Literary guilty pleasures

The Guardian reports on reading habits:

Stephen King has beaten JK Rowling to the title of the UK’s favourite literary guilty pleasure. A survey carried out on behalf of the Costa Book Awards 2006 has shown that the thriller writer is the most popular choice among readers looking for an indulgent read, with the adventures of Harry Potter coming a close second.

People are embarrassed to be seen reading Stephen King? How odd. I wonder whether it’s because he has a reputation for writing gory horror, when actually he hasn’t published anything like that for, what, twenty years? He’s certainly one of my favourites – I think his writing style is wonderful, and he’s one of few authors to actually get me shaking at dramatic moments. I’m not claiming any affinity with proper writers, but I’ve read and listened to many interviews in which King’s name is mentioned as an inspiration, too. It’s a shame if people really do think that about him. Maybe it’s the curse of being Popular.

85% of those surveyed admitted to having an author they turn to for sheer gratification, but whom they might not admit to reading in pubic [sic]. Third place in the survey was tied between John Grisham and Dan Brown, while the fourth position was split between Danielle Steel and Catherine Cookson. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels were placed fifth.

Most of those have a stigma, I guess, but Terry Pratchett? Maybe it’s like Harry Potter in that people don’t want to be judged for reading “children’s books”. Can’t be bothered with that. I admit I’ve sometimes considered what people will think of my reading particular authors1, although I try to fight it, but I’m certainly not going to be ashamed of reading something “for children”.

I think it’s great that people are secretly reading all these supposedly ‘shameful’ books. Obviously it would be better if we didn’t care what other people thought, but that people are reading nevertheless is definitely something to be cheerful about. Far better to take pleasure in what you enjoy than succumb to peer pressure.

The UK also emerges as a nation of book hoarders, with 32% of readers reporting that they regularly buy books which are then put away to be read at a later date. Women are more likely to put books away for a rainy day, with 39% admitting to hoarding, compared to 24% of men.

‘Admitting’? What a completely made-up compulsion. It’s like saying ‘45% of the population confess to walking across bridges’ – it’s what bridges are for, isn’t it?

Incidentally, the Costa Book Awards website has downloadable replacement book jackets that say “You can’t judge this book by its cover!”. Quite nicely designed, too.

  1. it happens in reverse, too – last autumn I sat in a hotel lobby reading The God Delusion, and found myself half-wondering whether somebody might notice and strike up a conversation. Nobody did. []