The other night a friend mentioned in an email that she considered her brother a “secret reader”—someone who seems like a nonreader but turns out not to be; someone who has read the book under discussion but doesn’t say anything about it, tacitly pretending to be out of the loop; someone who is (at least a little bit) hiding what they know. She sent me a quotation from Charlotte Mosley’s The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters:
Accused by Nancy of illiteracy, she was suspected by her family and friends of being a secret reader. Diana believed that unlike most people who pretend to have read books that they have not, Deborah pretended not to have read books that she had.
The idea interested me because I have definitely been the same kind of secret reader from time to time.
It’s funny to say that because anyone who actually knows me knows very well that I’m a reader: they’ve seen me with books in my purse, they know that I read enough book reviews to have heard of everything on display at the store, and if they’ve been to my apartment any doubt is erased. But people who only know me a little might not know I read at all, because with most people I just tend not to talk about it. First, since an awful lot of people are themselves nonreaders it wouldn’t be very interesting; but more importantly I’ve always had a certain shyness about that sort of thing. When people do come over, I don’t like them to do the bookshelf browsing thing, it seems so invasive. And yet here I am on the internets talking about books for all to see.
I definitely have soft spot for secret readers, and anyone who feels like they have to hide what they’re interested in or excited about. Definitely softer than any spot I have for the more typical pretend readers.