Guilty Pleasures and Recent Reads


Even the most cognizant and conscientious consumer has guilty pleasures. Products acknowledged as less than brilliant that for one reason or another offer a cathartic break from rat race or just a simple attraction. Jeff, for example, maintains the world’s largest catalog of Rhianna remixes. From obscure “Umbrella” cuts to the dance version of “Unfaithful” (undoubtedly the most unsettling soundtrack for a lap dance this side of Nickleback’s “You Remind Me”), Jeff is loath to admit this affinity. However, these tracks grant smiles on cloudy days, and despite realizing that they are crap, the restorative powers of the pop hits are not easily denied.

I was introduced to my greatest guilty pleasure as an eighth grader. After graduating from a rather childish series of books, I discovered the work of Clive Cussler. They appealed to my interest in history, vague sense of adventure and desire to be a bon vivant. Dirk Pitt and later Kurt Austin, Cussler’s two all-American heroes, are cut from the same cloth as Indiana Jones. Except, they exist in the present and are sadly represented (at least Pitt) on screen by the hapless Matthew McConaughy and not my friend Jed’s favorite male lead, Harrison Ford.

Over the years, even as I have dispensed of most reading material I deem crap (maxim, vibe, the source, and countless others), Cussler has stuck with me. Paint by numbers novels appear with frightening frequency, and hold my interest without fail for the day or so it takes me to get through them. When Sahara hit the silver screen, I was dreadfully disappointed, perhaps thinking that had the movie been excellent, my pleasure would have been marginally validated.

Last week, I read The Navigator. The writing was weak, and the editing worse than my own, but still I turned each page as quickly as the last, and felt momentarily lost in Cussler’s world. I passed it on to my newly teenage cousin, hoping that at the very least, the NUMA adventures would make him fall in love with books as I have.

Customarily, Cussler has provided an escape from an ever growing list of books that I must read. I often wonder- do other people avoid reading by reading? Perhaps so. In any event, I have returned to my stack and am catching up on some much overdue tattoo reading.

Half way through Sarah Hall’s The Electric Michelangelo and I am enormously pleased with her treatment of the tattoo trade. I shouldn’t really be surprised, the book, after all, was a Booker Prize finalist (note: in reading this book, I have decided that I will not review fiction, and rather reflect on it in rambling entries like this instead). The first third of the book cleanly captures the tensions of the apprenticeship system, and even better the unmitigated attraction some men (and women) have to the art.

The appearance of tattooing in fiction has always been a real point of excitement for me. Hall’s book marks a nice change too; it’s well researched and hinges more on human passions than sensation. Hers is a perceptive handling, great fiction, encompassing a contemporary and reverential view of tattooing.

The only thread linking my two recent reads is an emphasis on historical record to drive plot. On the one hand, Cussler’s wild tales heightens the sense of adventure, whereas Hall’s precision underlies her brilliance. In essence, the methods define the divide between guilty and absolute pleasure.

There remains minor anxiety though, as I don’t wish to dismiss the guilty as a blip in my consumer history. Despite less artistic and historic merit, books like Cussler’s are strong signifiers of what punters want, and how they choose to be entertained. As I am a proponent in pushing the value of any item of the past as valued historical marker, I’ve hit a road block. If I privilege some items in my life over others, am I bound to ignore interesting documents in my work?

This will likely be a never ending question of both my intellectual interest and integrity.

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