Avidly Reads Guilty Pleasures

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Pub Date 04 May 2021 | Archive Date 03 Aug 2021

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"My guilty pleasure wasn’t just reading low-brow fiction or even female-authored fiction, it was being femme itself."

What is it about ribald romance novels, luxurious interior design, and frothy wedding dresses that often make women feel their desires come with a shadow of shame? In Avidly Reads Guilty Pleasures, Arielle Zibrak considers the specifically pleasurable forms of feminine guilt and desire stimulated by supposedly “lowbrow” aesthetic tendencies. She takes up the overwhelming preoccupation with the experience of being humiliated, dominated, or even abused that has pervaded the stories that make up women’s culture—from eighteenth-century epistolary novels to popular twentieth-century teen magazine features to present-day romantic comedies.

In three chapters—“Rough Sex,” “Expensive Sheets,” and “Saying Yes to the Dress”—that mirror the plot structures of feminine fictions themselves, this book tells the story of the desires that only the guiltiest of pleasures evoke. Zibrak reexamines documents of femme culture long dismissed as “trash” to reveal the surprisingly cathartic experiences produced by tales of domination, privilege, and the material trappings of the heteropatriarchy.

Part of the Avidly Reads series, this slim book gives us a new way of looking at American culture. With the singular blend of personal reflection and cultural criticism featured in the series, Avidly Reads Guilty Pleasures reclaims women’s experiences for themselves.

"My guilty pleasure wasn’t just reading low-brow fiction or even female-authored fiction, it was being femme itself."

What is it about ribald romance novels, luxurious interior design, and frothy...

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ISBN 9781479807093
PRICE $14.95 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

This was a delightful read about an often frustrating subject. For long I've disliked the expression "guilty pleasure" as a way to judge what kind of entertainment is credible or not - after all, who's to judge?! - and Arielle not only elaborates on the issue (much more eloquently than I ever could), but she does it showing how detrimental the use of the expression is in other areas as well as helping perpetuate values of misogyny, racism and sexism. Deeming something a "guilty pleasure" is the patriarchy's way of diminishing, invalidating and removing credibility of women's stories, women's lives and works and Arielle not only proves it but she does it with wonderful humour and sarcasm. Loved it!

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I've long believed the term guilty pleasure is a misnomer because women shouldn't feel guilt about pleasure, but this book offers an interesting examination of why so many do. I also loved it because the author says so much of what I've been saying about the romance genre forever, but with a more academic cultural analysis and detailed historical context--and yet without digressing too much into the extraneous the way a longer book might have.

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Good cultural critique of romance novels (and other "guilty pleasure" media) and their relationship with female shame. I'm not sure I was fully convinced by some of the author's conclusions, but it was nevertheless a thought-provoking read and just made my to-read list a good bit longer.

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A great discussion about romance novels. I wish that more people would read this book and understand the cultural significance of romance novels. A great discussion of heteropatriarchy and how it affects something as simple as romance novels. Terrific analysis and wonderful cultural discussion.

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