Chris Bohjalian is the author of a slew of addictive books, from The Light in the Ruins, to The Sandcastle Girls, to The Night Strangers. Today marks the arrival of his latest novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. In it, protagonist Emily Shepard is a homeless teenager, orphaned by a cataclysmic event that may have been caused by her father. As the daughter of the presumably most hated man in town, she opts out of following the other survivors, striking out on her own. Her adventure is incredible and is sure to become a favorite on your bookshelf. We asked Mr. Bohjalian if he’d write a list of his guilty pleasure reads for us, and were delighted when he agreed. By the end of this post, you’ll have added at least one new book to your to-read list.
Make no mistake: I have my share of guilty pleasures. Exhibit A? The fact that I practically mainline Sugar-Free Red Bull when I write and eat peanut butter by the vat. By. The. Vat.
And some of my guilty pleasures are books. Sure, I wrote the Afterword to the Signet Classics edition of Les Misérables—cue the musical theater jokes—and the introduction to the Modern Library Edition of Silas Marner. But I would be seriously misrepresenting what I read if I gave you the impression that I only read the likes of Victor Hugo and George Eliot.
Nope. I have my share of guilty pleasures, especially in the summer.
But I have to be careful how I define “guilty pleasure” when it comes to a book, because the last thing I want to do is demean other writers by suggesting that I’m slumming it when I’m savoring one of their books. Good heavens, I know I’m a guilty pleasure for a lot of readers—including most of my in-laws.
So, for the purposes of this little roundup, I am defining guilty pleasure as any book I love without reservation that you probably won’t find on Harold Bloom’s nightstand. Here are five that I have read or listened to—in some cases many times:
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
How much do I love this account of the cataclysmic ascent on Mount Everest in 1996 that left eight climbers dead? I own the original book, the audio Krakauer narrates, and a coffee table version published a few years later. It’s riveting—and Krakauer’s candor is poignant and his grief palpable. This is not merely an adventure story; it’s the tale of a very good man coping with the aftermath of a disaster.
Rock star autobiographies
Pick one. Any one. Some are better than others, but they all offer surprises. My favorite? Life, by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. It’s unputdownable. Don’t just read it for the sex and the drugs and the rock and roll. Read it to learn the Stones’ nickname for Mick.
Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
Burroughs is one of the funniest people I have ever read. I’ve no idea how much of Running with Scissors is filled with precise memory and how much is over-the-top hyperbole, but I don’t care. There is horror in this story, madness, and the loneliness that can mark anyone’s adolescence. It’s also beautiful.
Books about animals—fiction or nonfiction
Yup, I was all in for Laura Hillenbrand’s mesmerizing Seabiscuit. I savored David Wroblewski’s doorstop about dogs and (well, yes) Hamlet. And I was touched by Gwen Cooper’s tale of her blind wonder cat—Homer’s Odyssey.
You can’t go wrong with any of these in my opinion. Perhaps the main reason I view them as guilty pleasures is this: Life is short and there are lots of books out there. And yet these are the ones I return to again and again, because the writers behind them are so gifted and their stories so wondrous. Happy reading.
What book would you consider to be your guilty pleasure?