When Reading Feels Like a Guilty Pleasure…

It’s been a while since my last post, but I have been enjoying a well-deserved break. As most people I know who deal with literature professionally, I read very little. Belgian literary critic Patrick Demompere once said that the people who are reading big fat books on the beach can instantly be recognized as people who never read anywhere else, and I tend to agree. Sure, I read magazines, I read cook books, I read the newspaper, but not much else.

Now I’m back to work, however, it’s about time to get back into my usual reading habits. The first weeks of the new semester, however, tend to be too frantic to do anything in the evenings beyond collapsing on the couch with a cup of tea. Luckily one of the university’s cleaners has the wonderful habit of leaving books for people to enjoy, for free. God bless her. Apparently she’d left Ozzy Osbourne’s autobiography in the staff kitchen weeks before I spotted it. No one appeared to want him. Poor Ozzy.

Being a sucker for abandoned books, I took it home. I started reading the first chapter while preparing my dinner and was hooked within five minutes. In the end I finished it within three days. Meanwhile, I felt as if I was indulging in a guilty pleasure. Can a literary scholar afford to be seen with a rockstar memoir? Just to be sure, I hid the cover whenever reading the book in public, which was often.

For a lot can be put against this type of book. You could be reading the pile of serious literary books waiting next to your bed, for example. Also, these books usually aren’t what they pretend to be: a memoir. Ozzy politely thanks his “co-author” in the acknowledgements, but it’s fair to say he did very little writing himself, if any. He’s not the only one, and despite the outrage directed at Zoella last year, ghostwriting has been an acceptable and profitable practice for decades, if not more.

Having said all that, I tremendously enjoyed this piece of trash. Perhaps it’s not written by the man who’s face is on the cover, perhaps much of it is made up, perhaps it contains utterly disgusting descriptions of unspeakably politically incorrect behaviour. But even a book loaded with perhapses can be a lot of fun. And just as I love exquisite cooking as much as the occasional fry up, I think that bad books can actually offer a healthy balance when read in moderation.

Of course I’m biased. Many of the books I write about are considered bad, trashy or downright disgusting by a lot of people. The controversy around Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho might have died down somewhat, over two decades after its first publication, but I still get funny looks when I argue that writers like Poppy Z. Brite, known for writing “vampire trash”, as someone I once met politely put it, deserve to be studied academically. My personal view is that it’s not my job as an academic to tell other people which books are good and which ones are not. It’s my job to analyse books which I feel have something interesting to say. And even when a book deals with shocking subjects, or isn’t particularly well-written, or can otherwise be considered as trash, it can still be interesting and relevant.

Will I ever write a paper about good old Ozz? Only time will tell…


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