My name is Emily and I have something to get off my chest. I’m a cheesy novel addict. I began reading cheesy novels around age… actually, the age I began reading cheesy novels is irrelevant because I haven’t stopped reading cheesy novels. I’m a twenty-four year old undergraduate majoring in English who, after studying fancy literature every day, occasionally goes home and reads Gossip Girl.
Yes, it’s true: I’ve read Gossip Girl. I’ve also been known to read trashy romance novels, celebrity memoirs, and books meant for middle schoolers. I’m bringing this up because I feel it’s an important dialogue to have, especially as a college-aged individual. There’s a whole world of books out there, so many that it depresses me to think I couldn’t possibly read every book ever written, even if I live to be 150 years old. I firmly believe there’s no sense in cutting yourself off from one type of book or another because it’s not highbrow enough.
A wonderful piece of advice I received from a teacher during my time at UConn went something like this: “If you’re reading a book and not enjoying it, put it down and move on to something you like better. Life’s too short, and books are long.” The teacher who spoke these words was a smart individual in more ways than one: as you can imagine, these great words of advice were shared with us at the end of the semester, only after we finished all of our assigned reading. (Which was really too bad, because that would’ve made an excellent excuse to put down the books I didn’t like very much.) It’s been a couple of years since I heard this advice, but it’s stuck with me all this time. If you need permission to let yourself off the hook, consider this permission. Read a book only if it engages your interest. If it doesn’t engage your interest, don’t bother.
On the flip side, there is something to be said for expanding your literary horizons. Sometimes in order to expand those horizons, you have to try on a lot of books that don’t fit. I approach book reading the same way I approach eating: I aim for 90 percent sustenance, 10 percent treats. Realistically, I probably hit the 80/20 mark: 80 percent stimulating, progressive literature (“healthy food”) and 20 percent cheesy novels (“junk food”). I use a food analogy because I swear, reading a cheesy novel releases the same kinds of endorphins that eating chocolate cake does. It fully occupies your attention span for the moment and releases feelings of happiness. What’s so wrong with that?
In the past (and I’m sure we’ve all been here), I’ve tried to eliminate all junk food from my diet because it’s just not good for my body. And while that lasted for a short time, it was pretty unrealistic of me to think that I could abstain from junk food indefinitely (trust me, I love Twinkies and donuts as much as the next person). I remedied this situation by coming to a compromise. I try to eat well most of the time, but I also try not to get hung up on it when I occasionally eat five cookies after dinner. Because hey, sometimes that happens. And sometimes you find yourself with a Harlequin romance in your hands. Sometimes that just happens too.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Everyone has guilty pleasures! You’re not unique, Emily!” I will answer this claim by saying, yes, you’re absolutely right. I would be completely ignorant if I thought that I was the only person in America with guilty pleasure reads. I guess what I’m concerned about is, why aren’t we talking about our cheesy favorites more? Why isn’t it more acceptable among cliques (I’m looking especially at you, fellow English majors) to admit that last summer you became rabidly obsessed with The Mortal Instruments series? (Trust me, it’s addiction worthy. I speak from experience.) Is it because we’re afraid of looking stupid? Why? Because here’s the thing: we don’t really look that stupid when we admit these things. In my experience, people actually seem much cooler and much more down to earth when they admit to their guilty pleasures.
I feel like people seem much cooler when admitting to their secret pleasures because sharing secrets creates camaraderie. Conversely, the fastest way to create feelings of alienation amongst book-lovers is to talk about all the obscure, translated works you’ve been reading or the weird poetry by that guy (or girl) who tries too hard to be avant-garde. Literature, like music, has a funny way of bringing out the snob in all of us. So the next time you’re in a circle talking about your favorite books with friends (or fellow English majors), resist the urge to prove to everyone how fabulously well read you are. If you love John Green, just say so! Trust me, I for one will judge you less harshly if you say you love John Green than if, on our very first meeting, you say you die by James Joyce. Because who honestly loves Joyce that much they have to bring it up immediately? No one. And if you say you do, you’re probably out to intimidate all the other writers in the room. Or you’re lying. Either way, you don’t look very cool. So next time I’m hanging out with English majors, you all better own up to your favorite cheesy novels. Otherwise you won’t pass my cool test.
Emily Catenzaro is a senior English major at the University of Connecticut. She spends way too much time at ice skating rinks.