I collect lesbian pulp novels, which are, on the whole, terrible books. They’re often poorly written, exploitative, and homophobic. The covers are over-the-top and dial the male gaze up to eleven. They’re basically the clickbait of the 1950s. But I collect them because queer women lit is my passion, and pulp is a notable part of its history, and also because they’re ridiculous. There’s enough distance that I just find the covers hilarious. (I’m not saying I have a canvas print of Satan Was a Lesbian hung up in my living room, buuut…yes, I do.)
I have read a handful of lesbian pulp, and they’ve been, across the board, not the best books to read. Even the books written by lesbians are hemmed in by censorship (no happy endings allowed!). There are exceptions, but generally I will put down a pulp book thinking “Reminder to self: just enjoy the covers and don’t put yourself through actually reading them.” But I can’t seem to help it! I know I’m going to eventually read My Bisexual Three Years (??), because I just need to know!
And it’s not only lesbian pulp. I have a list of books that I know are going to be terrible, but I still want to read. I’m note even talking about “guilty pleasure,” exactly. I think more about quick, light, but fun reads for that. And they’re not hate reads: I go in with all the joy and expectation I would have for a lauded book.
Take, for instance, the Jerry Cornelius books. Ever since I stumbled on the Wikipedia article, I’ve been wanting to read this acid trip of a series. I know from the blurbs that there is almost no way I’m going to be able to even follow what’s going on, never mind truly appreciate the books, but I’m still drawn to them. They seem like they’d be such an experience!
Or look at Silverglass by J.F. Rivkin. It’s been sitting on my TBR shelf for years, and it delights me. Maybe this story of a sword-for-hire will actually be a compelling narrative about a female assassin, but the outrageous cover doesn’t leave a lot of optimism for how it would actually handle a bisexual woman main character. As long as I don’t give in to the siren song, though, I can believe it’s just…ironic? Or an unfortunate cover. But I know some day I will pick up this book, and it will likely be just as terrible as the cover suggests.
Okay, there may be a bit of a theme going on here. I’m a sucker for queer books. Even if I know that a title is probably not my kind of book in every other aspect. I very painfully parted with a considerable collection of lesbian fiction, because I had to face that I was never actually going to read them. If I had all the time in the world, I’ve love to binge on every cheesy ’70s lesbian romance ever written. But there’s not enough time to even read all the amazing books I want to read, so why bother with the terrible ones that I’m inexplicably drawn to?
I don’t think I’m ever going to stop picking up terrible books completely, though. Some books are bad, but fun to read. Some books are low quality, but they are part of literary history. And sometimes you just want to read something a little cheesy, a little dated, unarguably flawed, but that contains that pearl of a concept that makes the ride worthwhile.
Do you have any books on your TBR that you know will probably be terrible, but you’re still excited to read them?