Best Books of 2015: Guilty Pleasures!
Once again we turn to the Guilty Pleasures of the book world, the books that either shouldn’t exist or shouldn’t take up as much of your time as they end up doing, or even books you kind of hate yourself for liking – or all three at the same time. I gave a fair amount of reading time to guilty pleasures in 2015, not only out of wholesome enjoyment but also, occasionally, for professional reasons (the reading public, it turns out, sometimes likes to see its guilty pleasures reviewed for money), and I’ve ranked the best of them for your own guilty pleasure:
10. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee (HarperCollins) – How could this deplorable book not feature somewhere on a list like this? It was never meant to be published; it was printed to make its author’s estate a pile of quick cash; it turned a hero of American literature into a quotidian bigot; it sparked three solid weeks of bloviating from the literati – guilty pleasures hardly come guiltier than this.
9. 17 Carnations by Andrew Morton (Grand Central) – It’s so wonderfully easy to hate the grasping, sordid, psychologically twisted couple known to history as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the abdicated King of England and his frequently-divorced American harridan of a wife. And although Andrew Morton does his salacious best, it’s probably never going to be possible to do much more than hate them – the Windsor family did a quick but very efficient job scrubbing the records in London, France, and the Bahamas of any paper-trail of the actual treason of which Duke was almost certainly guilty. Hence the pleasure.
8. The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, with David Goodman (Titan Books) – As I’ve had occasion to note in the past, the folks at Titan Books have a downright knack for Guilty Pleasure books, and with this one, they’ve very nearly taken the concept to another level: the autobiography of a fictional character who was originally invented as a bland stereotype. But five decades of TV and movies and comics and books have added plenty of story to the character (and the various stages of William Shatner’s portrayal of the character that whole time haven’t hurt the process either), and this book attempts to distill all of that into a narrative with a coherent timeline, nodding here to a classic TV episode, there to a classic movie moment, and filling in some blank spots along the way. A Star Trek fan would have to be made of sterner stuff than I am to pass this up.
7. The Executioner: Perilous Cargo by Don Pendleton (Gold Eagle) – Really, any of the endless string of “Executioner” novels churned out by Palo Alto computer algorithms under the pen-name “Don Pendleton” would qualify abundantly as a guilty pleasure, but this one had the added guilt of giving our stalwart he-manly hero a pert little tushie on the cover. The plot of this one is strictly from Column A: the Russians, the Chinese, a black-market nuke gone missing (as opposed to Column B: the Medellin cartel, the Mob, a CIA thumb-drive gone rogue), but it hardly matters: the good guy never sleeps, never misses, and never thinks about anything but The Job – it’s the perfect mental getaway.
6. At Night She Cries, While He Rides His Steed by Ross Patterson (Regan Arts) – Some guilty pleasures are actually intended to be what they are, and no example of that in 2015 was more dramatic than this send-up of Romance and Western novels, in which a perfectly manly hero is put through his paces with the author’s tongue firmly in cheek. I was a bit disappointed this book didn’t get more attention from the critics, but then again, even the ones who saw it probably had no idea what the Hell it was. Readers in the mood to giggle shouldn’t miss it, however.
5. The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris (Quirk Books) – Certainly the rare combination of superheroes and Schadenfreude is good grounds for a guilty pleasure or two, and this delightful book is full of both. These are the superheroes who never made it to prime time – the fat superheroes, the hobo superheroes, the robot superheroes, even the dead-but-still-kicking superheroes (although I persist in saying that one example of the latter, Kid Eternity, gets a bad rap in his entry – he was a childhood favorite of mine and has great untapped potential!), all served with with fake sympathy and withering scorn, perfect wasting an hour or two.
4. White Plague by James Abel (Berkley) – As we’ve already covered, he-man adventure novels are de facto guilty pleasures – no matter how good (or bad) they are, you can always be reading something more worthwhile. The “Executioner” novels are notoriously just about the worst of the sub-genre (now that my beloved “Last Ranger” and his post-apocalyptic pit bull are long vanished in a cloud of radioactive dust), and these thrillers by James Abel just may be the best of that same sub-genre: these books are what you give your non-reader dad if you’re fiendish plan is eventually to move him to LeCarre. This one’s about a stranded plague-ship and the one US hero who might be able to save the day, and Abel is so talented you won’t be even slightly tempted to hide the book’s cover on the subway.
3. Yurei by Zack Davisson (Chin Music Press) – What could better characterize a guilty pleasure than reading a serious (well, semi-) study of a thing that doesn’t exist? The human identity – heart, soul, mind, memories, the whole ball of string – is 100 percent entirely the product of the brain’s engrams firing with oxygen-rich blood. Once that blood and oxygen stop, the identity shuts off like a light-switch – and that’s it. No Heaven. No Hell. No personal continuation of any kind. In other words: there’s no such thing as ghosts. And yet, Davisson not only writes a highly-detailed study of the Japanese ghosts known as yurei, he writes a mighty entertaining study too. You can read my full review here.
2. How UFOs Conquered the World by David Clarke (Aurum Press) – Again: the particular guilty pleasure of reading about things that manifestly don’t exist: in this case flying saucers with little alien visitors inside. David Clarke writes a hum-dinger of a social history of this phenomenon – its genesis, its predictable patterns, its cultural dominance, and the, shall we say suggestible people who keep it going. It’s all so entertaining, you’ll occasionally forget what a colossal waste of time it is.
1. The Santangelos by Jackie Collins (St. Martin’s) – There was never any real doubt: any year that a Santangelo novel appears from Jackie Collins, that year’s race for the #1 best Guilty Pleasure is a fait accompli. And this novel is an utterly glorious case-in-point: Lust! Betrayal! Violence! Saucy 1970s dialogue! Nonsensical cotton-candy “plot”! It’s all so smoothly done that you read it while lounging by the poolside even if you’re actually reading it in your basement laundry room in wintry Omaha. The only real shock? That our beloved author is now gone and will delight us with no more guilty pleasures of the kind she consistently did better than anybody.
Best Books of 2015: Guilty Pleasures!