Our Most Embarrassing Book Nerd Confessions


There’s a healthy love of reading, and then there’s geeked-out, vision-wrecking devotion to the mesmerizing power of books. As youths with our noses stuck in various volumes, some of us skewed toward the latter territory. But because we’re grownups now, and because it’s become, finally, COOL to geek out over books (right?), we’ve decided to unburden ourselves. Here are our deepest, dorkiest book-nerd confessions:

Claire Zulkey: So, I might have written The Secret History fan fiction. In my defense, this was before I knew fan fiction was a thing, OK? It was summer in high school, and I was working a tedious office job. This was the age before you could make yourself look busy by emailing your friends or trolling the internet, so to entertain myself, I wrote fiction. What a cool kid! I had just reread Donna Tartt’s classic sexy novel about a group of college kids who were smarter and classier than I could ever hope to be, so I wrote up some “extra” chapters of the book that featured, I believe, Francis Abernathy’s mysterious, wealthy, beautiful cousin. She may have looked a lot like me. Don’t hate.

Nicole Hill: As the saying goes, “If you love something, pen a parody song about it.” If I obsessively love something, I have a tendency to set it to lyrics and a melody (that someone else previously invented). Sometimes the ditty is as simple as “The Final Pancake” (“The Final Countdown”) or “Bagel Bites” (“Edelweiss”). More often than not, however, it’s about The Lord of the Rings. I think this is because I could not satiate my love of Middle-earth by attending midnight book premieres, as with Harry Potter. As a result, the music never stops, and the tunes span genres. There’s Christmas music: “Hark the wizard Gandalf sings/ Fireworks to the hobbits I bring.” There’s even a rap or two with advice for Frodo on the Precious: “When a Gollum try to get at you/Drop it like it’s hot/ When a cave troll get an attitude/ Drop it like it’s hot.” You, dear readers, may think that’s not all that embarrassing or excessive. But I posit that it indeed is when you break out your songs on a date with someone who clearly isn’t the right person.

Melissa Albert: In the 9th grade I became obsessed with witchcraft, but, being way too self-conscious to go full-on goth, my love was expressed only through reading. Sadly, this was also the year that my class read The Crucible, which afforded me the dangerous opportunity to give a public presentation on my favorite topic. While everyone else mumbled through 90 seconds of half-baked index cards, I dressed in a full-on period costume, complete with apron and headscarf, and read a story I’d written from the perspective of a dead witch speaking from beyond the grave. The presentation started with the lighting of three sacred candles, which I blew out every time someone in my story died. Though open flames were against school rules, my teacher was shocked into silence, presumably by the force of my nerdery.

I got a B.

Josh Sorokach: I once memorized 10 quotes from The Great Gatsby in a feeble attempt to impress a woman. When I was in college, a girl I would have given up my finest beanbag chair to date was throwing a toga party. I assumed this party would be the night she professed her undying love for me—mostly because I’ve seen toga parties in movies and declarations of love seemed to be fairly prevalent on the big screen. Obviously, I did not major in logic. My Girl Friday surprisingly didn’t declare love to me that night. I know, right? If not at a toga party, WHEN? I did, however, notice a dog-eared copy of The Great Gatsby, so I decided to reread the classic, memorize a few quotes, and impress the object of my affection with my heretofore unseen literary acumen. Plan, consider yourself hatched. A couple weeks later, at yet another party (college!), I started to drop my Gatsby quotes in casual conversation. Nothing. As the night went on, my subtlety deteriorated to the point where I threw a conversational hail Mary and blurted out, “The Great Gatsby is just so nuanced.” I didn’t even know what the word nuanced meant, but it sounded insightful. My potential wife turned to me and said, “I never read it, but my roommate loves that book.”

Amy Wilkinson: Of all the playthings I coveted and never received (which, admittedly, were few, since I was a spoiled only child), the American Girl doll ranks highest. (Order of desire: Samantha, Kirsten, Addy, Felicity, Molly.) My tummy still feels funny every time I pass an American Girl Place, with its troupes of joyful, doll-clutching children scampering about. At the time, I consoled my tween self by reading each girl’s accompanying book series, comprised of six themed volumes (Meet Kirsten, Happy Birthday, Molly, etc.). While perusing one particular paperback (my memory is a bit fuzzy here, but internet research leads me to believe it was Addy Saves the Day, I noticed that the cover included an incorrect version of the American flag—so I wrote a super-helpful letter to the Pleasant Company, pointing out their error. A few weeks later, I received a kindly worded postcard, explaining that the imagery was, indeed, correct. Now, I’m no historian (and my vision certainly isn’t what it used to be), but doesn’t it look like those 1850s-era flags have 50 stars? I’ll bet you a mint-condition Kirsten I’m right!

Rebecca Jane Stokes: Oh man. What haven’t I done in a fit of book-obsessed pique? For the life of me, I can’t remember the book’s name, but in a novel about a girl who moved from foster home to foster home, the main character had a tiny scar on her eyebrow. Upon reading this, I totally shaved out a chunk of my eyebrow, in a bid to seem troubled and mysterious. It did not take. In case you were wondering, ingrown eyebrow hairs are a thing, and they are awful. Also, after reading The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, I tried to wear riding pants all of the time. I did not ride a horse nor see a unicorn, but with some help from saddle pants, no one had to know that but me.

Lauren Passell, Girl Of Destiny: As an only child who got dragged everywhere by her boozy, partying parents, I was often the only kid around. To curtail my loneliness, I got my parents to buy me a stuffed tiger (it was not a licensed Hobbes stuffed animal—oh, how I wish that had existed!) and brought him everywhere, pretending I was Calvin, playing Calvin Ball, and adopting the same sarcastic repertoire as Calvin and HobbesHobbes, you’re my only friend. I should note: I was way too old to be doing this. I also wrote “Lauren Passell, Girl Of Destiny” on top of all my papers at school. I totally ripped that one from Calvin, Boy Of Destiny. But I’ll never be too old to do that.

Kathryn Williams: I am a book nerd but also a writer nerd. When I was in fourth grade we had a story-writing contest. My opus was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade meets the New Testament (yes, Jesus was my protagonist), and I won. My prize: a little clear box of mineral specimens. Literally, a box of rocks. To this day, one of my proudest accomplishments.

Joel Cunningham: As books were just about my favorite thing growing up (if I’m being honest, Super Mario was neck-and-neck), I could only imagine that all the other kids felt the same way (what are these… what do you call them? “Sports”?). Thus, I spent one summer circa age eight working on a brilliant scheme to make big bucks: every week, I would read a single chapter from a handful of different books (choice selection: Sideways Stories from Wayside School) into my little tape recorder, imagining that by the end of August, I would have a whole pile of cassettes that I could copy and sell to my friends. Riveted, they would demand subsequent installments, and I would soon be drowning in He-Man toys and Garbage Pail Kids. Instead, I lost track of what I was doing after about a month, which is probably for the best. Not because I would have been violating a whole raft of copyrights, but because, as an eight-year-old, I sounded like a baby squirrel. (A few years ago, I found and played one of the tapes for my wife, and she burst out laughing.)

What’s your most embarrassing book worm confession?

  • Amy Faircloth

    I might have just had my most nerdy moment (though I will proudly admit to writing several Harry Potter fanfic stories). I looked up an image for Addy Saves the Day and indeed while it does look like there are 50 stars on those flags, if you look carefully there are spaces which means that they are most likely the period correct flags. But they could have changed the cover since the original printing because Amy Wilkinson pointed out their error to them.

    • Melissa Albert

      Man, do I hope you’re right (that Amy changed the course of American Girl history).

    • Lily

      I love that you’re proud of your fanfic writing! Personally I don’t understand the stigma of fanfic, especially since I’ve read some that are better than actual published novels. (Okay I do understand SOME of the stigma DAMN YOU MY IMMORTAL) .

  • Pamela Hsieh

    Omg, this is the best article ever. I love knowing I’m not the only dorky bookworm. I, too, wrote fanfic before I even knew it was a thing. When I was 10, I wrote the sequel to my favorite book, Roald Dahl’s Matilda, on lined looseleaf bound with those brass fasteners (remember those?), and I even illustrated it in the style of Quentin Blake. This is the achievement that I greatly attribute to discovering the writer’s life. (I would “self-publish” my next novel at age 16 in a more impressive fashion, of course.) I loved Matilda so much that I even had the entire chapter memorized, verbatim. (To this day, nearly 20 years later, I still recall the first sentence.) I’m not sure if this qualifies as embarrassing, especially compared to the other weird stuff I used to do (unrelated to books). Though my mother tells me my book-loving nerdiness may have originated in preschool: I would reportedly come home after school, arrange my stuffed animals around me as my students, and pretend to read storybooks to them while holding them in my hand the way my teacher did in school.

  • Stacey Lynn Hansen

    Loved this article! I don’t know that I would call most of my book obsession habits are all that embarrassing to me… though I will admit after I read this article I visited my fanfiction haunts and calculated the number of favourites I currently have (948). I spend too much time reading, it’s the reason I had to get glasses in seventh grade – I strained my eyes. That was around the time I managed to read the first five Malazan Books of the Fallen in two weeks, and previously the first ten Wheel of Time in two and a half. As for embarrassment, well, in sixth grade I would read under my desk during lunch, miss the bell for class, then get asked a question during math and jump a decimetre because I was oblivious to my surroundings. My teacher once told me I was the only one in the class who actually read instead of pretending when it came to reading time.

    I have also have spontaneous giggle/wiggle fits when something great or hilarious happens in a story, and it doesn’t matter where I am at the time. It’s involuntary!

    • Monique

      Oh yeah , who cares where you are at but when your reading & the book has a totaly true, funny,scarry,meaningful, unforgettable,emotional, part in the book that you jusr cant help but to let your own emotional outburst explode. No matter how embarrased you might be from it , just means you are having one of the BEST BOOKWORM momments in your never ending book memories of a lifetime… UNFORRGETTABLE NeverEnding stories…. Books are ForEver changing our lives , no matter the situation you may be living in at the moment. They take you away into the realm that I love to call my Reality. F the real world I live in the Book World ….

  • Anya Kingma

    So I’m not sure if this counts or if it just makes me an even bigger dork for admitting it, but I was in elementary school when the first Harry Potter came out. I had always been a huge book nerd, but this was my first obsession with one specific series, where it consumed my entire 8 year old world. I was so in love that my brother and I went into the woods and cut down branches, sanded them smooth, and had our dad dip them in lacquer to make them shiny. Then I proceeded to read each book as it came out and write down every spell they used in the books. We compiled a pretty good list in those early tween years and spent a lot of time acting out various scenes so we could perfect our skills. I was heartbroken when the movies finally came out, and I learned we hadn’t been pronouncing any of the spells correctly.

  • Jenny

    I recall reading Young Stars (a book about teeny bopper actors of the early 1990s) on a trip to Disneyland (my first and only time). During that same trip, I have more memories of reading The Babysitters Club series on my motel bed than on riding the rides at Disneyland, Magic Mountain, or Universal Studios Hollywood. I’m such a nerd.

  • Jenny

    I have another example of my book nerdiness: several times a year, I write down every book I own and categorize my library. Then I have fun custom sorting it on Excel. Finally, I print out a spread sheet packet, so I can find books easily.

    • Tamara Jones

      I used to do this and then I discovered the BookCrawler app and my world changed. It’s like crack. And I’m purposefully cataloging my books slow because I enjoy doing it so much. I have tags for Book to Film and it automatically adds up how much my library is worth – you know, for insurance purposes…

  • KAMGlou

    I keep a journal listing the books I’ve read, and i try to write a brief summary of the plot. I don’t have my books on an excel spreadsheet, not that I haven’t considered it, but I do have my books sorted in the bookshelves by subject, and since I have more than one bookcase then certain subjects are grouped together…and I keep bookshelves in my bedroom for the short story anthologies: Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett..etc some obscure history books and little math books that are good to read should I have the occasional bout of insomnia.

    • Grace Noyes

      Try shelfari.com–you can do the same thing and create your own bookshelf!

  • Emily

    Ms. Kathryn Williams, I would be interested in reading that (especially since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is my favorite movie).

  • Jessica Wylie

    I have and probably will always sing about books, and do a dance when im in front of them..i dont know what it is- I will be in a huge book store and have the urge to twirl and make up a song about them..been this way since a kid im not sure if that constitutes me as a weirdo or a book nerd..:/

    • Monique

      Im the same way stay being a BookWorm thats what life is all about .

      • Jessica Wylie


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    Being a street hardened paramedic who has read “Little Women”

  • BlackCat29

    When I was 10, I wrote a short novella, meant to be Hitchcock fanfic (if I had known what fanfic was at the time). I should also mention that I did not understand the Master of Suspense, or even the device we call suspense. My novella, filling one side of all 70 pages of one pink single-subject spiral-bound notebook, was called “The 239 steps.” It was NOT about a secret society of spies or a daring attempt to prevent an assassination. Nope. It was about two kids’ amazing journey up a really tall spiral staircase in a barn which led nowhere but contained a haunted step which… ate them? Yeah, I turned that in to my teacher. I was so proud.

  • Leah

    In 11th grade someone told me that the Library at Alexandria had been burned to heat people’s bath water. I cried loudly for twenty minutes in class over the demise of those poor books. And I still haven’t lived that down.

    I once wrote a piece of original fiction where all the names of bands and songs the main character listened to were references to other stories… Tricky Woo and the Farting Boxer anyone?

    • Grace Noyes

      Ahhh…love James Herriot!

    • Cherie Lamphear Stanitis

      Just love love love James Herriot! Now I must go and read his books again!

  • Gretchen Leech

    I grew up in a small town, and going to Wal-mart was a big deal. When my family and I went to Wal-mart, I would go to the book section and proceed to alphabetize and put in numerical order all of the kids’ series books (this was in the day of Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, etc.). Then my parents would come retrieve me and we would go home. Not sure if this is a book nerd moment or an organization nerd moment.

  • Cherie Lamphear Stanitis

    I have a couple of book nerd moments… I absolutely love the smell of old books and as a young child my father would bring my sister and I to the public library every week. I would actually stand there and sniff the books before looking at them. Love the smell of new books too. Another one is that there is a used bookstore next door to my dentist. I don’t care what has been done to my mouth… it can be numb and full of gauze but everytime I go to the dentist, I must go to the bookstore afterwards. I don’t know if the cashier can understand anything I’m saying to him but I always leave with an armful of books and can hardly wait to get home to show the kids. My husband will ask “How did it go at the dentist?” and I’ll mumble through the gauze in my mouth “Just look what I got at the bookstore!!!”

    • Monique

      Thats what I call a Truley True .

  • Becca Dobias

    I am an English major, and before I graduated college I was part of the English Club on campus for all four years. We did incredibly nerdy things, but one of my favorites was our Halloween event, on which we dressed as some of our favorite literary characters and did a public read of “The Raven.” That’s all well and good, and walking around dressed as a literary character is really not at all odd if you are doing it on Halloween, but on the few occasions when schedules forced us to hold the event a few days before Halloween, like it did the first time I participated, it made you seem more than a little out of place. Most people had the sense to wear fairly low-key costumes; not me though! I just had to wear my “Masque of the Red Death” outfit (an E. A. Poe short story), consisting of black pants, a scarlet satin blouse, red cape, and red foam mask, with the addition of painting my face completely white with black around the eyes and red smears down my cheeks. I had to walk to the event like that, and go to class dressed up as such afterwards. I didn’t get weird looks, I got blatant stares.
    But it was totally worth it!