John Walsh: If I had an e-reader, no one would know my guilty Jackie Collins secret

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A poll of British readers has discovered something shocking. The readers boasted that, of the books on their shelves at home, 71 per cent were political memoirs, autobiographies and serious works of non-fiction. On the other hand, when asked what was on their e-book reader (where no one can see the title,) they confessed to breathless chicklit works (So Long, Mr Wrong) and rubbishy thrillers by Lee Child.

I'd normally tut-tut in a superior way about such cultural slumming. I'd smirk with satisfaction at the discomfiture of a reader discovered with a copy of The Sultan's Virgin Bride (Mills & Boon, £5.95) in his LV overnight bag. But I can't. Because lately I've been there myself and it's no fun.

Let me explain. The Write Stuff, the Radio 4 literary quiz in which I'm a team captain, is starting a new series. One of the "Writers of the Week" about whom we'll be fighting to display knowledge is Jackie Collins, of the 27 Hollywood Wives-style bestsellers. Unfortunately, to acquaint myself with the lady's work enough to answer questions about it, I was obliged to read one of her books. So for several days, I've had a huge red paperback in my life like an albatross round my neck, its gold-embossed title, Goddess of Vengeance, blazingly announcing, wherever I go, that I'm a hopeless lowbrow.

In the Cheltenham Waterstones, I blushed as I extracted it from the fiction shelf under the surprised gaze of a Professor of Comparative Literature. On the train to London I started reading it inside a £25 copy of Claire Tomalin's new Dickens biography.

On a weekend break, I left the book on the bedroom floor in the morning. Whichever smart-alec maid it was that cleaned the room, she left Goddess of Vengeance sitting lovingly on my pillow with a bookmark tucked between pages 154/5, as if she sympathised with my passionate need to get back to feisty Lucky Santangelo's kick-ass adventures with her Middle-Eastern-potentate nemesis. Someone at work spotted the book on my desk and said, "Blimey, I wouldn't have had you down as a Jackie Collins fan". Two friends who came for drinks on Monday saw it in the kitchen and raised quizzical eyebrows. I kept saying, to every single person, "You don't understand! I am not a Jackie Collins fan! I'm not, I'm not! I'm being forced to do this!" Like St Peter in the Garden, I denied JC thrice, and then thrice more. It was knackering.

It would be simpler to get a Kindle. Wouldn't it? Then no one would know what you're reading. How peculiar if embarrassment turns out to be the reason why us sensitive, Luddite, technophobe highbrows finally give in and join the digital revolution. (And I can find out how Goddess of Vengeance ends. I was quite enjoying it.)



Newspapers and TV stations in Australia have criticised prime minister Julia Gillard for failing to spavin her limbs and lower her rear end before the Queen in that gesture of obeisance known as a curtsey. Ms Gillard (who merely bowed and shook hands) has been accused of "offensive behaviour" and disgracing the nation.

You may think this extreme. I'm not sure it goes far enough. I insist that, in future, foreign ladies curtsey right down to the floor and stay there until they've counted to 20. Men will not only bow to the Queen, they'll adopt that Elizabethan routine of doffing one's hat, bowing with an arm flung across one's middle, while scraping one's foot backwards until one is virtually prostrate. More bowing and scraping, that's what we need at the fag-end of empire.

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