Brown paper bags and iPads – disguising less literary moments

I’m not an ardent Apple lover and haven’t blasted through this month’s food money to buy an iPad, but I can see a useful application for it already.

I’m not going to go through the technical ins-and-outs of the iPad reading experience (if you have a hankering for that sort of thing, I suggest popping over to the Smell of Books, where Joel has already covered it nicely) but state one simple fact – reading through an iPad means that you’ll never again have to put up with people judging you by your book’s cover.

While what you enjoy reading should be a personal choice, reading in a public space can be an alarming reminder that not all literature is seen as equal. As with any subjective matter, opinions are divided and occasionally offered in the most insulting possible way.

A friend of mine has given up reading her Twilight books on the train, thanks to pointed glares from non-fans and one person asking her if she was capable of reading a “real book”. Much like the kids who disguise their comics, pulp serials and (ahem) educational adult material in a heavy encyclopaedia while in the school library, she now disguises them with a book sleeve of something more high-brow. Another keeps their taste for corset-busting romances firmly hidden in brown paper covers since a drunken commuter insisted they could be their semi-clothed pirate prince instead of “some poof in a book” and then proceeded to open their shirt and prance around the carraige to demonstrate.

My own habit of reading motivational and pop-psychology books has put me in cringe zone a few times when I have looked up and seen people reactions to my choice of book. These books that are worth a flick, but perhaps not without reading either on an iPad or with a plain brown paper cover.

1. He’s Just Not That Into You

It’s more a comedy than a melodrama of a book, with wonderfully down-to-earth advice but if you decide to read this on public transport you may as well place neon flashing sign over your head. And that sign says: “I have been dumped. Dramatically dumped. I am just one visual reminder (“There’s a car. George used to drive a car.”) or off-hand comment (“He said hello. George used to say hello…”) off breaking down into a torrent of tears while wailing “Why, George, WHY?”

You don’t have to use George. Insert the name of your ex, or if anyone is wearing their work ID, try bawling their name between gut-wrenching sobs just to watch them twitch. If you feel like cranking the Embarrassometer up a notch, you can turn up the next day reading He Just THINKS He’s Just Not That Into You, causing all your co-commuters to call home and check that the bunny hut is safely secured.

2.The Game by Neil Strauss

You may be engrossed by the fascinating world of the PUA’s, or Pick Up Artists, or enjoying Neil Strauss’s honest and irreverent humour but everyone looking at you thinks you are only reading it for cheat tips to the opposite sex. If you are a guy reading this, people assume you a damp-pawed and creepy type who also owns How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis* and tries the “there is.. .something… in your eye…” line at parties. If you are a girl reading this people assume you are a damp-pawed and creepy type who also owns How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis. Basically, no one is making eye contact or shaking hands with you all the way home.

3. Anything on unarmed combat, knife-fighting or ear-biting. Or How-To guides by the SAS.

On the plus side, no one will take the seat next to you for the whole trip. On the minus, those four burly armed security staff closing in on you are not doing so to offer you a chocolate muffin and a nice cup of tea. As a general tip, most commuters are fine with you reading books about horrifically bloody murders, it’s when you start reading about real-life methods of mayhem and squinting speculatively around the carraige they will decide to call the cops.

Perhaps the release of the iPad and other e-readers is a licence enjoy your guilty or gorey pleasures. Tescos reported sales of downloaded Mills & Boon titles grew 57 per cent in the five months after the Sony Reader went on sale, and with the advent of the iPad, who knows what the person next to you on the bus could be reading? You’ll just have to ask them to show you.

And if it’s How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis or anything on knife-fighting, I suggest keeping your eyes on their screen and smiling vaguely the whole way home.

* This book does not exist out of the science fiction series Red Dwarf, so don’t bother looking for it. At least, if it DOES exist, Boomerang Books thankfully don’t stock it.

I suggest keeping your

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.

5 thoughts on “Brown paper bags and iPads – disguising less literary moments”

  1. Hah! I totally agree. On the flip side, I can no longer use my reading of P&P on public transport to pick up girls. (Not that it’s ever been that effective … perhaps I should have been reading something a bit more manly? Hemingway, perhaps?)

    1. You don’t get much more macho than Hemingway, it’s true, all that bulls, balls and booze. I have been known to admire men’s taste in books (I have a weakness for the orange of Penguin Classics cover or satire) but have as yet not taken the plunge and chatted someone up based on their book.
      That said, my current bookloving bloke would probably be annoyed if I did.

  2. however the downside is that I would no longer be able to keep an entire three person seat to myself in a busy train simply by looking weird and reading Anton LeFays Satanic Bible. And yes it really did work.

  3. Not so much with hiding guilty-pleasure books on the train, but more about hiding my guilty-pleasure music at parties; I am, as you know, a Gothic, metal-loving, cigar-smoking, absinthe-drinking, ettiquette-trained, Byron-quoting creature of a level of unconventional sophistication that occasionally flirts with pretension, or at least has gotten me accused of it more or less semi-frequently throughout my adult life. I also own no less than three Hanson CDs, and I even listen to them, enjoy them and sing along loudly when I think no-one’s watching/listening. I suspect everyone has a skeleton in their cupboard that, if revealed, might be directly destructive to their intelligent and discerning image…;-)


  4. Ah, the list of things not to read on the train…

    The Qur’an, The Gideon Bible, Mein Kampf, Catcher in the Rye, anything that, when the person across from you tries to chat you up by saying “Is that any good?” you feel unable to lie and simply respond with “No, bit shit actually”; Of Mice and Men, The Secret, anything by L. Ron Hubbard, anything with ‘Gay’, ‘Marriage’, ‘Rights’ and/or ‘Adoption’ in the title, especially not if it also has the word ‘God’ and/or ‘Damned’ in it; anything by Mills & Boon; the phonebook; the dictionary.

    Things to read on the train that will guarantee to start a conversation: anything self-help about preparing for your new baby; any training guides on your new puppy (generic puppy, please, not restricted breed specific – especially don’t close ‘training your rottweiler’ and open ‘So you’re pregnant!’ immediately afterwards); any starlet’s biography; any AFL footballer’s biography; (somewhat bizarrely) anything on serial killers (this may not be the sort of conversation you want to be in); anything that’s been on the Oprah book club list or anything about travelling – this appears to apply to both generic travel titles or specific titles about places that the person opposite has either been to, always wanted to go to, or never been able to understand why anyone would want to go to that place, and now they want to know why *you* want to go to that place.

    …I’m buying an iPad.

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