Guilty Pleasures: Books I So Love to Hate

VictoriaHoltThis week I thought about novels that inspired the writer within (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier), novels whose prose wowed me (Crescent by Diana Abu Jaber), novels that I’d call nearly perfect in every way (Atonement by Ian McEwan), and novels that I love just because I love them (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen). And even novels that I hate (The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen this means you).

But what about novels I love to hate? These are the books I read in secret and that I have never admitted (until now) that I actually … sheepishly … loved reading. Forget my literary aspirations and finely tuned critical faculties, I tore through these books despite myself. I give you:

Victoria Holt gothic romances. As a kid I’d gravitate to the revolving paperback racks while my mom putzed the library shelves. The covers transfixed me. All those damsels wearing impossible dresses fleeing ominous man-shadows who stood in broody castle doorways. Later, in my 20s, I worked in publishing talking literature by day and read Victoria Holt by night. A therapist might say I had a secret hankering to be saved. I say whatever.

A.M. Roquelaure Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Move over 50 Shades of Grey, Anne Rice, our favorite vampire writer, had long ago plumbed the depths of the BDSM scene under her Roquelaure pseudonym–and with more finesse and wit too. I learned terms such as “pony play” and thought I was quite the thing. And what could be better than perverting a classic fairy tale trope? (Oddly–or maybe not?–this phase and the gothic romance phase overlapped. Let’s not analyze, OK?)

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. I know, I know, cardboard characters, yadda yadda yadda, but I’m a sucker for esoteric Catholic mumbo jumbo and alternative theories about our man Jesus’ life. And I love art and architecture, and cool puzzles, and symbology. So, yes, I was meant to read this novel in a day and get all pumped up about the Knights Templar and Mary Magdalene. I love a good Catholic Church conspiracy theory even if it’s fictional.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. OH man, did I love this book when I was teenager. The recent Lifetime movie remake got me thinking about it again. What was it about this story? It was titillating. Yes, it was. Nasty moms and illicit sibling sex. Yeesh, I’m feeling all weirded out and excited just typing this. Blech, but such a lovely blech.

It occurs to me that sometimes books really are just entertainment. Plus, there’s something so good about the “bad” sometimes, don’t you think? It’s like watching the food poisoning scene in “Bridesmaids” and laughing your ass off despite yourself. The scene is so awfully funny the way these novels are so awfully entertaining.

OK, ‘fess up, what are your guilty pleasure novels?

Author: Lisa Alber

Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (March 2014). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging at Lisa Alber's Words at Play round out her distractions. Visit her at

18 Replies to “Guilty Pleasures: Books I So Love to Hate”

  1. Lisa,

    I too have read all of those books. I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures, because any book that brings pleasure is a good thing! Same goes for television and food.

    I still have all the copies of VC Andrews’s books that I read as a teen. Remember those stepback covers with the creepy portraits of the family? How can anyone not love those books for the camp factor alone.

    And I agree that Dan Brown’s book was a poorly written tome, but it was a wonderful day of reading, and gave me tons to think about.

  2. Omg, I LOVED The Da Vinci Code. And after I devoured it I started reading Angels & Demons, which I loved even more.

    And I’ll forever be loyal to Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series as THE ultimate vampire books; they were huge in the 90s but I guess with the Twilight resurgence, he revamped (ha!) the series a couple of years ago and I always have them pre-ordered, ready for me to pounce on once the next one’s out.

  3. DaVinci Code is on my list, too, along with, *gulp*, the Twilight Series (There! I said it out loud), and also a historical romance called LORD OF SCOUNDRELS. How’s that for a title? And yet, I devoured that book and then my husband read it! Ha!

    1. Twilight series! I haven’t read it — yet? — not sure if I ever will at this point because there’s sure to be another guilty-pleasure vampire series out soon.

      Lord of scoundrels meets the desperate duchesses. I’d like to see that!

  4. I read The DaVinci Code while I was doped on in the hospital. Perfect doped up in the hospital book! I guess my life-long guilty pleasure has been spy novels ala Alistair McLean and space opera by a long list of forgotten authors. And then there’s the shape shifting gay werewolves but okay let’s not talk about that.

    1. The secret life of Christina! I’d like to see gay shape-shifting werewolves in space. Don’t you think Joss Whedon could dream up something around that?

      Funny, I’ve never been into spy books. They always confuse me (John LeCarre, for example). 🙂

  5. Add me to the list of people who are not guilty about their pleasures (I wrote about “guilty pleasures” on my blog a while back:

    My current non-guilty pleasure is the Matt Helm books. They were spy novels that I read growing up, and they’re coming out as e-books now. The books are morally reprehensible, of course (Helm is not really a spy — as he points out from time to time — he’s an assassin for the government), and full of early-1960s sexism, but they’re also full of a certain wry humor and (I realize now) really well written.

    And I also realize now that they’re a definite influence on a character of mine. (It’s fun to go back and re-read things I read ages ago and start to see the effect they had on my own writing, most of which I never realized at the time.)

    (Necessary disclaimer: there is no real relationship between the Matt Helm books and the series of spoof movies that came out in the 1960s with the same name.)

    1. Hi Anthony — I’ve never heard of the Matt Helm books! I love it that so many out-of-print are being reissued as ebooks. This is a great thing.

      I’m going to have to get rid of the “guilty” in guilty pleasures … I wonder if it’s my Catholic genes …

  6. For me, the guilty pleasures would have to be anything by Michael Crichton, novels about the Titanic disaster, and THE PERFECT STORM (by Sebastian Junger, which I think I’ve read four times). We could really get into the fact that my psyche enjoys disasters, but I’ll just pretend that’s normal…

    1. Michael Crichton — oh yeah. I remember reading THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN waaaaay back. Of course, we’ve got mutant plague disease stories all over the place now, but back then it freaked me out!

      I’ll pretend at normality right along with you. 🙂

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