Dirty Little Secret

Working at Borders, I often had to censor my true opinions regarding certain books. Well, I suppose it wasn’t censoring so much as it was tolerating enthusiasm for what I felt was a novel worthy of the trash can. Obvious titles come to mind, such as Twilight, the Anita Blake series, and pretty much everything in the romance and paranormal sections. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with reading any of these books or genres, but unless they’re on your “guilty pleasure” or “ironically purchased” bookshelf, then know that your taste is bad and you should feel bad.

One of my guilty pleasures was Dan Brown’s seminal masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code. When my boss saw what I was reading, her first response was, “Dan Brown is a hack.”

“Like good with computers?”

“You don’t know what a ‘hack’ is?”

“I went to state school.”

I looked up the definition and was stuck at a crossroads. Sure, his writing was formulaic and clichéd at times, but I finished The Da Vinci Code in just a few days. It kept me thoroughly entertained. One thing that I was certain of: I could tell no one. The integrity of my English degree was at stake. How could I enjoy something that I would never recommend to anyone else?

Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one of those on-the-precipice-of-lunacy type folks that was all, “Jesus was married and had a child! ZOMG!” I just enjoyed the story. Sure, it was kitschy, but damn did it keep me turning the page. So, on the DL I scooped up the quasi-prequel, Angels and Demons, and had similar feelings. It felt like I was doing something wrong, like I was a child who’d gotten away with taking a quarter from my mother’s purse, so I tried it again. And the second time felt even more exciting than the first.

After I finished Da Vinci, my boss asked me, “What did you think?”

“Total hack,” I replied. “Entertaining story. But terrible writing.”

What kind of English major would I be if, in any way, I hinted at the possibility that maybe Dan Brown wrote a decent book? I couldn’t. So I didn’t. But in due time, justice was served when an aforementioned atrocity to the world of literature was released to the pubic in all its angsty, hormonal, vampiric glory. When Twilight was just a baby on the shelf, the very same boss who had accused Dan Brown of hackery, ranted and raved about the amazing, entrancing, wonderful novel about a teen girl who falls in love with a vampire.

Back then, it was so new that no one knew much about it. Everyone who read it couldn’t stop recommending it. But now that Twilight has become a cultish religion among pubescent girls, the truth of its horrible prose has been exposed and I realize now that my boss had no excuse to like the Prose-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named because she too has a degree in English. Yet she recommended that slightly necrophilic abomination to anyone who would listen! She may now deny that she ever enjoyed it, but I know the truth, and I’ll never forget it. She liked a book penned by an author infinitely worse than the “hack” Dan Brown.

And guess what. That’s okay. It goes against every pretentious bone in my body to admit that, but it’s true. We all have our guilty little pleasures. If we get away with stealing a quarter, chances are we’re going to want to steal another. And what’s wrong with liking a book that keeps us on the edges of our seats? Or one that makes you long to be in a love triangle with a shirtless werewolf and a sparkly-skinned, centenarian vampire? Absolutely nothing. Probably.


Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.

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3 thoughts on “Dirty Little Secret

  1. Sometimes I read Michael Crichton books to rest my brain (I did it after reading two of Brian Greene’s physics-heavy books in a row). Also, I am currently re-reading the Harry Potter series. I’ve learned that sometimes you don’t need to write like Shakespeare to tell a good story. That being said…Stephanie Meyer will NEVER be a good writer, and I will never read Twilight (I read another one of her books and it was awful).

    • I loved MC back in the day! I read all his books (save for Rising Sun and that non-ficiton one that ER was based off of) by the time I was in high school. My favorite was probably Sphere. Holy hell, that book still gives me tingles just thinking about it. I love the HP series. But I would argue that her writing is actually really good. I’d love to dissect her work someday.

      And I believe the Meyer book you’re talking about is Host. It was in the sci-fi section and had (I think) a big, blue eye on the cover. I heard it “wasn’t as good” as Twilight. Which means she must have just pooped it out.

  2. Reblogged this on A Fresh Start and commented:
    What are your literary dirty little secrets? Mine include “The Luxe” series and re-reading everything that ignited my passion for literature in middle school (“I Am The Cheese,” “The Girl Who Owned A City,” “Walk Two Moons,” etc.)

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