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Trashy book amnesty

Katie Price with her latest book
Read one of Katie's novels?
We like to pretend to have read great literature to sound clever. But what about those well-thumbed novels we HAVE read, but are less keen to mention? Time to 'fess up.

At 3.1m characters, some 560,000 words and 1,400 pages, it's tempting to lie about having read War and Peace. After all, what are the chances the target of your fib has ploughed through the Russian masterpiece themselves?

Why do so many of us lie about our literary conquests? It's down to a conquest of a different kind - psychologists say many people hope that pretending to have read heavyweight books will make them more sexually attractive.

According to a World Book Day survey, 1984, War and Peace and Ulysses are the favoured white lies.

If these are thought to have the power to impress, what about books we do read but are too embarrassing to own up to?

John Sutherland
One would certainly not want to bring this up at dinner parties, but on my bedside table right now, there's Sleep With Me by Joanna Briscoe and Nicci French's Killing Me Softly
John Sutherland

The impressively well-read John Sutherland (he's knocked off Tolstoy's greatest hit several times) is an author, academic and critic, but even he has a few skeletons in his literary closet.

"Wild horses wouldn't get me to say this in public, but I am rather partial to Jilly Cooper. I think it's partly that she has a gap in her front teeth like me, and it stares out from her books," he admits under interrogation.

Lying in bed is Sutherland's favourite place to indulge this passion - and Cooper is not his only guilty pleasure.

"One would certainly not want to bring this up at dinner parties, but if, for instance, you look at my bedside table right now, there's Robert Crais' Demolition Angel, Sleep With Me by Joanna Briscoe, The Long Rain by Peter Gadol and Nicci French's Killing Me Softly."

Pedigree airport novels, the lot.

"You're not going to write that are you? I'm an academic with a reputation to uphold, remember."

Sorry, but it wouldn't be much of a confessional if we didn't.

Private shame

Sutherland strongly believes the departure lounge is the place to discover people's inner literary secrets. They let down their guard, he says, just in case the book they choose may be their last.

As a frequent flyer, his comfort fiction of choice is the latest pulp crime novel, the creation of "publishing machine, not man".

He is in good company. Books no-one will praise in public have long flown mysteriously off the shelves to be enjoyed in private. Sutherland mentions Mickey Spillane, whose pulp novels were derided in the 1940s but incredibly popular.

"It's strange how embarrassed you get about what you're reading or enjoying. There's always this feeling that there's this school mistress over your shoulder grading you," says Sutherland.

"There's really only three private acts left and reading is one of them - what one does in private is very different to what one will own up to in public.

"Of course, I'm only speaking for myself here. All other academics, I'm quite sure, will only go to bed with Finnegan's Wake and Proust."


Here is a selection of your own dirty literary secrets.

I once picked up a discarded Jeffrey Archer on a train at Bridgend and finished it by the time I got to Paddington. Can't even remember the title, let alone plot. But I do love "ripping yarns" - Buchan, Mason, Dornford Yates, Hope.
Nick Beeson, Ilkley

My bookshelf is full of autobiographies on professional wrestlers. Some are obviously ghost-written, but a few (such as Mick Foley's) are not. My friends sneer at me because it's considered to be low brow and trashy, but if they actually read it they get a great read.
Rhys, Colwyn Bay, Conwy

Star Trek... oh yes, the written franchise is great comfort reading, nothing too taxing that requires concentration or intellect, that and Marvel Graphic novels too. Started reading Conan Doyle and ended up reverting back to an X Men book. Hey ho....
Jane, Gateshead

I have a degree in English Literature and now spend most of my time reading Stephen King. I also became slight obsessed with the Twilight books recently despite the fact that I'm turning 30 this week. I'm not ashamed though - we should applaud anyone who still counts reading as a favourite pastime.
Lindsay, Belfast

James Patterson books every time - short sharp chapters, unchallenging plots - great beach reads - can't resist 'em.
Laura, London

Georgette Heyer - perennially my fave and I'm not blushing and never will. A little pink over Anne Rice, Jude Devereaux and Nora Roberts - I won't read 'em on the train though. Adore Desmond Bagley, Helen McInnes, Alistair MacLean and am happy to read THEM on the train - perhaps it's how long ago the novels were published that makes them more intellectually acceptable?
Rebeccaq, Pulp Fiction, London

I once read a shoebox of Mills and Boons over a week, I love Jilly Cooper, I love Terry Brooks and all sci-fi of that ilk (ie elves, magic stones and dashing Aragorn-type heroes). A recent low point had to be one called "Sex and the single vampire" - I think the tag line was "A love story with a bite!" - ha ha ha, the shame. (It was great.)
Not telling, London

Jilly Cooper's Polo got me through my GCSEs. I used to hide in my bedroom pretending to revise but really I'd be lost in the world of Ricky France Lynch. I still managed to get all Bs so I decided to use the same tack with my A-levels.
Lenna, Devon

I'd never read them in public, but on my shelves at home there's a veritable plethora of chick lit, including the entire Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella. That, and Take A Break magazine.
Becky Simms, Witney, UK

My favourite trash of all time has to be all of Georgette Heyer's stuff... I'm not ashamed.
Isla, Edinburgh

I have read a Stephen King book. The shame.
Wellin Dowd, Spain

My secret shame, the books I'd never read on holiday or on the train, are the Tom Clanceys. I know it's wrong, but I just love 'em.
Jeff, Leeuwarden, Netherlands

I think there could be a market for a War and Peace dustjacket which I could put on my Tom Clancey and laugh all the way to the final page.
Bongo Divali, Malawi

I read all of my mother's Catherine Cookson books many times over. I can't remember a single title, and all the plotlines blur into one hazy arc of redemption, but they were a reliable escape from mundane adolescence.
Sophie, NY

I wasn't exactly embarrassed to read graphic novels like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, but I did get defensive about reading them. I'm afraid I started too many explanations with, "Well, in Japan..."
Cristobal DeLicia, Arlington, MA, USA

I have several old favourite comfort reads - Rosamunde Pilcher, Marian Keyes and the older Maeve Binchys - but I am not at all ashamed of these. What I AM ashamed of is the fact I read (and owned) the entire Sweet Valley High series when I was teenager. Makes Jilly Cooper seem high-brow by comparison.
Too ashamed to say, Guiltville

A friend tried to convince me to read Andy McNab once. The unbearable shame I felt whenever I caught someone spying at my spine caused me to give it back to him after only a few dozen pages. And it's very big print in an Andy McNab book, so that wasn't far at all.
Adam Kidd, Brighton

I'm another bloke who's read rather a lot of Jilly Cooper and will occasionally revisit them when my brain's dead. Also, Jackie Collins lurks somewhere in my bedroom. That thought alone should terrify me shouldn't it? I'll get my bookjacket...
Daniel, London

Jeffrey Archer & Harold Robbins. I also enjoy Robert Ludlum - better plots but worse technical writing skills than Tom Clancy - and have a good collection of the recent crop of cod-archaeological thrillers spawned in the wake of Dan Brown's stuff (and yes, I've read that too).
Megan, Cheshire

I read Harry Potter books. I love them. I tell my granddaughter it's because I want to read them to her. I've got them all, the last one with the adult wrapper on it.
Carol, Portsmouth

Many of my teenage years were spent reading "trashy" books, the most prominent of which were The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice and the Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton - books which I still tend to revisit today. I'm also a big fan of fan-fiction reading/writing. Oh, the shame.
Roz T, Manchester

My favourite trash of all time has to be all of Georgette Heyer's stuff - I'm not ashamed.
Isla, Edinburgh

For the ultimate in what I like to phrase as "Hamburger Books" you can't look further than Clive Cussler. Formulaic plots, apparently indestructible heroes, megalomaniacs in hidden lairs - it has the lot and I love them! Shamefully, the Iliad and Beowulf are still on my shelves unread. They look good though.
Richard Jones, Hemel Hempstead

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SEE ALSO
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05 Mar 09 |  Arts & Culture
Join our interactive literary quiz
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