You know that moment I’m talking about.
The one where you have eaten nothing but non-fat protein and un-buttered broccoli for going on three days in a row, and suddenly you see it: That perfect combination of butter, refined sugar, white flour, candied fruit and/or marshmallow-swaddled chocolate—whipped cream and cinnamon optional, sin always required.
And you need to make it yours.
Oh… you need to make it yours. You will DAIEEEEEEE if it is not yours. You will mow down with prejudice the poor, well-meaning soul who stands between you and your Chocolate Mephistopheles and screams, “For the love of heaven, remember your diet!” and there will be blood, tears, and no remorse.
For the love of chicken and broccoli, how do you resist such a gut-ripping, life-blood-pumping, necessary to your sanity craving?
One of the most surprising bits of advice from Weight Watchers is… don’t.
That doesn’t mean eat Chocolate Mephistopheles all day every day (and if anyone can create a dessert that lives up to this name, I will eat it all day every day). It just means, on those days when your nearest and dearest are at risk if they intervene, get the Chocolate Mephistopheles—eat it.
Well, not the whole thing.
But, say, get your bestie, order your sin, and eat it with two spoons. Gather the family, take them to the patisserie, and split it four ways. Order it, cut it into eights, and stretch it out over two days.
There are a lot of ways to give into a little temptation without going up three sizes and running away from the gym in shame. Because the alternative?
Even the most controlled of martyrs has a snapping point. The person who fails to indulge in Chocolate Mephistopheles in a safe situation today is the person who goes face first and feral into the Cheesecake Azazel at two a.m. next week and washes it down with a diet coke and pomegranate juice to boot. (Anti-oxidants make up for everything, right?)
So indulgence is not a bad thing, really. In small quantities, it sort of makes us human.
Unless you’re talking about reading.
Reading—especially now that e-readers give us leave to read anything we want, privately—allows us some serious leeway to indulge.
But is there any harm in it? Will our brains become flabby and overloaded with bad prose and stale tropes because we sit down and stuff our faces with a daily calorie wad of badly written porn?
For the sake of your average romance reader, we’re talking the reading equivalent of, say, not even Chocolate Mephistopheles or Cheesecake Azazel.
We’re talking the reading equivalent of the cheap chocolate sold by large-eyed waifs door to door in the hopes that they could, please Goddess, get enough money to water their softball fields so they can play this year.
That crap. You know what I’m talking about. The “I would have to be PMS-ing during a break-up before finals week and after I got fired in order to eat that” chocolate.
Do you get fat brain cells from reading the equivalent of that?
Of course not.
What you get—and this is the case for the candy as well—is bored.
Poor quality chocolate is good for maybe a bite. Poor quality reading material does eventually get boring.
When I taught high school, they used to tell us to let the students read anything they wanted to during their free reading time. Yeah, sure, it was painful to watch the fifteen-year-olds walk in with Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, but the fact was, those books are high interest, low difficulty—even if the kid’s reading level was way above that, the thematic content was so good that the student got something out of the book. And reading—anything—often, produces fluency, which gives students a leg up on comprehension when they decide to level up from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to something more age appropriate—like romance.
It used to drive me bananas when my all-male staff room would bitch and whine about how the kids were all reading romance during Sustained Silent Reading—weren’t they supposed to be reading something more challenging? More quality? Better than romance?
Weren’t they supposed to be getting bored with the low-quality reading?
Of course, the disconnect was in the assumption that all romance was the crap-chocolate. It never occurred to those men that the crap-chocolate got abandoned in the corners of the room, while the Chocolate Mephistopheles and Cheesecake Azazel got passed from student to student like the single spoon at the table of a multi-breakup pity-party dessert fest.
Because even high school students (sometimes especially high school students) know the difference between crappy literature and the good stuff that they can really sink their brains into.
And often, the good stuff was even better than Chocolate Mephistopheles. At its best, romance is the entire meal—it’s Satan Steak, Prince of Darkness Potatoes, and Broccoli Beelzebub.
And Chocolate Mephistopheles.
And Cheesecake Azazel.
What it’s not is boring.
So it’s okay to glut your brain on whatever you’re craving. If it’s bad for you—or just plain bad—it will bore you soon enough. Even if it’s not bad, your brain knows when to move on. How many amazing series have you needed to step off from—not because the series was bad or the author failed, but because your brain just needed a different taste? Got bored with steak, moved on to chicken? Decided green beans were tastier than broccoli—especially with bacon. (Mm—those really are the devil’s green beans, aren’t they?)
So let’s go back to our original metaphor.
When I was teaching, I’d always start the summer absolutely certain I was going to read a “health food” book during my two-month hiatus. A whole nine or ten weeks to spend with the kids? I could sup full up of novels of the highest order. I could read Thomas Pynchon and Joyce Carol Oates and John Gardner.
I could eat the high-grain bread, bean sprout, sautéed eggplant sandwiches of literature and come back with a fit and healthy brain fed on only the highest quality ingredients.
I would have the Olympic athlete of brains.
I forget when this idea died—I’m thinking it might have been around the year Goblet of Fire was released and the family took turns locking ourselves in our rooms for twenty-four hour stretches while food was brought to us and we only left to pee so that we could finish the book and pass it off to the next person before we resorted to stealing the thing while the reader snatched scant hours of sleep.
But the more I try to remember, the more I think this idea was destined to fail earlier than that.
I think my resolve to develop a low-fat brain was doomed when I discovered the first twenty books of J.D. Robb’s In Death series. Or maybe the first nine of Anita Blake. Or was it earlier? I would make the resolution afterwards, but I was probably destined to ignore the beansprouts and gorge on Cheesecake Azazel from the moment I went on maternity leave with my oldest, and my mother-in-law snuck me big bags of Amanda Quick and Julie Garwood for my recovery. Or maybe my downfall came earlier than that, when I was reading college textbooks and slipping Harlequin Temptations in front of them so my parents—or later my husband—wouldn’t accuse me of skivving off when I was supposed to be studying?
Maybe it was earlier than that.
Maybe it was when I was a kid and my parents shipped us off to our grandparents with only a scant couple of books available to pack, and I stole grandma’s Harlequin Presents.
Maybe it was when I was in preschool and I would read street signs on long trips to avoid getting bored.
Whenever it was, however the idea got started, I will stand by it.
If the literature you are reading fills you up, makes your dendrites tingle and your neurons dance, it’s not bad for you. While Chocolate Mephistopheles is best only eaten at special occasions, the literary equivalent can be read every day of the week.
Amy Lane has two kids in college, two gradeschoolers in soccer, two cats, and two Chi-who-whats at large. She lives in a crumbling crap mansion with most of the children and a bemused spouse. She also has too damned much yarn, a penchant for action adventure movies, and a need to know that somewhere in all the pain is a story of Wuv, Twu Wuv, which she continues to believe in to this day! She writes fantasy, urban fantasy, and M/M romance–and if you accidentally make eye contact, she’ll bore you to tears with why those three genres go together. She’ll also tell you that sacrifices, large and small, are worth the urge to write. You can find Amy on Tumblr, Twitter, her blog, and her website Greenshill.com.