“What are you reading?” C asks, gesturing to the Kindle in which I’m totally engrossed.
I jerk my head up in a panic. Fuck. What am I reading? Regaining my composure and feigning nonchalance, I casually reply “Oh … erm, it’s called The Rehearsal. It’s the first book by Eleanor Catton, who won the Booker Prize.”
My thumbs wildly scroll through my Kindle to try to bring The Rehearsal onto the screen, just in case C peers over my shoulder to have a look. Panicking, I eventually settle for just switching off the screen and shoving the Kindle down the side of the sofa.
“Cool” says C, not being the book police and having no reason to think I’m not reading what I’ve just said I am. The conversation moves on to other, safer things, but my heart rate takes a minute to get back to normal. I’ve just bullshitted my friend into thinking I’m reading a different book than I actually am for no real reason, other than to maintain the ridiculous image that I’m totally highbrow, when in reality, I have a crippling weakness for trashy novels.
I have read The Rehearsal and it’s great -- a structurally ambitious, dizzying, at times frustrating but ultimately very smart story about a high school sex scandal. It’s a very impressive debut and I’d highly recommend it. However, scroll through the list of books stored on my Kindle and you won’t even find it on the first page. I’ve read at least ten books since then but there’s no way in hell I’d admit to any of them. They run the gamut of clichéd chicklit of varying quality; teen novels I’m way too old for; and endless volumes of a somewhat repetitive detective series. They just don’t fit with the carefully constructed image of myself I like to share with the majority of people, including close friends.
I’m blaming the damn Kindle.
I generally tend to be a bit of a late adapter to new technology. This is thanks to a wartime spirit handed down from my parents, who think it’s best to use something until it’s physically falling apart (my tech-addict boyfriend always says I should donate my 7-year-old black MacBook to a museum). That, and though I’m reluctant to admit it, I’m pretty resistant to change. The idea of children under the age of 13 having mobile phones and being able to use iPads freaks the hell out of me and I hate the idea of my library/record collection existing solely in an electronic device where it could be wiped out by someone knocking a glass of water over it. And seeing as I knock over at least one glass of water a day (no lie), it seemed sensible to stick with good old-fashioned paper books. “I enjoy books as physical objects,” I’d claim repeatedly when engaged in conversations about the joys of e-readers. I was never going to change. That is, until change managed to worm itself into every aspect of my life and drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Around this time last year, my boyfriend unexpectedly found himself having to return to his native Australia at fairly short notice due to some complicated and incredibly frustrating visa issues. To cut a long story short, a few months ago I found myself boarding a plane to leave behind my friends, family, a job I loved and London, the city I’d lived in my entire life, to relocate to Melbourne to join him. At my leaving party, my wonderful flatmates presented me with a Kindle as a goodbye present and I was thrilled. I had a pretty strict luggage allowance that didn’t allow for many books and the Kindle was the perfect solution for keeping sane during a 24-hour flight. I marveled at how easy it was to download books onto it. A little too easy, it turned out.
Great as I still think the Kindle is, it’s turned out to be a massive enabler to my lowbrow book addiction. Books that I would never purchase in a bookshop for fear of a raised eyebrow from the staff (like How to Make Love Like A Porn Star, Jenna Jameson’s autobiography) can now be downloaded in seconds at the push of a button, devoid of any incriminating cover. Books that I would never usually read on public transport for fear of a fellow commuter making assumptions about my intelligence (One of Sarra Manning’s teen novels, with a front cover clearly marketed at teen girls) are now concealed by the Kindle’s sleek, blank façade. I can read whatever the hell I want and no one ever need know about it.
I know it’s ridiculously snobby to care so much that other people think I have impressive reading habits. Hell, last summer all you ever saw people reading on public transport were variations on Fifty Shades of Grey, a book widely acknowledged to be terrible, and I never judged them for it (well, not much). But when I was limited to reading actual books rather than e-books, I found myself choosing more challenging reads. My fear of being thought of as havinh below-par intelligence by people on the tube or at work made me seek out books that I would be happy to discuss with someone should they ask me about what I was reading. I discovered some amazing, thought-provoking and fascinating reads. Now, though, I can default to the easy option –- something easy to read, not too taxing on the brain and above all, comforting.
Some people comfort eat. I comfort read. I’ve always done it, having always been an avid reader and after a bad day at school would like nothing better than bury my head in a trashy teen romance and black out all the shitty stuff going on in my life. Having just emigrated to the farthest-away-from-home-barring-Antarctica place possible, I’m currently still in the process of a pretty intense period of upheaval. I’m not a big one for sharing my feelings, having always preferred to present an image of myself being totally chilled-out and unfazed by anything. I’m there for my friends if they need a shoulder to cry on, but I rarely cry myself. Maintaining an image like this, alongside my projected impeccable good taste, is a way to keep it all from falling apart.
Flick through my Kindle, however, and it tells another story. I’m binge-reading chick lit like there’s no tomorrow to help keep myself calm and optimistic about what’s going down in my own life. And maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Who cares if people think I’ve got crappy taste in books? My world has literally turned upside down (Southern hemisphere joke!) but I’m getting by, and if it takes a brainless love story to keep me sane at times, well then, so be it.
Some of my favorite comfort reads:
Anything by Katie Fforde. My mum and I both love hate-reading Katie Fforde novels. Her books are the very definition of formulaic, with the repetitive motif of a twee, cutesy, floral–named protagonist moving to the English countryside to try her hand at some random profession at which she turns out to be a natural. Whilst doing this, she’ll date someone totally unsuitable whilst feuding with some hot guy who she’ll obviously end up with even though she spends most of the book hating him for no apparent reason. And there’s absolutely no sex, EVER, unless there’s a wedding in sight. Totally ridiculous, but the bottom line in brainless relaxation.
Anything by Lauren Weisberger. Famed for The Devil Wears Prada, Weisberger’s books actually bear a striking similarity with Katie Fforde’s, if you substitute the English countryside for New York and add in plenty of sex and endless namedropping of designer labels. I never manage to warm to any of her irritating, self-obsessed characters but that never stops me from guiltily devouring the book within 24 hours.
Anything by Sarra Manning. I’ve got a real soft spot for Manning, as she actually manages to create characters you care about, male and female. I also find them easy to relate to, though this could also be as her novels are usually set in London and I have a striking lack of imagination. Her teen novels are totally sassy too.
Anything by Jane Fallon. Fallon describes her books as "chick noir," and though they’re still too formulaic to be really challenging, it’s refreshing to read books in which the main characters are often pretty nasty and do all manner of stupid things to make you hate them, but you can’t help rooting for them at the same time.
What are your favorite comfort reads? I need more suggestions!