I recently flew to visit my sisters, who live in Nevada. I was looking forward to seeing them, of course, but I also enjoy airplane trips because they're a great excuse to read--in fact, I often plan to arrive at airports early, so I can stretch my guilt-free reading time, which is all too limited.
So on my way out the door, I grabbed my everyday messenger bag, which usually contains a book or two that I'm in the middle of, as well as a couple of magazines. I got to SFO, made it through security, bought a cup of coffee and a brownie, and opened my messenger bag to find only one thing to read: The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. ... So I went to the airport bookstore and bought something else.
I didn't want to be seen reading my book! And The Power of Now has truly inspired me--I recommended it to one of my sisters on that very trip. But I was embarrassed. At some level, I must've imagined airport passersby looking at me and thinking, "There's a man who knows the secret to a joyful ... Wait a minute! He's reading a self-help book! He knows nothing." Does anyone else have books they don't want to be seen with, or that they consider secret guilty pleasures?
I'm not one of those people who feel compelled to finish the books they start: If I don't like a book within 30 pages or so, I start skipping ahead to see if it's going to get better. And if I can't find evidence that it does, I take it back to the library or trade it in at the used-book store. So when you see me in the middle of a book, you can be sure that I'm enjoying it or learning from it. However, there are some books that, no matter how much I like them, I don't read at my neighborhood coffeehouse, where other people might see me reading them.
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, comes to mind. You know what? It was an entertaining read, and I'm glad I took the time to see what all the fuss was about. But I thought about putting a brown-paper wrapper on it, so I could read it on the subway without imagining that fellow commuters were thinking things--bad things--about me and my faddish tastes in reading material. Seriously, there was a week-long period in the recent past when the books on my nightstand were Twilight, Dr. Oz's You Being Beautiful, and Rue McClanahan's autobiography. But if a friend had asked me what I was reading, I would've lied--stammering something about European history or V. S. Naipaul.
I nurture a notion of myself as somewhat literary and well read--so this is a form of knee-jerk snobbery on my part. To think that some books are too lowbrow or "popular"--that they're not good enough for fancy, highfalutin' ol' me ... that's an attitude I should be embarrassed about. Well, no more. I want to live honestly. I resolve to be proud of my wide-ranging interests and my enjoyment of pop culture. I will let the world know that I seek to better my life by reading self-help books. And I vow today that I will no longer avoid paperbacks branded with the Oprah's Book Club sticker. Oprah has superb taste in novels, damn it!
I feel free.
Causes Charles Purdy Supports
San Francisco Food Bank, Gay Men's Health Crisis, Project Open Hand, San Francisco SPCA, Smile Train, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association...