English Department finds sweet spot for Guilty Pleasures course


Aaron Boyle

Photo courtesy of Dr. Charles Johanningsmeier

Most students groan once they enroll in classes and take a peek at what books will be read throughout the semester.

One class is trying to take a different course of action when it comes to college-level reading. Dr. Charles Johanningsmeier introduced a class to University of Nebraska Omaha this last semester titled Guilty Pleasures: Genre Fiction.

“I like to think of it as Guilty Pleasures: Reading Genre Fiction,” Johanningsmeier said.

Anna Pieper, a creative nonfiction English major, said she saw a flier for the course with pictures of titles such as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Notebook” and “The Circle” for the spring semester at UNO.

Pieper said she enrolled in the class because it sounded like a good break from her other English classes.

Other titles included on the course’s reading list were “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe and “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn. Johanningsmeier said just because one likes to read mystery novels or science fiction, why should they feel guilty?

“Why not look at popular culture with a critical eye?” Johanningsmeier said. “Why should people feel guilty for their reading choices?”

The idea for the class stemmed from Johanningsmeier’s experience of asking people what they were reading and they would shy away.Students would explain that it was not a good book or something “that an English professor would like.”

“It’s fascinating how the term good became associated with only a genre we call literary fiction, when there are other genres that people clearly enjoy,” Johanningsmeier said.

The course is built to help understand why people feel guilty and what other ways that a reader can get pleasure and meaning out of books, he said. Different readers like different things. Some like the challenge of figuring out a mystery, he said, while others enjoy being taken to another world. Analyzing literature is important but understanding the other forms of reading are equally important, Johanningsmeier said.

“He is really good at facilitating discussion, especially when it’s hard to discuss things on a surface level,” Pieper said.

The book that the class read toward the end of the semester had an unlikeable protagonist, Pieper said, and instead of asking why is she an unlikeable character, Johanningsmeier will ask what makes her an unlikeable character. Pieper said that they will go into detail of the characteristics of characters and see how they relate to the them.

“I would recommend this class to everyone, because everyone likes reading these kinds of books” Pieper said.

Johanningsmeier said he hopes to offer the course again in the spring semester of 2020. The ideal size for the class is 20 students because it allows discussion, he said.

“Anybody can take it,” Johanningsmeier said. “The audience I’d really like to reach are students who maybe in the past like to read or still like to read, and don’t necessary want to be English majors, but just want to get a different dimension on their reading.”