>I define “guilty pleasure reading” by these 4 criteria:
1. I know I’m reading crap.
2. I’m enjoying it immensely.
3. I really, really REALLY don’t want anyone to see me reading this stuff.
4. My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm taunts me unmercifully.
My first case of GPR so far remains my worst case: The Claudia novels, by Rose Franken. Published in the late 1930s until the mid-1940s, this series is about Claudia, an 18-year-old girl who wants to be an actress until she and David Naughton, a young architect about 7 years her senior, fall in love at first sight. They quickly marry, and the novels (Young Claudia, Another Claudia, Claudia and David) detail the ups and downs of their marriage.
Rose Franken was actually a playwright, and it shows in the very worst way: The chapters read like they were originally play scripts, with their choppily episodic plotting, rushed pace, stilted dialogue, and stereotypical characters. In addition, Franken threw comedy (lame) and drama (overblown) at the readers the way novice cooks will throw pasta against the wall to check its doneness.
The comedy is mostly the same tired shtick over and over again: Claudia’s young and she’s a little goofy, but David discovers about 3 minutes after meeting her that she’s a wise soul underneath. After the marriage (a month later, I think) Claudia continues to act goofy, David makes caustic remarks, then Claudia says or does something serious and profound which has David stammering by the end of the chapter, “Forgive me, darling. I’ve been a perfect so-and-so…” or worse: “You’re not bright. You’re not beautiful. But you’re all the wife I’ll ever need or want.”
The drama is laid on with a trowel. In the first book, Claudia gets pregnant about 6 months after the wedding, then nearly dies in childbirth. David: “Come on, darling, you’ve got to fight. Fight like an old so-and-so…”
On the very day Claudia finds out she’s going to have her second baby, David gives her some bad news. He has accidentally found out that Claudia’s sweet, widowed mother has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The mother knows she’s dying, Claudia and David know she’s dying, but nobody talks about it. They all pretend everything is fine, and everyone is so brave. The mother starts rolling downhill in earnest just as Claudia’s labor pains begin. When Claudia wakes up after the baby is born, David is pressing her hand sympathetically, and Claudia knows, without being told, that her mother is gone.
I first discovered the Claudia novels (in one volume, The Claudia Omnibus) while browsing in my undergraduate library when I was, like Claudia, just 18. I stood there in the aisle and read for a while, then replaced the book. My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm and I curled my (our?) lip contemptuously and thought: “What shit.” It was almost time for my next class, so I left the building.
Here’s the strange part: I was back in that same spot the very next day, surreptitiously enjoying another chapter! I’d read with an eye on the page and an eye on whoever might be walking by. I was in constant danger of being discovered; even back then, anyone who wanted to find me knew that the library was the perfect place to look.
To complicate things, I had a new boyfriend, MEM. He was a little different from previous boyfriends I’d had in high school. Sure, MEM liked to look me over and perhaps steal a kiss or two in the stacks, but he also had a disconcerting habit of actually noticing what I was reading. (Now that I think about it, he may have been my first literate boyfriend.) My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm jeered and I quailed at the thought of MEM’s intelligent gaze falling upon my trash reading. He thought I was smart. I’d be exposed as an impostor.
The obvious solution was to check the book out, take it home, hide it under my bed and read by flashlight, right? Problem: I was too embarrassed to take it up to the desk, either by itself or smuggled out in a big pile of literary criticism. The student worker at the desk and I had been in the 5th grade together. In the end, I just came back and visited the book regularly. Unbelievably, this went on until I graduated, with a few close calls.
A few years later, I came back and took a night course or two. Of course, I had to stop in the library and look at Claudia. I happily reread my favorite sections; the attraction was still there. Even armed with a B.A. in English by that time, I still couldn’t understand it.
I haven’t seen any Claudia books at the libraries I’ve used lately. If one should pop up again anywhere, my Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm is heartily sorry to report that I’ll most likely be all over it.