Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Salon: Bookish Stereotypes & Reading in Public

I awoke this morning to my dog's nose pressing incessantly against my arm. I felt sure it must only be six in the morning, but it was two hours later than that. They let me sleep in! That's cause for celebration. Or something. I was up late last night catching up on the unread posts in my Google Reader. I managed to get below 200 by the time I went to bed. It would be easy to throw all the blame on Book Blogger Appreciation Week, but I am not sure how accurate that would be. It probably only deserves 75% of the blame.

In my blog reading last night, I came across Melanie's (The Indextrious Reader) interview with Kelly on The Written World. One of the questions the two women posed to each other was "Do reading stereotypes bother you? Do you prefer/avoid any genres due to lurking stereotypes?" Kelly had a recent experience in which someone assumed she was reading a romance novel because she was a woman. I shared a similar experience on my blog once, but for the life of me cannot find the post. It was a simple case of a man in my office wandering into the break room assumed I was reading a romance novel because I had a cloth cover on my book (I thought it would help protect the cover from getting bent at the corners as a result of being pulled in and out of my purse frequently). He was rather condescending, especially when he gave me that all-knowing smirk and nod. Ugh.

Their question brought me back to last month when I was reading Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke. While I do not avoid reading books because of stereotypes, I confess that I had some hesitation about reading a graphic novel in public. You would never know that it is a graphic novel from the outside. I had started reading The Hunter one Sunday night and wanted to continue with it the next day. I took it to work with me. I suddenly felt anxious, pulling it out during my lunch break in the break room. What would people think? I gave myself a big mental kick in the head. Why was I so embarrassed? Hadn't I, just the week before, been extolling the virtues of reading graphic novels to a couple of coworkers? What was wrong with me? After that, I sat up a bit straighter and hoped someone would ask me what I was reading that day. No one did.

How do you feel about reading stereotypes? Has anyone ever made assumptions about you based on what you were reading or what they thought you were reading? Is there anything you won't read based on a stereotype? Or at least won't read in public?

This Week In Reading Mews:

Reviews Posted:
Eleanor Rushing by Patty Friedmann

Currently Reading:
A Disobedient Wife by Ru Freeman
Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival by Halima Bashir

New Additions to my TBR collection:
The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang (saw mention of this in Mystery Scene and couldn't resist buying it)
Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin (I wish I could remember who recommended this to me. 'Fess up if it was you!)
Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi (another case of wishing I could remember who recommended this to me; was it you?)
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Library Thing Early Reviewer Program)
Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal (TLC Book Tour)

BBAW Posts of Interest This Week:
Some Blogger Love
Interview with Adele from Persnickety Snark (you can read her interview with me here.)
Reading Meme

Current Giveaways I am Running (BBAW Related):
Giveaway #1 (ends at 11:59 p.m. September 20th)
Giveaway #2 (ends September 21st)
Giveaway #3 (ends September 22nd)
Giveaway #4 (ends September 23rd)
Giveaway #5 (ends September 23rd)

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. This is interesting. I do read almost all kinds of books. But outside of home, I do take care about what books I ought to be seen with. I avoid romances and chick lit.
    I have read Graphic novels though recently and found that most people are curious to know which one. About novels, not many ask about it.

    Most people lose interest if they see that I am not reading any popular say Dan Brown or Paulo Coelho.

    Maybe in my heart of heart I truly wish to be knows as book snob!


  2. Oh, yes, people have made assumptions about what I'm reading. And, in fact, when I had a short story published (I call it a romantic comedy), I actually got chewed out at the pool by some woman who made the irrational assumption that all romance is "porn for women". It's not. I don't like sex scenes; there's plenty of clean romance to choose from and mine had nothing beyond a kiss and some wink-wink comments.

    Having said that, I'm not a big romance reader but I don't shy away from reading anything in public unless it has a really graphic cover - and that doesn't necessarily mean a romance. I'm reading one that has a tame cover, right now. Some of the ickiest covers have been works of literature.

    My reader is about to explode. Sigh. I love your new header!!!!

  3. First of all, let me congratulate you on two extra hours of sleep! That's always a serendipity when that happens. I, myself, slept in without going to church this morning which is a huge anomaly for me. But, necessary sometimes. ;)

    Stereotypes which bother me...such an interesting question. I must admit, that if I were to read a Romance, I would read it in private. I think I would be embarrassed to be caught with a Nora Roberts/Danielle Steele/whoever else writes in that genre because I've always viewed them as substandard writing. Is that fair? I don't know; I just know that I prefer what I perceive to be quality literature. You know, the kind not sold at the grocery store check out line. It's an interesting question, though, one to definitely ponder.

  4. I don't like reading stereotypes at all. Just because I don't care for a genre, doesn't mean it's not worth reading.

  5. I try not to bow to stereotypes. I read just about any kind of book, and don't really care what other people think about my reading habits. There are a few places I go (my dermotologist is one of them) where they will ALWAYS ask me what I am reading, and I take care to bring something that will make their eyebrows go up. I love just watching their reaction!

  6. I try not to bend to genre stereotypes, though I don't usually read my romances on public transportation. I'm pretty sure no one really cares that I read romances - I've seen other women reading romances on the subway too - but it weirds me out so much that I'm unable to even concentrate on what I'm reading. Everything else though is fair game.

    I think it's silly how people judge genres which they themselves have rarely ever read. Besides, why assume that just because a person reads romance they can't also read Pulitzer Prize-winning novels? It's a very close-minded attitude.

  7. Well, I do read romance novels, so I have gotten some crap for that. But mostly I just ignore it. People can think what they like, really--I know who am and I don't fall into a stereotype. If they judge people based on what they read, that's their problem.

  8. I pretty much read anything. I hate the stereotype thing too. But there are some things that would make me worry about being seen in public... anything with a Harlequin romance type cover... however, I rarely end up with something like that!

  9. I'll admit that as a 40-year-old woman, I did feel rather foolish reading Twilight in public. I didn't cover it up, but I was well aware of the lookie-loo type glances that I was getting.

    I don't usually judge others by what they choose to read. It has happened a few times, but not often.

  10. Interesting topic Wendy! I'll admit to sometimes being embarrassed while looking through the YA section at the library. I can't say that there is any real good reason for it though and actually I wish I read more YA as there are some real winners in this genre.

  11. There seems to be a theme here - those of us who enjoy romance novels (and I'm one who does) seem to be more or less embarassed about reading them in public. It seems to be a universal thing among women that we tend to not admit that we actually enjoy reading romance. A good friend and I have been trading books for years, but it wasn't until very recently that we'd admit to each other that we both enjoy reading romance novels!

  12. I don't go for stereotypes and I'll read anything in public...I'm nosy so I'm always trying to see what other people are reading!!

  13. The only time I worried about reading a book out in public was when I was reading Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex. The cover had a very naked, very voluptuous woman being embraced by a swan. I took the dust jacket off. :)

  14. I blogged about this exact thing today because of the same interview.

    I think J.S. says it best a few comments ago: "I think it's silly how people judge genres which they themselves have rarely ever read. Besides, why assume that just because a person reads romance they can't also read Pulitzer Prize-winning novels? It's a very close-minded attitude."

    And the reason romance novels are sold at the checkout is because women read them, and women do the grocery shopping, not because of the quality of the book. It's all about who is gonna be standing in the line.

  15. It's covers that bother me. I am not embarassed about the content, it is the cover! If a cover on a book is very romance looking than I am very hesitant about being out in public with it, but I do it! I'm a snob about that, and I do admit it...

    The book i was reading didn't even look like a romance novel. It was THE GLASS BOOKS OF THE DREAM EATERS if anyone wants to look up the cover. It's sci-fi with a victorian spin, but I don't even think the guy looked at the cover. That's what bothered me!

  16. Great topic, Wendy!
    It's funny - reading a graphic novel here in student-filled/bohemian chic Cambridge is something to be proud of. So hip! But when I re-read Rosamunde Pilcher's "The Shell Seekers," with its pink floral cover, I was ... well, shy. And then of course I wrote about my embarrassment.

    The hell with stereotypes, I say!

  17. I avoid reading in public, because I end up damaging the book. I am clumsy like that, but also because when I am outside with other people I tend to like talking or just daydream, which is quite productive for my writing.

  18. Sorry, but I'm not going to answer your questions, because I'm too caught up in the fact that there's a graphic novel of a Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake) novel. Ooooh, oooh, oooh. My brother-in-law who introduced me to Stark is a huge graphic novel reader. Can't wait to tell him if he doesn't already know.

  19. I think the only thing that would make me hesitant about reading a book in public would be the cover - some covers are just a little too graphic for me to feel comfortable reading the book in public! But other than that, anything goes. I've never stopped reading children's books, and it's never bothered me to be out and about reading a children's novel.

  20. Has anyone ever made assumptions about you based on what you were reading or what they thought you were reading?

    Ha, yes. An English major who often read fantasy novels? Children's books? Comics? And shamelessly, in public, without being apologetic about her "guilty pleasures"? Shock! Horror! Disbelief! Surely I must be dim, or shallow, or worse. I must only read for "escapism" and be completely unable to think deeply about what I read. What could I be doing studying "real" literature with the cool kids?

    *deep breath*

    It's all behind me now :P

  21. I guess in Ottawa with our long cold winters no one cares, because I see quite a few woman reading romances and fantasy on the bus. there is a huge market here. Maybe the politics makes everyone want to escape! but that's not fair.....I used to read Harlequins as a teenager, but sometime after I discovered mysteries, I discovered I didn't like the formula of romances so much. That being said, I do kind of like the supernatural romances (NOT vampires, but ghosts!), though I don't read much but Barbara Michaels. It's come down to time, and I do want books that interest me, most of the time.

    Do i judge anyone else? Actually, I'm delighted when I see people reading, and I'm always peeking to see if I can see the title....I used to judge, but now, I'm just really happy people are reading. I am shy to be seen reading YA - see Nymeth's comment, she's caught it perfectly, why!!! But now there is so much good in YA that I'd rather be seen reading it so I can convince others to give it a try!!

    Good post, Wendy.

  22. Has anyone ever made assumptions about you based on what you were reading or what they thought you were reading?

    OMG yes they have. My entire family and all my friends think I am a bit eccentric because of all the reading I do and my preference in topics. They are amazed at some of the books I read. I just look at them and think how sad for them. LOL

  23. I'll pick up any book as long as the premise interest me, and honestly I don't really care what others think of me too.

    And that just reminds me the other day when I was queueing to pay for the books, I was chatting with a staff (she knows me since I'm a regular patron there) and one of the other staff started to join in our conversation. When she saw a few YA novels in my hand, she was rather shocked and asked why am I reading them. Well, I wasn't sure how I should feel but I told her I'd read any books as long as the stories are great and they capture my attention. She has nothing to say, since the other staff (the one whom I was chatting with) said she's a huge YA fan too, ha!

  24. I get whacked by this all the time. It's not so bad now because I don't commute using public transportation so less eyes eyeing what I hold in my hands. I am a tad self-conscious on the book I left on my work desk because I'm afraid of being "judged" -- I know I shouldn't give a hoot what others think, but most of the time, I do...

    I was given the look too when I have a few YA books in hand during checkout at bookstores. It's like it's a crime to read children/YA books for people my age. Go figure.

  25. Interesting, all the comments about YA fiction. I worked at a bookstore from age 19 to 22 and during the release of the last two Harry Potter books. I LOVED the YA section and thought that while HP was definitely well-written, there were other books in the section that I liked a lot more. It was a little sad to me that most of the adults I saw reading HP weren't interested in any of the other YA books, though there were some great ones to choose from. Now Twilight has come out, which seems to have really woken up some adults about the YA section, and I'm happy they're reading from it a lot more. That said, read House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer!

    About stereotypes: honestly, I do not mind reading a stereotype at all, under ONE strict condition. It has to be well-written. I'm a style fanatic and firm believer that any story, even the most boring, can be a good story if it is well-told. And considering the rate at which books are published, it has to be VERY well-told. I don't have a lot of time to read and I don't want to waste my time grammar-policing a book I'm trying to enjoy, even if it has the most intriguing plot or captivating characters.

  26. I never hesitate to read something just because somebody might know I'm reading it, but I do sometimes stress out over how I must appear to people who see my reading in public. I read everything from classic literature to the trashiest sort of fantasy, and I always worry that anyone who happens to catch sight of my current read, whichever category it may be, will think that's all I read.

  27. This is such an interesting question and i love reading all the responses. I'm not a big fan of romances and more for that reason probably won't be found reading one in public. I think the only books I wouldn't ever want to read in public are those Silhouette romance novels, the really muscled guys with long hair & loin cloth embracing the woman in a dress with a tight-unbuttined bodice? Those kinds - but since I don't read them anyway...
    It has been assumed that I must be reading romance novels because I'm a woman byt some arrogant, ignorant men I used to work with!

    How sweet that the fur kids let you sleep in! You're very loved =o)

  28. Gautami - Many of the people I work with (at least the females) read romances. I don't think anyone reads graphic novels--they think they're for children. I'm trying my best to educate them. :-)

    Nancy - I've heard the romance as porn argument before, and I agree with you, it's just not true. Sure, there's some explicit stuff out there, but not all of it is.

    Dolce Bellezza - Thank you! It truly was a blessing to be allowed to sleep in. :-)

    I tend not to read a lot of romance, particularly if it's the main story line. A little romance on the side, is perfectly fine. For me, it's just a matter of taste. While I occasionally read best sellers and what might seem popular in the blogosphere, most of the time, I'm not reading what everyone else in the office is reading. I've started a few trends though--and that's always fun. :-)

    Kathy - Exactly! We each have our own preferences and I don't think there is anything wrong with that.

    Sandy - LOL It is fun to see people's reactions sometimes.

    J.S. Peyton - So many of the readers I know read such a wide variety. As you said, a person can be reading a romance one day and then a Pulitzer Prize-winning book the next. A person shouldn't be judged based on the book she is reading. What bothers me too are those who make assumptions about what I am reading because I am female. Because I am a woman, I must be reading a romance. My husband must like action-adventure novels because he is a male. In both cases the person would be wrong more often than not.

    Heidenkind - It sounds like you have a healthy attitude about the whole thing. :-) You don't deserve to receive any crap for reading romances. It may not be my preferred genre of choice, but that doesn't mean others shouldn't enjoy it. There are those who find fault with every genre or book type out there. Maybe they should read a book instead of worry so much about what others are reading.

    Suey - Some of the covers do make me feel uncomfortable. But then, I have an issue with people on covers. If they're looking straight at me (and this goes for any type of book), I will turn the book over. It's one of my little quirks. LOL

    Ti - I love to see what others are reading, but I wouldn't judge the person for reading what she chooses. It's mere curiosity on my part.

    YA's another genre that gets a bad break now and then, isn't it? At least in my office, Twilight was a big hit so those readers who hadn't read it were given the hard time. I'm sure they didn't appreciate that though. :-)

  29. Samantha - Now you've got me wondering what the librarians thought of me browsing through the Harlequin books when I was in my teens. :-) I guess it's more acceptable for a teen to read adult books than an adult to read teen books. At least that's the perception. It's a shame. as you said, there are some really good books marketed as Young Adult.

    Ingrid - That makes me sad in a way. I don't think anyone should feel embarrassed or shy about their reading tastes whether it be YA or romance or what have you (I was given a hard time the other day for reading a nonfiction book). With the sales of romance novels being up, I imagine a lot more read them than we probably realize.

    Staci - I do that too. I crane my neck in all sorts of directions to try and get a peek. :-)

    Carrie (B&M) - Yes, I can see why that might have worried you. LOL

    Lisa (BLL) - Well, in my case, it's my husband who does the grocery shopping, but I get your point. ;-) Luckily he's not tempted by check-out books. I only ever buy check-out books once a year--and it's always just one and during the month of February. I noticed the pattern when I was reading through my logs this year. Really odd . . . But it's never been a romance. Always a mystery. Not that that means anything. Mysteries have their own detractors too, just like romance.

    Kelly - Some covers are embarrassing, I agree. Especially in a work environment. My coworker has posters of Rob Pattinson up in her cubicle and one of our male coworkers came by one day and commented how if they were posters of a bikini clad woman, someone would call that harassment. Maybe if Rob was in a bikini too--but he's fully clothed, so I disagree. Still, you can't be too careful in certain settings.

    And of course, in my case, the guy couldn't even see the cover because I had a cloth cover on the book. I really hate it when people make assumptions, especially when their so judgmental and condescending about it. So, I know what you mean.

    Clea - Exactly--to hell with stereotypes! My husband often reads his graphic novels and game books at work. He got a good laugh when I told him about my initial embarrassment over reading a graphic novel at work. I have to laugh about it now too and am glad I recognized it and was able to correct my attitude.

    Harry - Yes, I imagine you can get a lot of good material from people watching and eavesdropping on conversations--or just daydreaming. :-)

    Bryan - I posted my review of The Hunter today. I do hope your brother-in-law takes a look at the book. It's definitely worth checking out!

  30. Belle - I'm going to miss shopping for children's books for my mom's classroom when she retires. I have such fun finding the perfect picture books for her class. :-)

    Ana - Fantasy novels are pure fluff, you know. Made up worlds. Nothing of value there. Fantasy gets such a bad rap because of attitudes like that. It really is aggravating. People who think like that couldn't be more wrong.

    Susan - I know what you mean about it coming down to time. We only have so much time and we want to spend it reading what we would like.

    I'm like you--I love seeing what others are reading. And I love eavesdropping in on conversations about books. :-)

    Wisteria - I am very fortunate that my immediate family are all readers. My extended family is a different story, however. I am really proud of my love for reading.

    Melody - Good for you and your salesclerk! You'd think someone working in a bookstore would be more careful with her words. She's trying to sell books, after all. ;-)

    Alice - There is nothing wrong with an adult reading YA books, of course, but what if you were buying those books for younger relatives as gifts? It seems awfully judgmental to me to make assumptions about people because of the books they buy.

    But now I want to go to the store and buy a bunch of self-help books about an embarrassing topic just to raise a few eyebrows. LOL

    Kirsten - House of the Scorpion - Added it to my wish list. Thanks for the recommendation. :-)

    Book choice is definitely a factor with time constraints.

    Memory - Yes, and that goes along with what J.S. Peyton said. You know what they say about assumptions and why no one should make them . . . :-)

    Amy - LOL Yeah, those aren't really the types of books I read either. I went through my romance phase a long time ago and have a good idea of what I like and don't like today.

    Considering how many romance readers there are in my office, I can understand why the man might think I was reading a romance too--I just didn't like his whole attitude about it. Very condescending, you know?

  31. I get that a lot when I tell people I'm really in to YA books. I'm always saying "It's a category not an age group!" when I get weird stares from people.

    Who cares! I approach reading books in public the same way I approach pretty much everything else, I do what I want! :)

  32. Laza - That's a good attitude to have. :-)

  33. They have some really pretty book covers here but Japanese books are smaller than our English ones so I can't buy any of them! Actually most people cover their books here to both protect it from wear and privacy. In bookstores when you buy a book you have the option of a bag, or a paper cover with the shop's logo. Likewise, I tend to cover up most of my books that go out of the house with me so it doesn't really matter what they are. As for avoiding books though, there are some genres that I don't really read but it's not because of the stereotype so much as I'm just not that interested in them. :)

  34. I've been hesitant to read graphic novels in public, but mostly because some of the last ones I've read have had s*x scenes (which are...graphic). Watchmen, The Impostor's Daughter, and Fun Home. Other than that factor, I've become more comfortable with reading graphic novels in public than I used to. Seems like more people are intrigued rather than scornful.

    Such a great topic!

  35. Nat - Oh no! Especially if you want a matching collection, not being able to find the size you want would be difficult.

    That's really interesting about the common practice of using book covers in Japan.

    Like you, it isn't the stereotypes that keep me away from certain books but because I am not interested in them.

    Trish - I can understand your hesitation in reading a more graphic graphic novel in public. I think there is less of a stigma against reading graphic novels than there once was.


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