• icon
  • icon
  • icon
  • icon
  • icon
  • icon
  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

shutterstock_455748148

‘Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.’ So wrote satirist P. J. O’Rourke.

Of course, he was joking. We should read whatever we want to read! But I think this quotation touches on a very real discomfort in readers over being judged for reading choices.

Recently, reports have emerged of a new practice at airport security in the US. The Bookseller in the UK reported: ‘Security staff in US airports have reportedly been demanding passengers clear all the reading material out of their hand luggage into a separate bin during safety searches so that staff can search for items made of paper.’

The argument for the practice – which will likely be rolled out across all US airports – is understandable. Carry-on bags are often full of items, and analysts at X-ray machines can struggle to see past books. But passengers have not taken kindly to having to throw their books into a bin and then watch as security officials leaf through the pages.

The American Civil Liberties Union has publicly raised concerns, outlining the ‘long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one’s reading habits in the United States’ (full details are at https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-future/new-tsa-policy-may-lead-increased-scrutiny-reading-material).

Reading privacy isn’t a new issue. Since the rise of e-readers, for example, concerned readers have been questioning how much data is being collected on reading choices and habits. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported on this back in 2012 in ‘Who’s Tracking Your Reading Habits? An E-Book Buyer’s Guide to Privacy’. Their conclusion: ‘reading e-books means giving up more privacy than browsing through a physical bookstore or library, or reading a paper book in your own home’.

In whatever area this issue crops up, one thing is clear: readers do not like to have their privacy invaded.

What are you reading? It’s a common enough question. But are you always happy to answer that question honestly? Let me put it another way: can a reader always be confident in any situation that he or she will not be judged for what he or she is reading?

Take the 50 Shades series of books when they were at the height of their popularity. On London trains at rush hour, how many people were reading these ‘The Next Big Thing’ books? Plenty, I am sure. Some were holding up paperbacks, happy to let other commuters see what they were reading. Others, though, weren’t prepared to read erotica in public, and so they read on an e-reader – quietly, privately.

It is easy to say, ‘We should read what we want, when we want, and be “out and proud” about our choices.’ But life isn’t so black and white. Whether we like it or not, judgements are made. (At the airport, just imagine the reaction at Security when it emerges a traveller is reading a thriller about terrorism.)

Novelist Siri Hustvedt wrote, ‘Reading is a private pursuit; one that takes place behind closed doors.’ I agree that it is a reader’s right to read in this way. By all means, readers may choose to share books they have read and discuss them publicly. But a reader is entirely free to read without an audience.

Ultimately, I think a reader should never be compelled to answer that intrusive question: What are you reading?

  • TREKnRay

    I started to say, when I first read romance, but then remembered I read my mother’s Grace Livingston Hill novels and her romance magazines while I was still in elementary school. In the Navy I would hide what I was reading until I saw what my brother-in-law, a senior enlisted US Marine. From then on I didn’t care who saw what I was reading or care what they thought. I am the type person who has to have something to read. If nothing is available I read food labels, etc. Andy Warhol’s soup can picture spoke to me.
    I don’t even try to hide what I am reading electronically. I have a 48″ TV as a computer monitor. If someone doesn’t like what I am reading it is their problem. I guess I am at an age (73) where I have the right to do what I want. At least that is what my wife always said about her grandmother who at the age of 80+ went on a senior trip to New Orleans, said she really enjoyed the trip except for all those old people slowing her down. The old people were fifteen or more years younger than she was.

    • hannahfielding

      ‘If someone doesn’t like what I am reading it is their problem’… I quite agree! Thank you for commenting. Best wishes, Hannah

  • Love, mystery and desire under the scorching Spanish sun. A young writer becomes entangled in an illicit gypsy love affair, pulling her into a world of secrets, deception and dark desire.

    More about the book…

    Secrets, danger and passion under the scorching Spanish sun. A compelling story of love and identity, danger and desire, and the uncertainty of happiness when two worlds collide.

    More about the book…
    Buy from amazon.com

    The Echoes of Love is a touching love story that unfolds at the turn of the new millennium, set in the romantic and mysterious city of Venice and the beautiful landscape of Tuscany.

    More about the book…