Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Salon #5 -- Book Snobbery

This Sunday, I'm in the middle of reading several books, including the second book in Sharon Lathan's Pride and Prejudice follow up, Loving Mr. Darcy. I started reading it down at the beach yesterday, and sure enough, could hardly put it down. I'm also reading The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer, and Good Luck by Whitney Gaskell. Each one is really good, so I suppose I'll soon be picking them off one at a time.

I've been thinking...

As for the real musings of the day, I wanted to post a few of my thoughts about a thing I call "Book Snobbery," if only to get them off my chest. This week, another great book blogger was targeted with a slightly nasty comment about the book and review she'd written. The short of the comment was that the book she enjoyed, wasn't a true piece of "history" and should be changed to "historical romance." Come to find out, this commenter also had a "BA" in English and wanted to drum up readers for his more "accurate" novel. The entire experience of reading that comment really set me off, in a bad way, as most of my career I've had to defend reading material. The strangest part of all this defending is because it usually comes from other readers! For instance, when I was in graduate school, getting my MA in English (Cultural Studies), there was always an air of superiority going on if you were reading the essays of Michel de Montaigne, or one of a number of famous, British classics. Now, it's understandable to resent someone else if they are reading something that is conceived easier than what you're currently struggling through; however, it was when someone would turn their nose up at your admitting to enjoying lighter, more bestseller fare. Another for instance here would be the Harry Potter novels. One of the last two came out right as I was finishing up my degree and getting ready to move home. OF COURSE I had it ready to be delivered to my house on the day it came out. OF COURSE! A few people would own up to reading something like Harry Potter (mainly because we had a HP scholar teaching in our department, who was highly respected), but a portion of my classmates made fun of such trivial reading material. Forget me mentioning that I'd read The DaVinci Code over one of my school breaks!

My point here is that people like to categorize books, and often do that in a way that then denigrates the readers of those books as somehow not very smart, not as advanced, or as with the case of the blogger above, not as educated (which is ironic, because she is very educated). One of my YA lit. professors when I was an undergrad was a published author, and yet admitted to hiding his YA fiction reading material when he traveled. Parents of my students constantly question my choices of novels and plays. On one end, Don Quijote is considered by a parent to be too hard and not applicable to their lives (for AP?), while on the other, The Scarlet Letter is too amoral and teaches adultery to young adults. Okay, so parental concerns are a bit different than snobbery, but you can see where my sensitivity over book defense starts. Sigh.

So, here's my question. Why the book snobbery? Why judge the YA readers, or romance readers, or folks who enjoy vampire stories? Doesn't reading allow us a wide range and variety, and who can say that just because someone enjoys children's literature or bestsellers, that they're not well read or "smart" in some way? Let's not even get into the historical "fiction" debate. Sigh. In the end, I just can't wrap my head around the way people use a person's reading materials and choices to judge them. We all have our likes and dislikes, and as a person who loves to read a wide variety of books, I can't see why people use their book snobbery to tear someone else down.

Have you ever felt snubbed or judged by someone because of what you were reading, or because you loved a particular book?


  1. I remember reading that comment. It was pretty insulting to the blogger and all the people who enjoy historical fiction. It's not like sex and love was invented yesterday. People in the past where up to their necks in it. Why not make it part of the story? Sheesh!

    Considering how it's hard to get anyone to pick up a book these days, no one should look down on someone who is reading. It doesn't matter what they're reading. Some of the smartest people in the world read romance. So what?

    Great topic!

  2. I must admit that before I started blogging I read very little YA and middle grade fiction. Honestly, I guess I didn't realize that as an adult I could get away with reading these great stories. But everybody else was doing it, so why not me? It's been like a huge love affair. I can't get enough!

  3. I couldn't agree with you more and posted a little snippet about it too today. I am weary of this kind of snobbery. I don't really know why some people have to make themselves feel better based on feeling that whatever they read or write is superior to someone else. Read what you want!

    I believe people connect to books in different ways. You know?

  4. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, too, mainly because there has been so many issues with book snobbery this week! I haven't had much problems with book snobbery personally. I know a lot (mostcough) of the books I read and love aren't Great Literature, but I don't really like "literature" that much. So who cares? I read for my own enjoyment, not to reinforce someone else's idea of what should be in books.

    Usually it's the people who are most insecure about their intelligence and their lit cred that attack people who read genre novels. I also think romance is attacked so much because it's a predominantly female genre (like the blogger who yelled at this week for bringing her romance novel into a "family-friendly" gym).

  5. Nick Hornby had a great line in his last collection of columns:
    "I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or dangerous criminal..."

    I totally agree with that! :)

    I went to a liberal arts college that had its share of pretentious/snooty kids. However, I was judged much more for my music/movie taste than books (while I'm not a book snob, my reading tends to meet with their approval). I don't know if I'm just weird, but I let comments like that roll off my back, or I mock the person until they're ashamed of themselves. :p

    A lot of our current classics, like War and Peace and Les Mis, are historical fiction. And almost any classic you can name has love and romance in it! So I think people are revealing their own ignorance when they start talking about 'genre fiction.'

    And I think that's all I have to say on the topic! :)

  6. *ahem* Okay, apparently back in the HP high days I could be a bit of a book snob... I do apologize for that, even though none of you knew me then! I never said people were uneducated for reading it, I just couldn't understand WHY people were reading it... I guess I hurt peoples' feelings without even knowing I was doing it.

    And, you know, if I read a book with what I consider a 'romance' cover... I won't read it in public. I think it is a lot more about stereotypes than snobbery, though. I don't read straight romance, but there are assumptions that women ONLY read romance, so I am more likely to read fantasy or science-fiction in public to show that people are wrong.

    Young adult is another thing. I scorned it for years because I didn't like young adult books when I was a young adult. I read a lot more of it now, especially this year, but it took me a while to accept that there was good young adult novels out there that adults would want to read.

    I know in high school it was worse. I switched high schools half way through, so I wanted to fit the norm... I am a lot more easy-going with age, but I still have issues. (Yes, I still don't get the J.K. Rowling thing, but I keep my mouth mostly shut. Stephenie Meyer is becoming another one.)

  7. What a great post. I am not a fan of book snobbery at all - I think as long as people are reading whatever it is that they enjoy the fact that people are reading is the main thing! I think I have fairly varied tastes in my reading - I like to give everything a go at least once - everyone should feel free to read what they want!

  8. I think it was almost more annoying because in some ways I am a snob. I do prefer my historical fiction to be based on fact and not too outrageous. I know what is good history and what is bad history. But I don't look down on the people who enjoy those books nor the authors that write them. My taste =/= everyone's taste and that's just fine. I don't really understand why people are snobs about what others are reading. As long as they ARE reading, who cares?

    I got a lot of negative attention in high school for reading romance novels, so I didn't read them at all in college. I'm more comfortable with myself and what I like now, so I have no problem talking about them. There should definitely not be a stigma attached to certain genres and it's just frustrating.

  9. That was a great post! I haven't read much YA fiction yet, but I will be doing a review in a couple of months for a YA author. I've heard so many good things about this genre that I am really looking forward to it. I think that most of us read for the enjoyment of a story so why not read what we like? Everyone is different-and that is something that I think helps to make us better people-embracing each others differences.

  10. "Most of my career I've had to defend reading material. The strangest part of all this defending is because it usually comes from other readers!"

    Sigh, story of my life. English departments are not friendly places for unapologetic fantasy fans :/ Or comic books fans. Some people can't decide which of the two is my greatest sin :P

    All this to say...I deal with snobbery on a daily basis and I'm sick of it. I guess people belittle others for their reading taste for different reasons. Because they like to feel superior, because they're insecure and want to appear smart, because they've always been told that certain types of books are bad and never stopped to think and question it, etc. I believe that not all reasons are malicious, but in any case, it gets tiresome.

  11. I was just inspired by your post and by the post by Sassymonkey to write my own post about my own personal book snobbery. I'd love it if you'd read it and give me your opinion. Thanks!

  12. Great post! I don't approve of book snobbery myself. While I've never been interested in pure romance (well, there are exceptions), I would never look down on anyone who does. In the same way I wouldn't want anyone to look down on me for loving YA and fantasy. Both my sisters are historical romance readers but we all respect one another's reading choices. I love Harry Potter but don't like Twilight, but those are my own preferences. I can't expect others to feel the same as I do on anything else, much less books. I have a really good friend who loathes pretty much all my favourite titles. She's a chick lit fan and I can't stand reading chick lit. But we're still in the best of terms and just accept each other's different preferences. I hope we can all be that way in the book blogging world. Respect for whatever we enjoy reading. Thanks for this eye-opening post!

  13. I remember a bumper sticker that said 'people who read comic books read'. That's what its aal about

  14. that was 'all'.

  15. Great post, Becky. I've been on both sides of the fence and it seems there is no winning. Really, I just want to read what I want to read. I like to read a lot of literature--current and classics and people tell me that I'm too "high brow" Or that what I read goes over their heads and so there's no point of talking about books with me. Nevermind that one of my favorite books is Bridget Joneses Diary--not very high brow if you ask me. It annoys me when people label ME as a book snob. But then on the other side of the fence, I don't like the strange looks I get when I'm reading a graphic novel or a Discworld novel or YA. It's sad when we have to defend our reading choices.