Friday, 23 March 2012

Discussion: Reading in Public

While playing on the internet recently, I saw somebody ask a fellow YA blogger if they were ever self-conscious about what they read. She said no. 

This reminded me of a few days ago when I was walking through the cafeteria during study hall. I had a book in my hand and other people could see the title and cover and for a minute I considered putting it away. But I told myself that the cover and title for this wasn't a big deal. It wasn't Anna and the French Kiss or The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.
So, I realized something. Sometimes, I'm ashamed to be a reader. 

Not because it's a lesser book or because it's not "good enough." But come on. I go to high school. Does walking around with Perfect Chemistry seem like a fun idea? The cover and title just scream "LOOK AT ME. I'M A GIRL. I READ GIRLY ROMANCE BOOKS. YAY KISSY LOVEY TIMES."

I can't speak for every girl out there, but I had to fight like hell to prove I wasn't some blonde ditz. I had to work to have my opinion respected by the smart kids, by teachers, by my peers. I didn't earn my reputation for being the "smart one" or the "dictionary" by talking about how much I love love triangles and pretty books and the color pink. In fact, I recently wore a pink shirt to school and one of my friends remarked I looked "girly" and he didn't know how he felt about that. He knows I'm smart but me and girly just don't mix.

Maybe it's stupid. I know these are good books. I KNOW they're quality reads. I love their covers and their titles's not something I really like talking about in front of my friends who don't read. My friend started asking me about The Probability of Miracles the other day and I think I avoided saying the title out loud throughout the conversation. I kind of whispered that it was, "like Anna and the French Kiss" and then said a little louder, "mixed with The Fault in Our Stars." I was ashamed to even say TITLES of these books. 

It's not just YA books, either. Historical romance novels? Never leave my house. Hell, I won't even buy them in bookstores. Nope, they get purchased online, then secreted off to my room. When I go to read them around the house, I try to avoid letting my parents see them. I read them in one or two sittings then tuck them away. I have three that sit on my favorites shelf where they can be easily seen, but I debated for a while putting them in the shelves I have in my closet or in my book drawer instead.

I'm not saying I'm afraid to be a reader or ashamed of what I do. Of course not. I don't boast about my blog or about being a reader, but I'll bring it up. I even told a woman who could be my college professor in the next couple years that my blog made me want to work in publishing. But what kind of books am I okay with having in public? The Hunger Games, The Demon King, John Green's books, Graceling, Divergent, The Night Circus.

   Do we notice a pattern in these books? They're gender neutral, in some cases, even leaning towards "boy-ish." These are books that become bestsellers. These are books that get to become movies and get major reviews. These are books that are well known. These are books that get major pushes from their publishers.

So then that brings the question, are publishers doing this type of thing on purpose? Giving them "girly" covers and titles and little backing so it seems like they really only get buzz because of blogging and ARCs that generate excitement? Then giving books that they do a lot for and build a lot of buzz on their own for gender neutral covers and titles? Is the title and cover of a book enough to determine how well a book is going to do? It's not a question I'm qualified to answer and it probably needs it's own post and quite a bit of research even if I tried. But it's an interesting pattern I noticed when putting this all together.

Basically, sometimes I'm embarrassed. I leave dustjackets at home. I hold up the spine rather than say then title out loud. I don't like to explain the summaries of the books because they don't sound like something...I guess worth reading to most people. The girly titles and covers and summaries aren't the type of thing my peers would generally associate with me and I like to keep it that way. Otherwise, I get embarrassed. Sometimes I'll even change which book I'm reading for the day so I don't have to bring it to school.

Maybe to some it means I'm not a real reader or I don't really love YA which would be a lie. It just means that I don't want to be judged based on the look and sound of the books I read. People can be ruthless and quick to judge and don't care how much depth is really in these books that seem like they're about love and kissing and boys, especially in high school.

I'm also not saying I want to change these covers and titles either. Because I love them. They appeal to the very girly-girl inside of me who wants to be a princess and was Belle for Halloween one year and worshiped Britney Spears at age 5. The me who loves pink and sparkles and getting dressed up, even if it is a lot of work and somewhat painful. And the not-so-simple plot lines appeal to me as a reader who likes to be pushed to think a little bit while still getting my fun and fluff and the romance that I don't have in real life.

Mostly, I'm wondering if I'm alone in this. Are there others who get embarrassed to be seen reading certain books out in public? For adults, is reading YA ever something you try to hide? Do you guys get where I'm coming from at all or do you totally disagree with me? 



  1. I liken reading books to 2 things: music and running.

    First of all, not everyone likes the same kind of music. While I adore the complexities behind something like the Rach 3 by Rachmanninov, others enjoy the pleasing sounds of something a little kinder on the ears. I mean, it's the difference between listening to heavy metal and Justin Bieber.

    Same thing with books. Books are just like music because it's a universal thing -- we all have books, they're just in different languages. Some people prefer to dive into something a little longer or more difficult, like War and Peace, or Dead Souls (sometimes for the sheer enjoyment or maybe because they're trying to just look good); while others prefer something like Anna and the French Kiss, or maybe a heavy romance.

    Which is why I also liken books to running. Not everyone reads -- I mean, the guy who pokes fun at the runner is usually the guy who is sitting on his couch with a bag of chips. I, personally, like to think that there's a littler guy inside of him who actually wants to be running and it's jealousy that's speaking. I think the same could be said with reading -- if someone wants to make fun of the book you're reading, either they're not a reader themselves, or they wish they could be brave enough to read the titles they really enjoy in public.

    I mean, let's face it -- I have quite a few titles on my shelf that I haven't read, but that I bought because I thought they would make me look smarter, or because I thought they were the books I have to read in order to be well-read. But really? I always go back to my mish-mash of books ranging from YA to romance to classics to Chick-lit and I couldn't be happier. At least I'm reading, which is the main part.

    Anyway, sorry for the huge reply! Great post. :)

  2. I read a lot in high school and I was never embarrassed by my books or their covers BUT the kinds of books I read when I was going to high school were Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and books by Garth Nix - basically MG to YA fantasy books with either illustrated covers or covers that targeted boys. The girliest I got back in high school days were probably The Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee and they were illustrated covers that I found to be beautiful and I shared them with all of my friends and for a while it was four or five us borrowing the books from each other and reading them so I didn't care about those either.

    What I AM embarrassed about though are romance books and their covers especially when I first started reading them when I was 16/17. My female friends had started reading romance novels long before me so they didn't judge me but I had a guy friend (who was very conservative) would always try to take the book from me, or see the cover. Once he even went into my bag to take it out. I of course freaked out, yelled at him, took the book and clutched it to my chest. Now I have a hide-a-cover that's romance novel size that I got for free one time at RT and I use that when I am reading my paperback romances and if they are hard cover I take off the dust jacket to one protect the jacket and two hide the cover because well I don't want my coworkers (or 11 year old brother) making comments on what I am reading. The YA books though I don't care I'll tell them all about it if they want.

  3. I've always read whatever I've wanted to in public, mainly because I don't care at all ever about what others think. (Though this can become problematic when I'm very blunt about things. But hey, I'm from New York.)

  4. I have never even questioned if I should be embarrassed about a book or not, but then again I really don't care what most people say. I am no longer in school, but I had no problem reading Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter when class got slow in high school, or to sit around in a cafe with a well-worn copy of cheesy romance. But then again, all my friends know that I never ever leave home without a book, so it's not like it surprises any of them anymore, no matter what book I pull out:)

  5. Ohmygosh, I agree 100%! I don't have a problem pulling out my copy of The Hunger Games during school, but if I pulled out a Sarah Dessen book, or Twenty Boy Summer, I would try to hide the title, or even stop reading it. I'm not know as very girly either, but I do love to read the girly books, like Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins.

    I am in no way ashamed of books, or being a reader, but I am a bit embarrassed about the books I read sometimes, exactly like you said. I'd much much rather hold up to cover of a book, or give someone the book to see it rather than tell them about it. I love reading, and I would never deny that, but sometimes I don't want people to judge me based on the book I'm reading.

    Amazing, amazing post! I've bookmarked it, and I'm going to link to it! This post is very true, and I relate completely! Thank you :)

  6. I definitely feel like you, self-conscious about showing the books I read even if I love them. I'm too old for YA, so that's part of it. Just yesterday I brought Freshman Year and Other Disasters with me to a class I take and one of my classmates took one look at the cover and snickered. Ahhhhh. That's one good thing about Kindles is that there are no covers people bend over to read upside down. Guess that's the risk we take!

  7. I don't really read in public anyway so I don't have this problem so much and my family aren't really readers so the fact I read anything at all makes them think I'm a total nerd (I take this as a compliment and they seem to mean it as one), so I don't hide what books I read from them - I have my YA books right next to my shelves with Shakespeare and classics and stuff by Palahnuik, Vonnegut and Bukowski.

    I used to be a bit embarrassed to admit to Batman and Roo (best friends, if anyone other than Julie reads this - and Roo is a guy) what I like to read, but I just forced Batman to read loads of books, mostly YA and she's loved/liked most of them (and some of the ones she's loved most have been the ones with the awful chick lity covers/titles/summaries), so she likes YA now too.

    And Roo, I got him to read a couple of YA books (Paper Towns, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Perks of Being a Wallflower) - so he's not so horribly opposed to the catagory as he used to be but I probably wouldn't be able to get him to read beyond that. His favourite books are ones like Madam Bovary, A Confederacy of Dunces and Clockwork Orange so it's still a bit cringe-y admitting some of the stuff I read, but he knows I read YA, I have a mostly YA book blog and that I want to write YA...we just don't discuss it often. I'm going to stay at his house tomorrow and I'll be bringing a book - and I did consider bringing the more serious one I'm reading (On the Road by Kerouac) instead of the YA review book, but then I just thought, "Screw it." we make a joke of our differences anyway so it wouldn't matter. =]

    I'm a bit more embarrassed buying YA in public than I am more serious or adult stuff (I don't often buy books anywhere but online though).

    And I'm rambling. And it feels strange commenting on our own blog, but yeah... s'up, Julie? =P

  8. I can be a bit of a book exhibitionist, but I'll admit that I usually only flash my covers when I'm reading something "gender neutral" or even masculine, as you discussed. If it's girly, blatantly romantic, or super YA, yeah, I might keep it tucked in the purse as long as possible. That said, I did read a super dirty book on the el once, but the cover didn't give anything away!

  9. What an interesting topic. I honestly don't care if people see the covers of my books regardless of the type. I figure there are so many people out there that do not read, that it should only matter to people that I AM READING! :) Sometimes I've even had people want to borrow my books or know where the best place to pick up a book from after having seen me holding a book. :)

    To each their own.

  10. First, you make me feel heinously old when you say you worshipped Britney Spears when you were five. Heinously.

    Second, I'm 28 and do a good chunk of my reading at work. If I happen to pull my book out before I go to the kitchen to get my lunch I flip it over so the title can't be seen. But that goes for any book. Really it's not a conversation I want to have. I'm a pretty private person at work and there's very little I share, and one of those things I don't share is what I read and why. Why I'm reading "kids" books is not something I want to explain, mainly because people just don't want to hear it. On the off chance they ask me what I'm reading, like you I show them the book, usually the cover. That's pretty much where the conversation ends and I'm grateful. I don't read romancy books so I don't have that problem so there are very few book covers that I'm trying to secret away because, yeah, I do feel a little foolish with them. Everything else it's really no one's business and I know when they do ask they're doing it out of social decorum and not really a want to know what I'm reading. Pass.

  11. This is such a great post, and it's something that shows you just how far misogyny goes in our culture. That's not to say I'm calling you one, because I'm definitely not. But just like you noticed, the books that people look at and think of as "gender neutral" are ones that are specifically marketed that way so that they'll bring in the male readers. Because our society views things that appeal to women as automatically less intelligent, and less "good" overall. It's really sad, isn't it? They'll do the same of books and things BY men in general, too.

    Take, for instance, my favorite television show. It's Desperate Housewives. Mention that to anyone, and they'll get that look of "seriously? you? that trash?" because it's all about women, their lives, their troubles, etc. But mention, say, Breaking Bad, a show about some dude who does stuff with drugs, and it's apparently the best thing there ever was to offer television!

    We're trained by society to think that girly = bad and manly = awesome. It's simply not true. Look at the books in your hands, the ones by the authors you love, and know that the same love and time and power went into those books that went into the other ones. Think about the authors, and it might remind you that it's not something you have to be ashamed of.

  12. I totally get this. I'm in high school too, and ever since the time someone caught me reading Lola and the Boy Next Door, I always take off the dust jackets. It's not that I'm ashamed to be a reader - n fact, I'm so proud to be a reader! But, a lot of times when I meet non-readers, they tend to judge the books I read by their covers, titles, and summaries. I honestly hate it when someone asks me what I'm reading. I know they're just trying to make conversation, but I don't like telling them because the books always sound so stupid. Even if I'm reading something like Divergent, people will connect it to say, The Hunger Games, and then I have to explain that even though THG is awesome, there are other books out there besides the ones that are so well known... This might make me sound mean, but I guess it's just my point of view :P

    Chloe @ YA Booklover Blog

  13. I definitely get this. I'm not "ashamed," so to speak, I'm just afraid that other people are going to make fun of me for it, especially because I'm a guy. Which is a sad, sad reality. But yeah, I probably won't bring books to school that have "feminine"-ish covers, since I'll be in high school. I don't really care what others think of me, except my friends, but I definitely don't want to be the laughing stock of my high school.

  14. I second what Meagan said.

    I've been through the women's studies class and kind of cringe at the idea that girly covers are something to be ashamed of because anything vaguely female looking is lesser.

    Yet, I've been in that self-conscious place before. Like, this is hard to believe for anyone who knows me now but I used to be really shy and quiet and like scared of what everyone thought. Like, I still read books in public, but no historical romance or anything.

    These days, I'm comfortable in my own skin for the most part, so I read whatever I want in public and leave my current read on my desk at work for all the world to see. For the most part, people at work know I am a huge reader. I always get asked for recommendations. Actually, hahaha, one of my 27 year old married male coworkers asked me about Paranormalcy because he was interested in reading it. So, yeah I guess screw those people who would judge you based on the cover of the book you are reading.

  15. I read a lot on public transit. Sometimes I have a paperback and you can obviously see what the books is, other times it's a hardcover and all anyone sees is the color of the book itself and the spine. I tell myself I don't care what other people think, and for the most part I really don't. Sure, a lot of adults would judge me for reading YA, but I also have tons of friends who share my passion for the genre and support my reading choices. But I do wonder what people think of me based on what I read, and I definitely would feel odd carrying a historical romance around with me.

    Certain YA books like The Hunger Games are totally acceptable to read in public, and I think all books deserve that treatment, so I'm going to continue reading in public.

  16. I agree completely with your post! I am extremely self-conscious when reading in public, especially with most YA titles. It seems like people always ask me about what I am reading, and I hate having to feel defense of what I enjoy. Recently I was sitting in a classroom before class reading In Honor by Jessi Kirby, when my professor came in and asked what I was reading. He assumed automatically that it was just a "romance novel", quite condescendingly. Now whenever he sees me reading before class, he always jokes about me reading romance novels. I wanted to explain that there is so much more to most YA than just labeling it a "romance", but I avoid confrontation at all costs.
    But yes, I feel like reading things that seem either gender neutral or academically accepted is the best way to go if you do not want to be mocked in public. I love having my Kindle, now I can read Twilight in public without being harassed lol.

  17. Never has a truer post be written! The whole mentality that some book are better than others and certain plot lines or titles or genres are demeaning is crazy! I actually posted on my blog a post titled, "Life Lessons from Romance Novels" because it's SO TRUE. I'll never take back all those awesome things I said about Anna and the French Kiss or Nine Rules to Brake When Romancing a Rake, but how is one supposed to bring up in everyday conversation a book that you love with a title like that? Is it silly that I'm shy about it? Probably. Does that lesson the quality of the book. Not at All!! In fact, I've often thought that people who think reading YA or books with a romanctic theme is "lame" or "unsophistocated" or "girly" are way missing the point of reading. So what if you like a bit of good smooching. You'd be hard pressed to find people in who don't enjoy the activity. Why wouldn't someone want to read about it? Seriously. I ought to be taking my own advice here by saying, don't feel shy about it. We all still will. But it's still not going to stop me from loving an awesome book!

    p.s. this is like my new favorite blog.

  18. You know... it's weird, I'd rather be carrying around a paperback romance in public than at home in front of my parents. If I'm at home, I'd rather read it from my nook. I feel weird thinking that they're like, OMG SHE'S READING A SEXYBOOK.

    Depending on how good the YA book is, I really don't care how girly the cover looks. ;)



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