a guilty pleasure has always been a back-and-forth for me. My family raised me reading; both my parents are avid readers, and my brother and I started reading very early. My dad, who was in the NSA when I was young, has always liked spy novels as well as science fiction and fantasy. My mom also likes fantasy, as well as westerns and Gothic women's literature.
My brother and I were homeschooled all throughout elementary and middle school, so we had a bit of different kind of curriculum during those years than most of our peers. We read a LOT. And all different kinds of books, some that we were WAY too young to be reading. My parents never really tried to censor what we read, though if we felt guilty about a particular book, we'd be sneaky about reading it.
My brother and I both majored in English in college, and we are both pursuing Master's degrees in English education. We took many of the same literature classes, creative writing classes, poetry classes--on and on. (He's 2 years older than me, just for the record.) After my sophomore year, I transferred from the private college we were both scholarshipped to and went to UGA.
UGA's English program is amazing. I learned more in those two years than I ever thought possible, and not only did it make me a better reader, but I improved as a collegiate writer in leaps and bounds. I had professors who would forever change my ideas about literature and whom I will never forget.
Anyway, all this ramblings is to say that I read a ton of "serious" literature in college, everything from a class in Medieval Romance (whew) to 20th Century Modernism. Even to a bibliophile like me, that's a lot of serious reading to be subjected to 24/7, and when I finally finished, I celebrated by treating myself to reading only "guilty pleasures."
My guilty pleasure books have always been mysteries, romances, and in the last few years, urban fantasy/paranormal romance.
My brother continued reading "serious" books, and every time he'd see my bookshelf, he'd give me a hard time about reading "trash." Why waste my time reading these books when I could be expanding on my spotty Victorian literature knowledge?
Why are we somewhat embarrassed to show what we're reading to a perfect stranger, heaving bosoms and naked chests on the covers?
Why do we, often as both readers and writers, feel like we need to justify what we read?
I like to read classic literature. I like to read poetry.
I like to read erotica. I like to read about vampires and werewolves.
I like to write modernist-type poetry, to experiment with poetical form.
I like to write modernist-type fiction.
I like to write love stories.
I like to write about fairies and vampires and werewolves.
So what's the shame in admitting that I like to read them, too? Why should anyone have the right to make me feel guilty about having a two rows of Laurell K. Hamilton books? So what if it's soft-core porn? I like it. My life is short enough that I should be able to read whatever I want, especially since I read pretty fast.
When I'm on my deathbed, I'm going to think: damn, glad I read all those books I enjoyed so much; not, damn, wish I'd read just a bit more Dostoyevsky (I like Dostoyevsky, but it's work.)
So, embrace those heaving bosoms or blood-spattered footprints or dragons and unicorns or spaceships. When aliens invade Earth, what is going to teach them more about our culture, Thomas Pynchon or Janet Evanovich?