How I Stopped Feeling Guilty Over Guilty Pleasures

Books and a flower tied together with twine

When you're an English major at a small liberal arts university, there are unspoken expectations of what you wear, the books you read and how you act. However, I always felt like such an imposter among the other English majors. My brightly colored outfits stood out against their stark, fashionable black getups; I could not get swept up in the majesty of "As I Lay Dying" or "A Farewell to Arms"; and I loved those “guilty pleasure” reads, ones that would cause my cohorts to stick up their noses and flick their cigarettes. I exaggerate, but there were absolutely some sidelong looks and snide comments at anything that wasn’t a Booker Prize contender or written by an old dead white man. I felt an undeniable sense of shame at what I liked. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I as deep as all my classmates seemed to be? Of course, now I understand more about imposter syndrome and realize I probably wasn’t the only one feeling this way. If only I could have had the courage to be myself! (Shakes fists in the air at past self.)  

To some degree, this lingering sense of not reading enough literature - your Victor Hugos, F. Scott Fitzgeralds or Leo Tolstoys - has hung on for a long time. I read constantly, but I would sometimes hesitate when people asked what book currently graced my shelf. I felt like I had to impress people with my books. Do I read YA fiction and children's books? Scoff! Graphic novels? Puh-lease! Chick-lit and romance novels? Heaven forbid! (Cough, cough, I did, and still do read these with wild abandon.) But it’s a vulnerability thing. Can I trust you enough to tell you about the things I love? Or will you reject them and mock me for it?   

I’ll be honest with you all: this is something I’m still working on. But I don’t want to feel guilty about the books I choose and love! Reading brings me so much joy; whether it’s "Sense and Sensibility" or the newest picture book by Molly Idle, I love each book I read for what it has to offer. Sometimes it’s a beautifully depicted tale of motherhood; or it’s a brilliant children’s book about a world of elves; maybe it’s an unexpectedly hilarious look at a sometimes uncomfortable topic. I always find something to love in the books I read. I recently finished Kate Clayborn’s "Georgie, All Along" and Jojo Moyes’ "Someone Else’s Shoes," books I would have once said, “Oh, yeah, it was cute, but now I’m back to re-reading 'Anna Karenina' in the original Russian.” (If this is something you do, you’re amazing. Do you.) Now I proudly declare, I loved them! Please talk to me about them, about Georgie, Nisha, Sam, and plots that tease - we’ll be best friends! And that’s the beauty of letting go of that need to be the impressive English major; as Brené Brown says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy - the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”  

Please shine your light my way. I’d love to hear your thoughts! 


I FEEL this as a (recovering) English major! Reading YA fiction as an adult is a delight - and romance is so much fun to read too! Jasmine Guillory is one of my favorites.

YES! It took me a long time to finally embrace art that I genuinely liked rather than art I'm supposed to like. But I wonder if you agree with this: by exploring the canonized stuff, it helped reinforce my personal tastes. Like way, way back in 2003, I had to watch "Mystic River" to realize I greatly prefer "Secondhand Lions," you know?