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All Arts & Culture The Print Issue

It’s not what it looks like: Don’t judge a book

Words by Valeria Aldana

Visuals by Brithi Sehra & Jerry Zhang

As someone who learned how to read at three years old, I’ve read my fair share of books. From the Dear Dumb Diary series by Jim Benton to every book ever released by John Green, I’ve always had an open mind when it came to reading. I never judge a book by its cover. As long as it had a great description, I was going to read it.

However, over recent years, this has changed. Now a 21-year-old university student, I’ve grown self-conscious about the books I’m reading. I can name a handful of books I refuse to be seen reading in public. At the top of that list is any romance novel with a cheesy or provocative cover. I refuse to even purchase these books out of fear of being perceived.

I know what you’re thinking, “It’s never that serious,” but this is a very real thing. These are real thoughts in my head as I think about my next TTC read. If you still can’t picture it, let me set the scene for you.

It’s a chilly day in Toronto. I’m getting ready for my morning lecture and before I head out the door, I double-check that I have everything I’m going to need for the extremely long day that awaits me. Keys? Check. Presto card? Check. Will to live? None. (Don’t worry, I’m kidding). Book? Now that, I don’t have. I go over to my bookcase and graze over the option. Suddenly, My eyes lock on an unread copy of The Duke and I by Julia Quinn, the first book in the Bridgerton series. I purchased it back in 2020 when the TV show first released. I have this thing where I cannot watch a series or movie based on a book before I actually read it. I don’t know when or why I started this habit but I’ve convinced myself that it adds to the experience.

It’s two years later and I have still not read the book nor watched the show. I thought to myself, “What better time than now?” I only knew three things about the TV show: it was a period romance, the costume design was on point and that one quote Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings says about Daphne Bridgerton. “To meet a beautiful woman is one thing but to meet your best friend in the most beautiful of women is something entirely apart.” Yes, I do have this quote memorized. Nevertheless, I decided to take this book along with me on my day. I went to school, then work and everything seemed to be normal. Until I pulled out the book on my break and my coworker gave me an odd look. “I didn’t think you were that type of girl,” she said I looked at her—obviously confused—and I asked her what she meant. She then proceeded to tell me that the show is more than just an “innocent little period-drama romance.” If you know, you know.

I sat with myself after that, thinking about how I carried this book on full display during my commute to school and breaks between classes. Surely someone saw me reading it. A book with a popular show that millions of people have watched and know is a bit sexually explicit. Surely they’ve perceived me as “one of those girls. The type of girl who read fan-fiction growing up— which, of course, I did. However, I read it in the privacy of my own home– not in public. The thought of people paying attention to me and watching what I’m reading was concerning, mostly because I would hate to be judged by others before they knew me. Maybe that’s me overthinking. One thing I know for sure is that I’m a nosy girl, if I see someone reading in public I immediately Google the title to see what it is. So why wouldn’t they do the same to me?

Needless to say, I put The Duke and I back in my bookcase when I got home and I vowed to never take out a book in public without first asking myself, “What would a stranger think of this?”

Honourable mentions of the books I refuse to read in public: The Harry Potter series—the fact I own the entire book series in my Hogwarts house colours, black and yellow for Hufflepuff and know my type of wand is embarrassing enough. Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging—the title itself is jarring and I can’t be seen reading a book with the word ‘thongs’ in the title. Anything with a terrible cover—The Love Hypothesis has to be the best book with the worst cover art. Any cheesy self-help books—my Snapchat private story already knows why I need the book, I don’t need strangers knowing it too. And, the Twilight Saga—“Bella…where the hell have you been loca?” And “Hold on tight, spider monkey,” is enough explanation.

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