The things you read in secret
Every reader I know has a clandestine reading life. By that, I mean they secretly read the sort of books that they wouldn't be caught dead with on public transport, or would hide from visitors to their homes while they parade out more suitable titles, leaving them lying casually by the coffee table or spines gloriously displayed in bookshelves.
My secret reading shame is...ooooh, wait for it, it's a goody...the works of the great Philippa Gregory. There, I've said it, I love trashy historical novels, the scuzzier the better. It started with The Other Boleyn Girl, I thought I'd pick it up to see what all the fuss was about.
Before I knew it, I was arranging more trysts with Philippa - little afternoon delights in the lunchroom at work (in the days when I still had a 9 to 5 job), in between making dinner, and right before bed. I devoured everything that she wrote about the Boleyns, then moved on to Katherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth Woodville...
In the peak of my Gregory obsession, I could have told you everything you never wanted to know about the Plantagenets and the Lancasters and the Yorks. The last time I'd had truck with English royalty was when I did Tudor-Stuart history in my final year of high school, and I certainly don't recall there being anywhere near as much bodice ripping. Ooo la la!
Many of my girlfriends have admitted to affairs with Twilight. "It's just so wrong," moans one, "because I know Edward Cullen looks like he's about 19, but he's really hundreds of years old cause he's a vampire so that makes it ok for me to lust after him."
Then there's the other kind of secret reader - the one who uses obfuscation to hide their shame. They might say something like, "Twilight? Never heard of it. I'm just re-reading War and Peace in my spare time, I really like how it encapsulates the heyday of Russian realism. Har har har." Meanwhile, in a small, dark corner of their handbag, a beloved dog-eared copy of Breaking Dawn weeps.
Secret reading shames are a little like the weird things you eat when you live alone or think nobody is there to watch. It's the kind of stuff that you would be embarrassed to be caught with because it doesn't fit your image of who your reading persona should be.
There's a part of me that would love to be a literati all the time, because I like the idea of being the kind of reader who can spend all my time pondering the existential questions raised by the highest forms of literature, who can expound on critical theory at the drop of a hat and who dammit, just knows everything about everything. But that's my ego talking.
Even if I lived to be a thousand-years-old, it would be impossible to read all the books in the world and absorb their knowledge. I've read at most 0.00001% of the world's literature, and there's probably a margin of error in there somewhere. And I don't have the luxury of leading the Socratic life - for one thing, I don't fancy death by hemlock...and for the other, while the idea of idling away my days waxing pompously about books hold a certain kind of charm, I would quickly bore myself and anyone else around me to death. Or they would put me to death, whichever comes first.
I like to think that secret reading shames exist to remind us that we're human. Sometimes the best stories are the popular ones, the ones that sell millions of copies and are turned into Hollywood blockbusters. That's because they have something, some seed of morality or intrigue or simply a whole new way of viewing life that tugs at all of us.
That's why I've decided to come out of the reading closet today. I read Philippa Gregory, and I am no longer secretly ashamed of it. So come and share a spot with me under the sun, and tell me...
What's your secret reading shame?