Avidly Reads: Guilty Pleasures

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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.

NYU Press: 2021 | Paperback: 176 pages


About the Author

Arielle Zibrak is Associate Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wyoming. Her work has appeared in The Baffler, The Los Angeles Review of Books, McSweeney’s, and The Toast.


"Funny, smart, engrossing. I fell head over heels for this exploration of guilty pleasures. Zibrak writes with both an academic's acute eye for pattern and depth and the intimacy of the very works she explores. I feel like I've been laughing with my best friend in a closet, and I can't wait to give a copy to every single one of my friends. I urge you to read it and give it to your friends, too"  —Barbara O'Neal, bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids

"Reading Arielle Zibrak’s witty and charming survey of what she calls 'femme fiction' offers all pleasure and no guilt. Diving into the complex topic of 'guilty pleasures,' she mines low and popular culture for nuggets of wisdom about gender, race, class, fiction and fantasy. You will love this book if you need the encouragement to indulge guilty pleasures. You will love it even more if you make no apologies for those pleasures. Enjoy!"   ―Jack Halberstam, author of Gaga Feminism and The Queer Art of Failure

"Arielle Zibrak’s Guilty Pleasures is such a fun and fast conversation that reading it feels like having brunch with a hilarious dear friend."   ―Popmatters
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