Should you really judge a person by the cover of the book they are reading?

Ellen's children, reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Ellen's children, reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Credit: Archant

When I lived in London and travelled by Tube every day, my absolute favourite pastime was judging my fellow commuters on their choice of reading material.

I believe what you read is a neat indicator of who you are as a person – and I’m afraid, in my opinion, not all books are a flattering reflection.

Right now, for example, I am reading The Goldfinch ? which pegs me, entirely accurately, as a literary sheep.

Someone who follows the crowd; reads what is “hot” right now.

Well, I say that. I resolutely refuse to read Fifty Shades of Grey or anything featuring Harry Potter.


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I expect outrage at the sweeping generalisations to come but I judge others who list EL James or JK Rowling as their favourite authors. And not favourably.

The former is only one step up from Mills and Boon – the neon pink hearts of make-believe love mixed with a dash of torture. How this is any sane woman’s fantasy I do not know.

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The latter tells me that the person has the reading comprehension of an eight-year-old.

Now, there is nothing wrong per se with a little childish entertainment every now and then.

But it would be nice if adults demanded more than what they’re getting from the boy wizard; which, by most reports, is a decent book but nothing that extraordinary.

Really, the only time I am OK with an adult reading a kid’s book is when he’s moving his mouth as he reads and has a little audience.

I also feel like this about the Twilight saga and The Hunger Games.

I’ve not read these either, of course.

I might one day, I suppose – but not until I’ve finished the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.

Now, I was asked to list my three favourite books – and my reason for liking them – as part of my column this week.

But that would be asking for trouble, wouldn’t it?

After all, if I am this opinionated about other people’s choices, what on earth would they make of mine?

So let’s return to my status as a literary sheep and, instead, look at books I have read because someone else told me they were brilliant.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Sigh. Yawn.

This would be on my husband’s top three. Now, I am not saying it isn’t a good book but the prevailing wisdom is that if you didn’t adore it, if it didn’t move you like no other, then you have clearly not read it at the right time; that is, the pinnacle of your own self-pitying, frustration-filled adolescence.

I did. I get it. He is so misunderstood. Life is such hard work. Blah blah blah.

But to be honest I tend to agree with South Park’s Kyle, who complained it’s “just some whiny annoying teenager talking about how lame he is”.

So what about Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses?

I tried. I really did.

But I reckon anyone who claims to have read this book all the way through is probably lying. Or they have more perseverance and intelligence than I do. Either way, they’ve probably wasted a lot of hours that could have been better spent elsewhere.

Moby Dick, Herman Melville.

Is there any chance that this book – with its long-winded descriptions about whaling tools ? would get across an editor’s desk in its current state today?

The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown. I found this enjoyably awful when it hit the shelves in 2004 but the absurdity of the debate between historians and the Catholic Church which followed rather overshadowed its thrilled clichés and shameless plot manipulations.

The God Delusion. Richard Dawkins.

Not technically a novel but another of my husband’s top picks.

Personally, it made me want to join the nearest megachurch out of spite.

Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen.

A classic. Nobody must slate a classic.

Or as Mark Twain once put it: “Classic is a book which people praise and don’t read.”

To be honest, if this is in your top three I would presume you are still waiting for your Mr Darcy while extolling the woes of modern life to your ever-growing family of cats.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. CS Lewis.

If I were to be brave enough to tell you my favourite novels, this “might” be on it.

Yes, technically it is a kid’s book.

I am getting away with reading it again right now only because it’s the chosen bedtime story for my children.

But this was the first book I ever read that took my breath away.

And it did inspire a love of reading which remains with me today.

To this end, I think it is probably unfair of me to continue to judge those that take pleasure from the dog-eared pages of someone else’s imagination.

After all, I am forever telling my children that it doesn’t really matter what you read, as long as you read; and arguing about taste is as fundamental as having it in the first place.

It’s easy to take for granted that different people enjoy different things ? and that others feel as confident in their judgments as I do in mine.

And what is one person’s genius is another man’s joke.

I’m still not listing my top three books, though.

I learnt from my daily Underground trips that a Kindle was the only sure-fire way to avoid the opinions of others.

That way I can devour a trashy thriller, savour the odd romance and indulge in a little chic lit, with the rest of the world believing I am ploughing on with The Grapes of Wrath.

Hmmm. Perhaps Holden Caulfield is not the only phony on the block.

See more from Ellen here or join her on Twitter @EllenWiddup

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