I was on Facebook the other day and saw a couple of my friends commenting on a video featuring a lovely song that was arranged beautifully. My friends were commenting about how they disliked one of the singer's voices. I listened to the song and was annoyed at how snobbish they were being. I actually wrote a comment that said, "Have you guys ever thought about all the great things you're missing by being snobs?"
Thankfully, I took a moment before I published the (quite rude) comment to think about the hypocrisy of it.
I may not be a music snob, but I'm certainly a snob about other things. Especially when it comes to literature. I'm not super well-read by any means, but as an English major and a classics lover, I've started to let my love for (what I consider to be) the best literature drift over to snobbery about the average books.
So I started thinking: Is it a bad thing to be a literary snob? (I kind of think it is.) Are there levels of snobbery, and can I just be sort of a low-level snob? (Enter justification.) And perhaps most importantly: Am I missing out on great literature by being too much of a snob?
Part of me says no. After all, there are way too many good books in the world for me to ever read them all, so as long as I'm reading good books as often as I can (whether they're classics or not), then even if I am missing a lot of other good books, it's inevitable anyway. Right?
But another part me says that yes, I am missing out. I'm limiting myself from exploring genres I don't typically read, like sci-fi and kidlit. I may be reading good books all the time, but I'm not necessarily expanding my experience. I'm not being a well-rounded reader, and I can only relate to a certain number of people.
I've had somewhat of an epiphany: Snobbery is just a cheap way to feel better about ourselves.
Even if I do read a sci-fi book or two and don't love it, that doesn't mean I have to scorn people who do. (Even inwardly.) So, a lot of people like YA. What's wrong with that? Sure, there are things I don't like about it, but I don't have to make snap judgments about people who enjoy the genre. I don't have to think I'm somehow better than them. I can just accept that they enjoy different kinds of books than I do. What other people read doesn't lessen my reading experience.
What do you think? Is there merit in literary snobbery (or do you have a nicer name you like to call it)?
Tricky business. On the one hand, I'm anti-snobbery. There are a lot of things to like and no, it doesn't hurt you that others like them. IMO you are in fact missing out if you're skipping all of SF/fantasy, mysteries, children's or YA because they are 'lesser' books. There are wonderful, amazing, life-changing books and ideas in all of those places. (There are literary classics in all of those places too, even.)ReplyDelete
OTOH, I don't like the idea that all literature is equal and there is no such thing as quality. Gossip Girl is never going to be Edith Wharton, and there is a difference.
That said, for the most part I prefer to err on the side of everybody getting to enjoy what they want. Disdaining everything that isn't on a fairly imaginary list of The Best Books is only going to hurt the person missing out on all the fun. And all of us need a little brain candy now and then!
In that homeschooling group blog I've mentioned recently, I've written a piece I've called "In Defense of Twaddle." So you know where I stand. :D
Great points. I've struggled with the "literary equality" thing myself. But I like the idea of accepting certain books (not entire genres) as brain candy, and also accepting that brain candy is okay.Delete
I do want to expand my horizons, but it's hard when there are SO MANY books that actually sound really interesting to me that I still have yet to read. Realizing how much is out there that I haven't read is hard! I just need to read faster! Ha, ha. But I do want to explore all the genres I have largely been missing out on. And take some of the SF/fantasy suggestions that you and others gave me! :)
I have been working to become less of a literary snob. In fact, my hubby and I just had a discussion yesterday where I admitted that for many years, I refused to read books by authors whose books are sold at Walmart. But then I got into the Harry Potter and Eragon books, and discovered they were quite good. So now I don't avoid an author just because their books are sold at Walmart.ReplyDelete
But I still remain very wary of any popular modern books. I have this inner prejudice that insists that if something is wildly popular with everyone, it can't be good. Unfortunately, it's so often true that I still avoid popular books. However, if someone I trust recommends a book that also happens to be popular, I will try it on their recommendation.
So the only true literary snobbery I practice comes in two forms: I will not read bodice rippers (though that's mostly a moral issue), and I will not read any book that makes me spend more time thinking about how I could edit it to make it readable than I spend paying attention to the story. Those books I set down in disgust.
I have a weird prejudice when it comes to the Harry Potter books (and similar books, like possibly The Hunger Games). On one hand, I like them. On the other, it bothers me that so many people seem to believe that they are the best books ever written. I really don't get that. Maybe that's part of where my literary snobbery comes in. It's not so much that I don't read those books or think that people shouldn't, it's just that I can't accept them as the greatest books of all time, and I don't think anyone should. So when people tell me that their favorite book is Harry Potter (and that they love to read), I often wonder what kind of books they've been spending their time with.Delete
What I probably need to do is stop criticizing others for supposedly not being well-read when I personally am not well-read. I have a similarly small amount of reading experience, it's just been spent on different books.
I like the way you do it. Take book recommendations no matter how popular the book is, and only completely avoid books that offend you morally.
IME if you're not a book person, it's not easy to expand outside "books sold at Walmart" even if you love to read. I'm not sure that was a very clear sentence, but I mean if you don't have someone supplying you with a wide variety of great books, HP might indeed be the best thing you ever read. There is plenty of medium-level, reasonably decent stuff to read that is easier to find and to read than the best books.Delete
When my kids were tiny, a friend of mine (a teacher) with equally tiny kids commented that she never knew what to get her son at the library. The sheer size of the place overwhelmed her, and so she stuck to what she knew, which was Thomas the Tank Engine books. This is a really common thing, which is why, in library school, we learned that a box or trough labeled "Good Books" is a great tool for helping people find a book--it's a manageable amount to deal with.
There is plenty of medium-level, reasonably decent stuff to read that is easier to find and to read than the best books.Delete
This is why I'm so excited by the way that Target is now carrying a selection of classics for $3 or $4 in their bargain section. I picked up The Scarlet Pimpernel there, and they also had a whole lot of books I already had, like a couple of Jane Austen books, something by Mark Twain, and I think Jane Eyre. I'm tempted to buy copies of books I already have, just to support this! I wish Walmart would do the same, bring literature to the masses instead of just selling NYT notables and Chicken Soup for the Chicken-Lover's Soul.
For what it's worth, I believe that - as in all sphères - there are books for everyone, for every moment, for every need. Personally, I love the classics. They are my first choice. I cherish reading them. Yet there are classics I don't like. And similarly, I've recently been introduced to classics I didn't think I'd ever read, and loved them. Still, there are moments I need "lighter" reading, chicklit, John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer et al, children's books. I love that there are books for all our needs. Isn't it great that people read? Full stop? My biggest snobbery - which I'm really trying to work on - is in regard to people who don't read. Ever. Anything. Really trying not to categorise and judge them. It's their choice. But seriously - how is that possible???!! ;0)ReplyDelete
I know what you mean! And for all my own snobbery, I read plenty of the fluffy books myself (hypocrisy much?). It used to absolutely shock me when people I considered intelligent told me they didn't like to read, or simply didn't read at all. It was hard for me to even imagine an existence like that. Then I got married to a person who hardly ever reads! Thankfully, he's not completely against it, he's just not the curl-up-with-a-book type. I keep trying to get him to read. We enjoy reading aloud to each other, though.Delete
Gosh that sounds rather romantic! You may be helping to soften my snobbery just there...Delete
Wow! That DOES sound romantic! My hubby and I used to sing songs to each other back when we were dating, but I don't think we've ever read books aloud to each other.Delete
My dad reads theological books and history books by the ton, but he does not read novels. Has no interest in them. I find that very odd.
The thing I don't like about literary snobbery is that it always gives me the feeling that I don't enjoy the "right" books. I'm just not very into most classics, and I know that they're classics for a reason and they must be very good, but it's just not what I want to read! And I do love to read. Sometimes I force myself through a classic that I don't really enjoy just because I feel like I'm supposed to be getting something out of it that never comes. I'd be more comfortable if the prevailing opinion were that different people like different things, and I didn't feel pressure to like the things that the snobs have declared to be the best.ReplyDelete
I think it's only actually snobbery if you're openly judging others about what they read. What you read is your own business.ReplyDelete
Good point; I just wish it were that easy to separate the two. If I choose not to read a book because it doesn't seem good enough for me, then it's pretty hard not to unfairly judge others who read that book.Delete