Career Girls book, by Louise Bagshawe

Guilty Pleasures

I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures. As long as no one is getting hurt, a little bit of pleasure should feel nice, not naughty, otherwise that sort of defeats the object of pleasure. This is particularly true of books as far as I’m concerned. I don’t judge what books you read. Actually that’s a lie. I’d probably judge you for reading David Cameron’s autobiography, or Trump’s The Art of the Deal. I’d definitely judge you for that. But not because I’m a book snob. I’d rather you read the Beano than either of them. Not that the Beano is anything to be snobby over but, you know, I had to have some kind of comparator.

Anyway, my point is, read (mostly) what you like and don’t feel bad about it. But I will admit to one reading guilty pleasure, and I really do feel bad about these books. I judge myself for reading them, and for good reason. Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great sorrow I admit…

…I love Louise Bagshawe books. I’m sorry, I just do. I’ll tell you why that’s bad in a minute. But I should probably tell you where it all began.

When I was 14-16 I worked in a newsagents. For you millennial types newsagents were shops devoted to selling mainly newspapers, magazines and sweets. You don’t really get them anymore, having been replaced by the more wide ranging convenience store or local supermarket. I loved that job. I had a love-hate romance with my co-worker, who I used to snog in the tiny stockroom, and when it was quiet I read all the magazines (and thus began my life-long love of magazines). And when the magazines that were unsold got sent back I got to have the free gifts off them. Honestly, it was worth the £1.98 an hour pay.

I started with Sugar, Just 17, 19, More Magazine (originator of position of the month), and eventually graduated to ‘grown up’ magazines like Cosmopolitan, Company, and Marie Claire. They don’t do free gifts like they used to, but back in the 90s book giveaways were the thing. And in 1995 I got Career Girls free off Company magazine, followed a year later by The Movie. These books were full of glamour, sex, business, fashion, all the things that my 15 year old life didn’t have. I mean, snogging in the stockroom may count as sex and business, but I  lived in my mother’s cast off jeans, and the closest I got to glamour was Rimmel’s Birthday Suit lipstick (25 years later I still love nude lippie, you can take the girl out of the 90s…).

Photo of the back of my ancient copy of Career Girls, showing 'Free with Company'

What I loved about the books were they were full of strong, smart women, who won the day with their guts and business savvy. There was always a problem to solve, and these women rescued themselves. And yeah, obviously I loved the saucy bits too, I was a 15 year old girl.

So why a guilty pleasure? It’s certainly not snobbery. I’ve read a lot ‘lighter’ books than these. They are decently written, with great storylines. No, it’s that Louise Bagshawe and the books go against some fundamental principles of mine.

Firstly, Bagshawe herself (now Louise Mensch) is a raging Tory, like proper Conservative. Not that that’s a problem. Some of my best friends are Tories. Well, they’re not, but lots of my family are, and well, not much I can do about that. Sorry if that’s all a bit political for an author blog, but SPOILER ALERT – I’m a massive socialist! Sorry not sorry, as the cool kids say. Anyway, as well as being hugely right wing (her first acknowledgement in Career Girls is to Jacob Rees-Mogg), she’s also gone a bit ‘false flag’ IYKWIM? She’s redeemed herself in my eye a bit with her anti-Trumpism and flashes of feminism. But still, it’s hard to enjoy authors whose values differ so much from your own (well it is if you’re dogmatically principled like me).

As for the books, the fabulous, feisty women are fabulous and feisty right up until the point where the men want to have sex with them, and they become not just passive, but literally submissive. They let the men treat them like crap, but still get together with them anyway. Indeed it’s hard to see any redeeming qualities about one of her heroine’s love interests, Michael Krebs, except for his pots of money, and apparent similarity with Mensch’s own husband, music mogul Peter Mensch. He’s mean, and he humiliates the character Rowena, particularly during the sex scenes, and that sort of behaviour is just not my bag.

Finally, these books are consumerist, shallow, full of name dropping, and ostentation, and…oh I love them, and I hate myself.

I will continue to keep and read my 25 year old free copies of Career Girls and the Movie. They are the perfect read for a Sunday afternoon in a hot bath in the middle of winter. But while I’m reading them I will make sure I say a few ‘Hail Gloria Steinems’ and won’t shave my armpits to redeem myself.

How about you? Do you have any books or authors that you enjoy in spite of your own principles?

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