Saturday, July 14, 2012

You Book Snob, You

Sometimes we forget how isolated we are, as readers and/or writers, I think. We’ve surrounded ourselves with like-minded folks, folks who we feel a bond with because we share many of the same loves, literary and otherwise.

In my case, most of the people I talk to (on line and in so-called “real life”) are speculative fiction fans, crime fiction geeks, pulp afficiandos, western readers, horror-hounds, etc.

Basically, people who enjoy GOOD WRITING.

So I’ve gotten used to seeing posts on the old FB about stuff I like and am interested in. I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the latest snarky but spot-on slam against whatever the latest literary fad/atrocity is rocking the world’s boat. Because of that, I’ve become a little removed from the tastes of the average casual reader.

Case in point: yesterday alone, on the social medias (and forgive me for referring to them so often; they really make up a good ninety percent of my interaction with the rest of the world) I saw four different things poking fun at or dissecting that 50 SHADES OF GREY book. I’m fine with that—it is, after all, just the latest in a long line of hugely popular books that most people with taste like to make fun of, including me.


Also yesterday, a friend of mine who is NOT a writer or even a constant reader posted about how much she was digging 50 SHADES OF GREY and couldn’t wait to read the next one. A whole shitload of folks liked her post and commented in absolute agreement. They were amazingly enthusiastic. It sort of reminded me about how insulated we are as so-called serious readers. We are the minority, big-time.

And maybe we’re even snobs? It’s totally possible.

But is being a snob about reading necessarily a bad thing?

We’ve all had this conversation:

“No, I haven’t read that.”
“What? But I thought you were some big reader. You should check it out, I’ll lend you my copy.”
“No, that’s okay. It’s not really my thing.”
“Oooh, I see. Not cool enough for you? Man, you’re such a literary snob. You haven’t even read it but you’ve already judged it, right?”

There’s nowhere to go with that argument. They’ve got you dead to rights. You ARE a literary snob.

Or, in other words, you are someone who has read enough that you know what’s going to work for you and what won’t. You have developed enough sense to spot crap from twenty miles away. You have a fully-functional bullshit detector.

You don’t need to be gored in the testicles by a bull to know that it’s something you won’t enjoy, not one bit.

Addendum: A couple weeks ago, my friend Jason Stuart wrote a great blog post about this same subject. Read it here: Yeah, but have you read it?

So to the fans of disposable flavor-of-the-season fiction, you’re a snob. So be it. There are worse things than being a snob.

The irony of that is that readers of what we refer to for lack of a better label as serious literary fiction turn their noses up at us genre fiction fans.

Here’s another conversation you’ve probably had:

“Uh, no. I don’t think so.”
“I’ll lend it to you.”
“Save it. I don’t read lurid, plot-driven stuff, only character-based, non-linear narrative with no punctuation and pages and pages of interior monologue.”

Seems we’re only the second tier of snobbery, us genre fans (although I should point out that I don’t dismiss so-called literary stuff the same way I dismiss flavor-of-the-season stuff—maybe I don’t know my literary place or something.)

My point is this: we are right. The lit types and the pop-trash types on either side of us are wrong. It’s okay to say it out loud, even if it does isolate you. I for one would rather be isolated with readers with good taste than roaming amongst the herds who don’t get it.


  1. As a tenured faculty member in an English department that just added a superfluous MFA program while I was safely in another country, I am accustomed to sneers from pretty much everybody about something I write (and I write everything). I take no artificial pride in my peculiar reading/writing habits, but am delighted to find fellow travelers on occasion. But I would write without readers, too.

  2. The funny thing is, "snobs" and "elitists" are generally far more open to all kinds of experiences that don't come mass-produced and pre-digested. They are willing to take chances on the new and the unknown, the dismissed and the forgotten. And as for the hugely popular stuff, they've experienced plenty of that, too - how could they help it? - and they have a good sense of how to pick the gems out of the rubble. I don't really see any downside to being an elitist as long as one is pleasant about it. It's not (or shouldn't be) about expressing one's superiority; it's about making discriminations.

  3. Patrick said in one paragraph what it took me an entire post to say. Damnit.

  4. As much as we might look down on the "gray" books most of the people I know look down on what I read and write. Some of them seem to suggest it is better not to read (or write) novels (they don't) then to read/write "genre" fiction. The same people find nothing wrong with watching hours of sports and news and quasi-news shows, but if you ask them are they looking forward to BREAKING BAD, they give you a nasty look. Each of us has something we look down on and others who look down on us.

  5. I'm with Patti. I don't judge what other people like. I know people who are reading 50 Shades, I know people who like Dan Brown (ugh). Scoffing at what is popular is a ghetto mentality, and a waste of a writer's time.
    And I refuse to frequent any bookstore where the employees mock what someone reads, even if it's 50 Shades of Gray.

  6. I'm not endorsing mocking anyone. I'm saying that there is a difference between good writing and bad writing and most of the people I know are aware of the difference. I use the word "snob" with a somewhat broad definition, of course.

  7. Snobbery bugs me but I don't think you're actually talking about snobbery, since it's not class related or motivated by a desire to push people down, which is how I understand it. I think you're just talking about 'discernment' in terms of craft and style.

    It had occurred to me too that the role of these books could be similar to that of pulp fiction in the past. Mass market, lowbrow, salacious, call it what you want. However the difference is that the publishers of the Grey books (and the movie studios) are all marketing people in 2012, and they don't know or care how to edit the things and marry quality to quantity before they rush them onto the shelves.

    I had no opinion on these books until I was in Walmart's Oz equivalent the other day and saw not one but three Mums buying these books for their daughters, who looked around nine or ten. It's the new Twilight, but with bondage, grabbing the same market. You watch how many kids get this under their Christmas tree this year instead of Tom Sawyer. I don't mean this as prudish tut-tutting, I snuck a lot of illicit reading in as a kid and it didn't hurt me none, I just feel sad that this might be the only book that some kids get permission to devour this year.

    Loved your conclusion, I laughed up my cornflakes.

  8. I'm a book snob and I'd never deny it. But I also read literary fiction so I have sympathy for those who labor through some of the tedious twaddle that passes for such these days (although most people I know who read lit. fic. are actually pretty broad minded readers).

    I also think there's a place for the rubbish. The Harry Potter phenomenon was incredible. People who would never have thought about picking up a book were suddenly raving about reading like they'd invented it. Before that was Bridget Jones, and people who hadn't read a book since school were reminded how great reading can be, and carrying a novel with them everywhere. So these things are good for the culture of reading.

    But of course I'd never read the Hunger Games myself. Like you say, I can smell rubbish from 6 shelves away. If it gets my dad to read something without the SAS in it, then it's not all bad. But yes, I'm a snob.

  9. I work in a public library, I deal with this everyday. People look at you sideways when you try to tell them you have not read whatever it is they are checking out.

    I feel that I never read a bad book because I know what I love and pick authors and books that I know will be exactly what I want to read. I love digging around and finding new stuff but I've done some research and know this new stuff is what I want.

  10. I don't know how I feel on this topic. If someone likes something that others feel is trash, so be it. it is not for me to judge. I read all types of stuff including plenty of political books. I have been pretty active politically for years and have had similar arguments with hard core leftists over someone reading a mystery, or enjoying a movie or sports etc. I myself really enjoy sports even though my politics run well to the left, and by left I mean socialist, or anarchist, not liberal which is not much different than the right, at least as far as the major parties are concerned, but i digress...

    It is hard to get through the day and keep your senses.....if it is reading something considered junk or whatever, or going to a soccer game etc, so be it. We all need to have diversions of one kind or another and ultimately I don't really see the difference.

  11. This is precisely the situation I was in when we were doing the techno thing in the 1990s - me and my mates making cutting-edge, experimental techno, and in our circle this sounded like the coolest stuff in the world. And it was (and still is, to my ears!).
    Commercial techno and trance were our nemesis, beneath us, and we constantly rubbished them. And this stuff has indeed dated over time.
    But it sold by the truck-load, whereas we were lucky to sell a fistful of 12-inches.
    Also, at some stage, I realized that people actually enjoyed and loved this stuff. Ours could be a bit shirty and stand-offish, and pushed away the love.

  12. I don't know about the rest of you snobs, but I'm waiting for NAME OF LATEST BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL DESIGNED FOR NON-READERS BEFORE THE INEVITABLE MOVIE TIE-IN II: THE SEQUEL to come out.