Monday, September 2, 2013

I'm Not A Book Snob, I Just Play One On the TV

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post for Book Riot called Shit Book Snobs Say: Translations that got the most comments on anything I've ever written about books, ever, in all the years I've been doing it- and that includes the most vitriolic and offensive/defensive silliness that's ever been directed at me. I'm a misandrist! I'm a reverse racist who hates white people! I'm a reverse snob!

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I totally cop to saying almost all the things in that post over my evolution as a reader, and while I can say that I've reached a fairly non-snobby place, I still have a few weak spots. You'll never catch me saying that there's no objective standard to the quality of literature. I still believe, and will probably permanently believe, that there are recognizable markers that differentiate good books (or any form of art) from the bad. Where I draw the line is at saying that people who read bad books are stupid, or lazy, or are destroying civilization, or whatever. People like what they like and that's fine.

But no matter how democratic I become, and no matter how much time passes, there are still times when I will reflexively and harshly judge a person's reading taste. And those times mostly have to do with The Great Gatsby and Anna Karenina

This is where my remaining snobbishness kicks into high gear: if you tell me that you just haatteee certain books because they're soooo boorrrinnnggg, and we don't have an established relationship with enough depth to counteract that, we're probably not going to be friends.

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Jokes. Mostly. Mostly jokes.

See, for reasons I don't understand, I take it personally when people say they hated those books because those books represent themes or values or general LIFE STUFF that are deeply important to me- the silliness of the American Dream, the value of an epic story about the weakness of people, the inability to repeat the past, etc., etc., blah blah blah. I've internalized certain books. I've written them on my skin. So when strangers proclaim dismissive disdain for them, I take it to mean that they value/prioritize different things than I do and that the relationship probably isn't worth pursuing. Sort of like how I'm probably not going to be best friends with someone new if I find out their favorite book is Atlas Shrugged. (This isn't to say I'm going to be rude or in any way express these mostly-irrational judgements to people- I'm just not investing in being your bestie, ya dig?)

I meet and befriend people all the time who aren't readers, or who love to read books I have no interest in, or who love books I've read that I thought were offensively bad. I've overcome making value judgements about those people. You read (or don't) what you want. You do you.

Just don't tell me how that you think Lolita is just pornography.


  1. See, I'm not so bothered when people are like, I hated Gatsby because Reasons. It's when they're like, Oh, I hated it because of all the WORDS.

    I can disagree with other readers and still like them. I can like people who don't read but understand that it might be an enjoyable pastime for others. It's the 'Why would you spend your vacation READING' people that I file away mentally in a cabinet I can't really reach without a stepladder.

    1. If people are like, I hated Gatsby because of his incorrect use of metaphor or some shit that's legitimate (not that his use of metaphor IS incorrect, but that SOUNDS legit and we can at least have a conversation about how you're wrong) I'm all, you're wrong but we can still hang. But when they're all it's just so loonnnggg and boorrrinnng and who caaarrreeesss I'm like, huh. You're a moron.

    2. Anyone who argues that Gatsby is "so loonggg" is indeed a moron, as it's a pretty short book. And Lolita is my favorite book, so I think we're cool ;)

  2. I've been wanting to reread Gatsby, as I think I was too young to get it in high school. I mean, this is a book, presumably, about the impossibility and the falseness of the American Dream, but in school, you are having it pound into your head to work hard! be successful! get ahead! at every turn. I missed the point and get ended up dissatisfied.

    I was a bit Lolita fan, and then I watched Nabokov talk about some of the different covers and got freaked the eff out.

  3. I loved that book riot post because I do the same things... oops haha!

    I work in a bookshop in Australia, and I often get people who come in asking for recommendations, so I show them my favourite books in the store at that time, and when they say "That sounds boring" or they pick something up that I was a bit meh about, it wounds me haha! But you have to separate yourself from it a little because like you said, people are going to like what they are going to write. But I am super glad that you love Gatsby and Anna Karenina that much because the idea of having internalized the stories, written them on your skin etc is beautiful and inspiring.

  4. I missed your post in BookRiot, so I went back to read it now, along with many, but not all, of the comments. Also had to look up misandry. Huh.

    I think your humor was spot-on in your post, both penetrating and self-deprecating. Tone was just right.

    Naw, Lolita ain't just pornography. It's disturbing shit--perhaps the most disturbing book I've ever read. What Vanity Fair said about it was terrible* and offensive in just about every way, but the book itself? No.

    (They said it was "the only convincing love story of our century," as proclaimed on the cover of the Vintage Classics edition that I own.)

  5. The person who called you a "reverse racist" did a great job of showing their lack of intelligence / critical thinking skills with just that one comment. Enough said. Heh.

  6. As long as people are reading I don't really care what they read. I can be plenty snobbish at times though, I'll read a book just so I have the right to moan about it.

    I can understand being protective of what you love, I feel the same way about Ford Madox Ford.

    Unless it sparks some sort of literal war, let people read what they enjoy.

  7. I'm working on not being a book snob. Really. I am. I have almost come to the "as long as they're reading" point in my life.

    What really gets me is when someone says to me they "can't find anything to read." I will die with a to-read list about 200 books long, as my to-read list has consistently hovered around that number despite reading about 60 books a year. So when I hear someone complain about it and I see that they're checking out the same authors they've always checked out and "their" authors don't write fast enough for them, it pains me to know that they just don't want to explore a little bit.

    It's been a tough road, but I'm confident I'll get to the promised land! I loved your post on BookRiot - funny as hell.

  8. I read this post the other day that was basically someone taking allll the points you made in the book snob post and going 'I don't think this makes me a snob, I just hate that.' etc, and I was like 'oh my goddddddddddd, does no one have a sense of humour anymore?' The answer is apparently no (or people don't like their snobby activities being pointed out to them. Whatevs, people.)

    I pretty much agree with Raych's definition of who she can be friends with- I don't even need my friends to read a lot (I have folk on the internet for that kind of thing) but I CAN'T be doing with people who are like 'ughhhhh, reading is so BORING' because NO.

  9. I've been called a book snob by people who don't like the books I like. The same people call me a book snob when I don't like the books they like. It seems the only way to not be a book snob is to say you like everything. I'd rather be a book snob.

  10. Misandry was on Jeopardy yesterday.
    Never heard that word in my life and now twice in a 24 hour period.

    It's the end of the world I tell ya'

  11. Anna Karenina was a great book ... until Part Eight when Levin finds his "goodness" in faith yet never sheds a tear for dead Anna. Religion without compassion? In my opinion, Tolstoy put too much of himself into Levin (see Tolstoy's, "A Confession") and so the book ends as a product of Tolstoy's piety and even as a sign of the times (misogyny).