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Pssst…Do You Self-censor?

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!


22 Responses

  1. I never censor what I read out in public either!

  2. I never censor what I’m reading….doesn’t bother me to ruffle other people’s feathers. 😀

  3. Oh my gosh – I’ve certainly had to in the past.

    When I was working on my master’s thesis, I was writing about women and hysteria, particularly related to motherhood. My director suggested a book, The Technology of Orgasm. It’s not a how-to; it’s a history of hysteria and how it relates to female sexuality. Very academic. However. When a year later I saw a charge from Amazon (where I ordered the book) for $150, I flipped out and called. They said the year before I had signed up for super shipper savings or something. With two people from the bank on the line as well as an Amazon employee, they asked if I had ordered that book. I. Was. Mortified.

    Ahem. So, occasionally I censor. I also don’t post on FB about my reading often because people tend to really freak out about how much and how quickly I read.

    • Isn’t it scary how sales vendors and the government keep track of our purchase history, library history, and every sort of history imaginable? The internet just adds to this trail since it keeps track of our activities. I limit FB to news stories that I find interesting to share.

  4. Only to the extent of the cover art work. I might opt, if all other things are equal (like size and paper quality and font size etc.) to pick the copy with a smarter or classier looking cover. But that’s to me as well as much as for everyone else. I’m very visual (read: I arrange books and DVD’s by color) so I like books to look smart and pretty too.

    • Seedy and racy covers deter me from making the purchases. I always always avoid pocket-size paperbacks because the fonts are too small and pages are printed to close to the spine. I also avoid movie tie-in covers.

  5. You know, I’d never thought about it! I don’t think I censor myself exactly, but I do read an awful lot behind our shop counter, in full view of the customers. Maybe for me it’s more a kind of skewed self-censorship – I’m usually reading more than one book at a time so if someone snobbish is starting to look at me with a horrible condescending look, I might slip the more highbrow of my current reads out from uner the desk and read that instead… Perhaps because I’m so young as well, and people often think I’m just a Saturday girl or something rather than the shop owner, I really don’t like them assuming negative things about me! That’s really sad, when I think about it. Maybe after reading this post I’ll think twice in future!

    The oddest ‘censorship’ I’ve experienced happened just this week, when I was reading Lauren Kate’s young adult novel ‘Fallen’, with its dark, gothic cover. A woman came to the desk with two hardcore Christian books from the religion section, spotted the book I’d just put down, and gave me THE most contemptuous, horrified look. Like she was having to refrain from digging out a cross to brandish at me right there and then. I just gave her a raised-eyebrow stare and sent her on her way…

    • Do you read through several books in the public? 🙂 I’ve invited weird comments (no hard feelings) from peers that I always read and do nothing else. As to the public censorship, I’m always amazed that in a society so democratic that we claim to be, people don’t hesitate to show disapproval of things that fall out of their own moral radar.

  6. That is hilarious. Even before I got to your final sentence I was thinking the same thing. Dan Brown would be more embarassing. However, if I was reading something with a racy cover (gay or straight) I probably wouldn’t read it in public.

  7. Hear hear!! I would also rather be seen with GBLT and much much rather with Hollinghurst than with Dan Brown 🙂

  8. I must admit that if anyone saw me reading Dan Brown, I would be ashamed.
    But it will never happen!

  9. I have never experienced dirty looks when I read in public, but I have sometimes thought it would be fun to take a book with a racy cover out in public, pretend to read it and monitor the reactions. I have just the book, too: Mine to Take, by Dara Joy, which has a cover suggesting bondage and sex.

    • I used to self-censor when I was reading books with racy covers in high school. I’ll take another book and hide the one I’m reading inside, sort of like a book cover! 🙂

  10. I don’t read books with racy covers in public as a general rule, although now that I have a nook and do most of the sort of reading on there it isn’t much of a problem. Other than that though I will read whatever I want in public, including books that others will judge me about because they’re “popular fiction.”

  11. I’m of the school of thought that says, I don’t really care what you think about what I’m reading. The way I see it, I’m reading for me, not for anyone else. If anything, the only self-censorship I’d do is hide a racy cover if there are kids running around.

  12. I don’t usually read anything that would require censoring, at least in my own mind. Well, I probably wouldn’t read one of my dopey craft books or some kind of self help book in public, ha! I might feel uncomfortable reading something with a racy cover if there were small children about…I was more embarrassed when I bought one of Diana Gabaldon’s books and discovered it was in the romance section! I bought it anyway and didn’t really like it…privacy is one of the advantages of e-readers…

  13. […] discussed public display of reading and censorship a while ago. I probably would not read something with a racy cover (gay or straight), although I […]

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