Powell Books in Portland has a very interesting post on facebook: public display of reading. Are you ashamed of reading, say, steamy romance or gay erotica in the public? Do you switch books when the bus empties out? Tell us all your naughty book secrets, we can keep our mouths shut. “Is there a mighty chasm between what you’ll read in public and what you save for alone time reading?”
I never switch books just to suit the conventional taste. I read what I feel like reading and nobody can stop me from reading what I read. Once on a transpacific flight to Hong Kong I wondered, probably two hours after the plane took off, what invited those reproachful, roving eyes from a middle-aged man sitting across the aisle from me. I certainly took a shower and had on a new outfit for the ease of travel. Then the light bulb went off in my head: the semi-naked men on the cover of The Spell by Alan Hollinghurst was at level to his line of vision. The novel revolves around the lives and relationships of four men intersect in this tale of gay love set during a long summer in England. I knew he must be repulsive and freaked out, given the somewhat seedy cover design and his conservative quasi-McCarthy appearance. During the rest of the flight (14 hours from San Francisco to Hong Kong), he would give me this does-your-mother-know kind of look whenever I return to my seat from the lavatory. That was the only experience in which I was publicly censored for what I read. I didn’t feel the need to change what I read in order to make everyone happy. It’s not even an issue of political correctness. I read Tipping the Velvet on the street sitting outside the coffee shop. I rather to be seen reading GLBT literature than Dan Brown in the public. I have to preserve that image of my being a highly literary guy. Ha!