Best Books of 2017 – Guilty Pleasures!
In any year, it’s always tricky to define what I mean by guilty pleasure. After all, in one sense there aren’t any guilty pleasures in reading and there couldn’t be: reading is the riot of the soul, and it admits no guilt. But in another sense, there’s always more Henry James that you really ought to get to. Most books you read can be construed in at least some kind of way as being at least some kind of small progress toward the unreachable goal of reading what used to be called “improving” books. But not so the entries on this list! They are here to waste your time, and of all such books I read in 2017, these were the best at it:
10. The White Road by Sarah Lotz (Mulholland Books) – The plot and pacing of this novel about an “ex-adrenaline junky and slacker” facing danger and betrayal at the top of the world on Mt. Everest is so feverish you almost want to dose it with quinine and send it to bed. Like so many of the guilty pleasures on this list, the plot is hysterically absurd – but the book itself deliciously bad.
9. The Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin’s) – Maberry is in many ways a master of providing readers with guilty pleasures, and this terrific book, starring he-man hero Joe Ledger and a batch of villainous mechanical dogs, among many other villainous things and people. Maberry can pack a whole novel’s worth of action into one chapter, and Dogs of War is his busiest book yet.
8. Gunmetal Gray by Mark Greaney (Berkley) – When it comes to he-man heroes, Greaney’s “Gray Man” is certainly no slouch – heck, in this book he’s in vicious hand-to-hand combat for his life in a hotel room before he’s even unpacked his undies. The Gray Man, Court Gentry, has been employed by the CIA, hunted by the CIA, and then welcomed back to the CIA, so a sense of deep disorientation permeates these books, and Greaney uses that to great, cheesy advantage.
7. The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter (Crown) – Despite the occasional pandering college course, H. G. Wells’ original novella War of the Worlds is itself a prime example of a guilty pleasure, the lurid tale of a Martian invasion of Earth. In Baxter’s breathless, totally convincing sequel, the Martians come back for Round Two, and the packed melodrama that ensues is a fitting tribute to the master.
6. The Legion of Regrettable Super-Villains by Jon Morris (Quirk Books) – Morris follows up his hilarious The League of Regrettable Superheroes with this equally-hilarious guilty pleasure, focusing on the bad guys, the not-so-bad guys, and the badly-imagined guys, some of the worst, most pathetic, most laughable super-villains in comics history. Your reading time could be so much better spent – it’s wonderful.
5. Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child (Doubleday) – Child’s own version of a recurring he-man hero, “enigmalogist” (try saying it) Jeremy Logan travels to the back-of-beyond Adirondacks to investigate claims that suggest, golly, a werewolf, and there literally isn’t one single detail of the book’s plot that can’t be accurately predicted by page 4. But trivia like that has never slowed down a sterling hack like Child, and this book will make you hope it never does.
4. Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix (Quirk) – The research Hendricks has poured into this survey of the covers – and trends, and authors – of the pulp horror novels from the 1970s and ’80s is genuine and groundbreaking, hardly a matter of guilty pleasure at all. But the subject of that research places this fantastic, eye-popping volume squarely in this category. This is a careful, comprehensive study of books so gawd-awful they shouldn’t even be touched, much less read and studied. If you loved these books as much as I did, you can’t miss this wonderful waste of your time.
3. Dead on Arrival by Matt Richtel (Morrow) – Sometimes – often, in fact – you can spot a guilty pleasure even before you read it, and this irresistible novel by Matt Richtel is one of those: the cover shows a shuttered airplane window entirely covered in blood. And if you’re picky enough to require more than the cover, there’s the super-cheesy plot: the people on board a plane landing in Colorado learn that they’re practically the only people left alive and uninfected by a mystery illness. It’s a no-brainer of a premise, and certainly there are no brains in its execution – you’ll love it.
2. Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia by Adam Bray & Cole Horton (DK) – Surely “a visual encyclopedia of Star Wars” is a note-perfect synonym for “guilty pleasure”? In this big volume – crafted with the precision excellence of all DK productions – every single thing in the sprawling Star Wars universe is given a clear mug shot, a proper name, and a few bits of ultra-geeky clarification. Reading time disappears as though these pages were a bottomless sarlacc pit.
1. Treat! By Christian Vieler (Black Dog & Leventhal) – The premise of this, the guiltiest of all the year’s guilty pleasures, is quite simple: hold up a treat in front of a bunch of dogs, toss the treat, and photograph the instant they snatch it out of the air (or fail to). But that premise doesn’t do justice to how hypnotic these pages are: picture after beautiful picture of dog after dog caught in exactly the goofy moment when ecstasy is achieved. It’s virtually impossible close this book and return to Henry James.