Books You Should Never Read in Public

Have you ever been reading in a public place and guffawed loudly enough to get judgmental glances from innocent passersby?

I have. More times than I’d like to admit.

To save you from similar embarrassment, here’s a list of books I suggest never reading in public.



Life of Pi by Yann Martel

If you’ve read it, you’ll know exactly what moment I’m talking about–Pi, on the island, slowly unwrapping leaves. Yah. If you haven’t yet read it (you should), I won’t tell you what it is. I exclaimed. Yelled, really. Loudly. Thankfully, that time, I was safe at my brother’s house and most everyone else was downstairs. (They still heard me, but they’re used to me there.)


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

You might, like me, blubber your way through this penned treasure. Thankfully, I was at home on my couch for most of this one. I suggest keeping a kleenex box close by.


Love is a Mix-Tape by Rob Sheffield

Oh. My. I had to make myself leave the coffee shop. I could not hold it together. Tears. Snorts of laughter. I stopped breathing at least twice. The glasses came off more than once. I can’t even tell you how much I hope I never run into any of the good patrons who were enjoying their coffee at the South Bend Chocolate Cafe that night.


Year Zero by Rob Reid

Twice, I lost it completely: Clippy and the Teddy Bears. Which, serendipitously, could be a band name. Clippy was in public, unfortunately–in a quiet hallway where studious students and other academicians were attending a conference. The Teddy Bears was at home. Even then, I thought I could just move on without losing it. I was wrong. Gave it a good five-minute recovery, and then moved on.


The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

That moment with the axe, I tell you, I yelled. In a coffee shop. Of course. I’m pretty sure my eyes almost popped out, too. And then I looked away, eyes shut. Like I could avoid seeing more if I weren’t looking at it. But the imagination was already engaged, so it was a futile attempt.


Any book written by Jasper Fforde

This man kills me every time. His characters’ antics (even just their names!), his sense of humor, his quirky storylines–I laugh out loud at least once every three pages.


East, West: Stories by Salman Rushdie

I’m just going to warn you now: you will get to the last page (not realizing it’s the last page), turn the page, and then find out that it’s all over. It’s not that the last story needs closure. It’s just that you’ll want to keep on reading this exact book for the rest of your life; you will never want it to end. I shed tears. I was, again, in a local coffee shop.

What has been your most embarrassing public-reading moment? Please, do tell. It’ll normalize me just a little bit. Please?


  1. The last for me was when I devoured Tell the Wolves I’m Home on a long flight. By the end, I was sobbing, so I covered my face and pretended to be asleep.

  2. Sheila Kauvar says:

    “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb. Sobbing while reading it each of 3 times!!

  3. I may have told this one here already: My mom was in a Houston ICU, trying to die from a kidney-stone-removing procedure [she decided to stop breathing during the mini-operation], and I was outside in the waiting room, on the floor by the elevator, laughing until I cried at “Shoot Low, Boys, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies” by Lewis Grizzard. My siblings STILL can’t be with me in a waiting room for fear I’ll embarrass them.
    Oh, and my mom ended up fine [until she died 9 years later of esophageal cancer — THIS IS WHAT SMOKING DOES, PEOPLE]. She loved the story. 🙂

  4. “Shitty Mom”. Now that is a funny book in a self-depricating way. Or “Go the Fu*$ to Sleep”, a parody of a children’s book. Laughed till I cried!

  5. I was in line at the DMV on a Saturday morning, waiting to renew my driver’s license. Since I knew it would be a long wait, I’d brought a book–“Operating Instructions,” by Anne Lamott. When I reached the section where she was debating whether to circumcise her son, I discovered just how quiet the DMV actually is: literally a hundred or more people stood silently, staring at me as I guffawed uncontrollably at lines like, “I mean to cast no aspersions on the presentability of anybody’s wing-wang . . . The uncircumcised ones look sort of marsupial, or like little rodents stuck in garden hoses.” (For obvious reasons, I was not reading aloud.) Finally, the woman in front of me said, “Good book?” All I had breath for was a nod and a smile.

  6. All of the books in the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. That man cracks me up, the things he comes up with. I was laughing the whole time. People kept looking at me. Not good. And Life of Pi, I totally agree. I was in public too and it wasn’t pretty.

  7. Jasper Fforde is hysterical and causes many inappropriate snorts & guffaws if read in public. I don’t care!

    I always cry at the the end of “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” no matter how often I read it.

  8. “Me Before You” by JoJo Moyes.

    Was also on a plane when I finished this and the steward had to ask me if I was OK I was in such a state.

  9. I have several, but I’ll mention just a few…Between Shades of Gray made me cry pretty loudly on a train–the other passengers looked at me strangely. Boy in the Striped Pajamas made me sob so hard I was gasping for air. I finished it at home, but couldn’t not read anything else for several days. When I read it with my students, many tears were shed.
    For really terrible books, I throw them violently against the wall and curse: I did this with that excrement 50 Shades of Gray. That was an insult to writing.

  10. I had gone to a booksale just yesterday and on the bus ride home took out one of the books I had bought, it was by Tucker Max and I immediatley started chuckling which turned into an almost rambunctious roar of laughter. all sorts of people were turning to look at me. It didn’t help that when they turned, the first thing they saw was the book’s title which was of course A**holes finish first. I’m not sorry though.

  11. Little Women, crying and laughing throughout the whole thing, on a train.
    The Fault in Our Stars, again laughing and crying loudly, this time on a bus.

  12. When I was about 16 I met my English teacher (this was about 1950 when things were different) downtown on my way to the library to return a book. She took it from me saying, Oh, what are you reading? It was “A Rage to Live” by John O’Hara. This was one of those books that everyone was saying “Have you got to Page XX yet!” I’m still embarrassed that I got caught with that book…but I read “Tropic of Capricorn” too. I’ll have to read those again and see if they are still racy!

  13. For sadness someone has listed The Red Pony by Steinbeck. I could never finish The Pearl even at home, because I just knew what was going to happen and it was too heartbreaking.

  14. Some of the early books in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich have passages which literally make me LOL. When I would bring them to work to read during lunch, I lived in fear that my snorts of laughter would bring one of my (mostly pretty conservative) co-workers to ask what I was reading that was making me laugh. There would be no way I could have told them what was so funny, they would have been shocked!

    And I still remember in 9th grade study hall, reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and getting to the part where Gandalf falls off the bridge…I was so stunned and began to tear up, and tried desperately to hide it…I mean, I was in 9th grade, after all, who cries at a book in 9th grade?!

  15. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Every person I know who read that book in public cried in public. Sobbed. Sniffled. Came home a right mess.


  16. The Kite Runner. I used to have a two and a half hour commute to work and would always read on my way home. I openly sobbed hysterically while reading this one. It was horrible. Great book, but definitely should not be read in public!

  17. Georgette Heyer made me laugh out loud many times with her wonderful dialogue, language and ridiculously convoluted plots. And I wept uncontrollably through the last couple of chapters of Edith Pargeter’s historical novel “The Heaven Tree”, first book in her trilogy of the same name. Thank goodness I was safely at home and alone for that one.

    Gerald Durrell, however, has been responsible for a lot of the weird looks I’ve received when reading his “My Family and Other Animals”, as well as many of his other books recounting his animal collecting adventures.

  18. The first time i read “The Stand” by Stephen King and got to the part where (small spoiler alert) someone good died, I was at work on break and jumped up yelling, loudly. no!! I still have trouble forgiving Stephen King for that.

  19. Comfort: A Journey through Grief. I have wept many times reading many different kinds of books, but this one beats them all. I was physically sick with sorrow by the end–and it’s too gripping not to read all the way until the end. I was in the public library.


  21. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. You have a sense of impending awfulness as you read this book, you instinctively know what is going to happen yet are drawn to a conclusion that leaves you in tears.

  22. Where the Red Fern Grows–I remember my 5th grade teacher, MR. Santelman,
    sobbing through this one.
    Any Stephanie Plum book by Janet Evanovich. You never know when you are going
    to “bust out laughing.”

  23. The Green Mile moved me to tears, and books 4-6 of the Janet Evanovich books had me laughing so loud, people were coming up asking what I was reading so they could enjoy them as well…. kudos to great writers!

  24. Tears of laughter – Janet Evanovich’s series, One for the Money, etc. embarrassed myself so much on the bus to work!

    Tears of sadness – Cleo, by Helen Brown – ditto with embarrassment.

  25. Definitely Jasper Fforde.. For me it was the ‘Thursday next’ series. In the middle of an 11 hour flight and on a train.. People looked at me like I’m totally crazy..

  26. And also – Dewey by Vicki Myron.. I laughed and I cried while I was in a public pool..

  27. “Where the Red Fern Grows.” I was a teaching assistant and the teacher read it aloud to the class. I had skimmed it, and told him ahead of time that the ending was awful. He thought it couldn’t be that bad and read it anyway. I was sitting at the back of the class, and started sniffing, and finally sobbing (as quietly as I could). To my great surprise, none of the young-teen boys in the class made fun of me. I think they wished they could cry, too.
    Afterwards, the teacher said “I didn’t think it would be THAT sad.”

  28. I made the mistake of reading “House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski on my lunch break…I’m turning the book upside down, holding pages up to the light looking for watermarks (alas, there were none, but it’s such a wacky book that it made sense to look for them. ) My coworkers are staring at me like I’m insane, and I was forced to describe the insane nature of my reading material. They still make the occasional joke about it, too. “Whatcha reading there Lauren, any secret messages?” That kind of stuff. 🙂

  29. The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter, was one of the few books that made me cry. It’s a truly wonderful book.

  30. Years ago I was reading The Colour Purple and I was nearly to the end and some friends dropped by unexpectedly. I went to the door, book in hand, tears running down my face. I said come in but I have to finish this book. Make yourselves a cup of tea. so rude but I just had to finish it.

  31. Cried buckets reading My Sergei: A Love Story a few years back. Not a book to be reading on the train (especially during rush hour)

  32. Anything by Dave Barry. I was listening to a book on CD in the car and had to pull over to the side of the road.

  33. When I was 8 months pregnant with my first daughter (and I was huge!), I started reading Dave Barry’s “Babies and Other Hazards of Sex: How to Make a Tiny Person in Only 9 Months, with Tools You Probably Have around the Home” at the local library. Very quickly, I was snorting, guffawing, and laughing so hard the other library patrons started looking at me as though they were afraid I would go into labor. So as soon as I could gather myself, I check out the book and scurried (well as much as a very pregnant woman can scurry) out of there!

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