My choice of books to talk about in this blog may seem a bit idiosyncratic. That’s one of the pleasures of having one’s own blog! I decide what books to review. I decide what it is about each book, as friend Mary Dee says, “sings to my soul.” The book I have chosen this time is nearest and dearest to me. I am one of its authors.
Guilty Pleasures: Indulgences, Addictions, and Obsessions (really, we put a comma after Addictions?) was published in 2003. As the introduction explains, the authors (in alphabetical order, Sue Caba, Karen Hammer, J.M. Holwerda, Cathy Luh, Catherine Rankovic, Holly Silva, Patti Smith Jackson and Laurie Vincent) came together as a writing group in 2000. We had been meeting for a while when we thought it’d be fun for everyone to write on the same topic. And so, Guilty Pleasures was born.
Our idea was to write about “stuff we know we shouldn’t do, but we do it anyway just because it feels good at the time,” to quote myself from the book. It felt a little daring, a little risqué, and very much fun. However, the Library of Congress Card Catalog matter-of-factly described the contents of Guilty Pleasures this way:
- Pleasure – Social aspects
- Conduct of life – Case studies
Who wants to read about the desires and misdeeds of a bunch of middle-aged women living in the Midwest? That was one of the responses we received from a publishing house that rejected our manuscript. But Andrews McMeel Publishing of Kansas City took a flyer on us, and they have my eternal gratitude.
As it turned out, some 5000 readers were interested enough to buy the book. Guilty Pleasures received positive reviews locally, nationally and abroad, including one in the Catalan language. Forbes put us on their book club list. It was even translated into Portuguese as Prazeres Inconfessaveis. Due to the wonder of internet commerce, Guilty Pleasures is still available at Amazon and Google Books.
Rereading the three-dozen or so essays, some only one page long, I think the fact that all eight of us were in mid-life gave these essays richness and context. We were old enough to have “histories” and young enough to be hormone-driven. We were smack in the middle of work issues; love, sex and relational tangles and the usual crutches of alcohol, drugs (mostly legal), food and shopping; as well as some unexpected foibles like rifles, running from the law, a taste for doo rags and the need to be right.
Fifteen years later, I am surprised how frank we all were, especially in the sex-related stories. One reason we felt freer to expose our foibles was our pact not to reveal the specific author of each essay. The agreement was that you can admit to penning your own essay, but you can’t “out” anyone else. Still, I was shocked that I used my boyfriends’ real first names. What was I thinking?
At the time, I wrote because I was feeling the need to be heard. I got fired as a physician by unscrupulous people who ran a cut-throat practice that didn’t care about patients. I wasn’t even allowed to tell my patients that I was leaving. I did, anyway, and tried my best to find them new doctors I trusted. One patient in his 80s said to me, “I’d hoped you would see me through to the end.”
Writing was a balm. I was so lucky to find my writing partners through the St. Louis Writers’ Workshop and our teacher – and co-author – Catherine Rankovic. Most of us were in writing-related professions, such as speechwriting, journalism, advertising and teaching literature, but I was not the only “amateur.” What all of us had in common was a desire to write well. And did we! I am still impressed by how clever and well-chosen the phrasing, how beautiful the metaphors, how rich the language in our little book.
I discovered another reward from having written this book besides having my say. (No, I didn’t become rich or famous.) In many of my readings to publicize the book, I would read an essay or two, then pass out index cards and ask listeners to write down their guilty pleasures. The process was fun and enlightening. I never knew that husband Bill had a thing for writing pens, that Willow (I know better now than to use a real name) had a penchant for daytime sex, and that Pat couldn’t resist buying stemware.
In every session, friends I’ve known for years and total strangers happily shared a tiny piece of secret happiness with each other. It turned out that heartfelt communication with others was even more delicious than the straight reading of my stories. Now, THAT’s a pleasure!
Tell me: What are your guilty pleasures? (You knew I would ask.)