What are Britain’s biggest literary guilty pleasures?

Britain has given the world some brilliant authors over the ages: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, Zadie Smith. We could go on.

So surely Britain’s taste in books reflects our rich literary heritage? Erm… not quite.

A quick glance through the best sellers list shows that Brits, while enjoying a diverse range of books, love a good guilty pleasure ”“ books that are slated by critics and earn funny looks if you get caught reading them on the bus.

Here are some of Britain’s biggest literary guilty pleasures.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Let’s start with the Queen of guilty pleasures: EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a classic tale of boy meets girl, boy introduces girl to his sex dungeon, boy and girl commit some of the most perverse and unspeakable acts ever published in a book not hidden on the top shelf or under the counter.

Despite being filthier than someone running Tough Mudder in a white tuxedo and receiving less than complementary reviews, Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the UK’s bestselling books of all time. Some claim it is the UK’s all time best seller, but others dispute that claim.

Either way, you wouldn’t want to be caught reading Fifty Shades of Grey on the bus. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.


Grey is basically 50 Shades of Grey told through the eyes of everyone’s favourite kinky billionaire, Christian Grey.

The plot is the same, the exchanges are the same and even some of the emails are the same; the only real difference is that the story is told by a man who may well be a psychopath.

Naturally, people saw through this obvious cash-in and… oh no, wait, it sold over 600,000 copies in 3 days and broke UK books sales records.

The Da Vinci Code

For a short while in the 2000s, The Da Vinci Code was a bona-fide cultural phenomenon. Dan Brown’s conspiracy thriller, in which symbologist/super detective Robert Langdon investigates shadowy forces hiding secrets about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, sold well over 5 million copies.

So why is it a guilty pleasure? Well, Dan Brown isn’t considered a great writer. His writing style is frequently criticised for being clunky and simplistic (this parody sums it up), while his books mush together fact and fiction into a confusing whole.

But no-one can deny that Dan Brown knows how to write a story. Even as you question the plausibility of Robert Langdon reciting facts about Renaissance paintings while legging it from an assassin, you still won’t be able to stop turning the pages.

The Da Vinci Code is the book equivalent of an action movie; it’s not high art and it won’t change your life, but you’ll enjoy the ride no less. Probably.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter, a series of books beloved by critics and the public alike, a guilty pleasure? Never!

J.K. Rowling’s series dominates the UK’s all time best sellers lists, taking 7 of the top 10 spots. That could become 8 soon, with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (a script from a Potter play), currently the fastest selling book of the decade.

The Potter books have sold over 500 million copies worldwide and are popular with adults and children. But let’s be honest: they’re written for kids. Yes, they get dark and yes, they explore some mature themes, but it’s a book series about a wizard school.

Therefore, we’re counting it as a guilty pleasure ”“ albeit a very good one that has made JK Rowling one of the richest people in the world.


If Twilight was a person, it’d sit in a corner listening to Hawthorne Heights writing poetry comparing their crush to a rose in a rain stamping on their heart. Or something.

Stephanie Meyer’s tale of a girl and her vampire boyfriend captures teenage emotion at its finest: the overblown reactions, the melodramatic dialogue, the constant brooding ”“ it’s all here.

It’s also one of the most successful books ever written, selling over 2 million copies in the UK thanks to a dedicated fan base and people desperate to find out what all the fuss is about. It also spawned a film series that made over $3 billion at the box office. Not bad for a guilty pleasure!

Colouring books

Last year, two colouring books made it into the yearly bestsellers chart: The Mindfulness Colouring Book and the Harry Potter Colouring Book.

Colouring in has become a popular form of stress relief, with many turning to pretty colours and an intense focus on staying within the lines to alleviate their woes.

In fact, colouring in is so popular that there was briefly a global shortage of colouring pencils. This is not a joke.

But hey, whatever helps. Maybe don’t break out your colouring in book on the train, though.

What is your literary guilty pleasure? Let us know in the comments.

And if you’re tired of hiding away your secret pleasures whenever friends come round, sell books with musicMagpie! Just get an instant price, pop your items in a box and send them for FREE, then we’ll pay you the same day they arrive.

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