LSS: Literary Snobbery Series, Whatnot
Comments 9

More Bits on Literary Snobbery

In the previous installment, roughghosts said this: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

No, that’s not the exact thing that the commenter said. I just wanted a literary reference, and that happens to be a famous line from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. If I were to put on my High Hat of Literary Snobbery, I would say that no, that’s the film talking, the text does not include the adverb, and did you even bother to read the book or did you just watch the film?

Anyway, when someones says the Rhett Butler line to point out that everything is fine as long as people are reading, should one be suspicious? Or are the members of the Anti-Snobbery League interpreting too much by saying that the statement translates to this: all you readers will be judged until your reading preferences become as good as mine?

There’s no escaping this. The literary snob always seems to be at the losing end. Two commenters, Louize and pjlimcaco, declassified me as a literary snob when I’ve already embraced it. The former says I just have an unmistakable palate, which could mean many things. I would like to think of it as having a very unique set of preferences. The latter said that my reading lists always put me in danger of coming off as a snob.

See that word, danger? That’s another point to the literary snob’s predicament.

Monique, another commenter, thinks it all really just boils down to preference. Should people take it against me if I prefer certain types of books? That’s the question she poses. More importantly, she says that it should work both ways.

But it doesn’t. Let me illustrate it with a real life example. My friends from the book club were exchanging books. I was a newbie then, and I felt that everyone was checking out what kind of books everyone is into. I exchanged my Anais Nin for a John Steinbeck. One of them (I am still friends with her, okay?) asked what I got for the exchange. I showed it to her. She read the title and said, “Oh, serious books.”

Nothing followed. Or should I have raged for being dismissed as a reader of serious books? If I ask someone to show me what he or she is reading and see that it’s The Hunger Games, would there be any guarantee that there will be no furor if I say, “Oh, some light reading, huh?”

Should we care if what we read varies in ‘brow?’ Tin, another commenter, quotes David Mitchell. Highbrow, middlebrow, lowbrow, one must not care so long as your internal organs find it amazing. I don’t care, I don’t give a damn. Whew, I think I just restarted this whole thing.

The definition of snob, from Merriam-Webster:

snob noun \ˈsnäb\

: someone who tends to criticize, reject, or ignore people who come from a lower social class, have less education, etc.

So who decides which social class a book should belong to? It is us, the readers, particularly the readers who care to share their thoughts about books. Sadly, from the looks of it, the more popular a book is, the more money it rakes in for its author, the lower its social class should be. Or so it seems. But then, people champion certain books so that they can be read by everyone. Should the class of these books be lowered once more readers get access to it and actually love it?

One of the snobbiest things that I did is when I declared that Stoner by John Williams, a great book, is already losing its shimmer because almost every critic on popular bookish sites is raving about it. I felt a pang of regret when I said that because it was something that I didn’t think about. Shouldn’t I be happy that more people are reading Stoner? I feel sad that not a lot of people have read Halldor Laxness and yet, what was that sentiment about Stoner?

I have promised to myself not to do that again. I think I haven’t.

: one who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors

Kristel, a commenter, has this to say on reading tastes. She thinks that people who are still trying to form their own cultural tastes, especially when they are young, have a tendency to choose a side and try to define themselves by dismissing the types of art that they do not like. She hopes that this tendency disappears, although she’s fairly sure that it doesn’t in some people.

Aren’t we at times quick to judge people? Don’t we all have this tendency to wage a war when tastes are concerned? Haven’t we seen people sneering at postmodern lovers and declare that postmodernism is long dead? Haven’t we witnessed two camps of young adult readers bashing each other to death?

De gustibus non est disputandum? Phooey. What is worth talking about then when taste is not involved? Kristel quoted an NPR podcast episode: good taste is what you can passionately defend. And differences in taste can go a long, long way.

: one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior

Again, we have a question of who. Who elevates books to superiority? But isn’t the act of assigning a book to what is tantamount to social superiority or inferiority an act of snobbery? Where is the line drawn between judging a book’s superiority and expressing an opinion for it? Let’s take 50 Shades of Grey as an example. Let’s say we’ve read it and didn’t like it. How do we go about saying this in a nonsnobbish way? How do we reject it?

How about Ulysses? Let’s say we have slowly read it twice in a row and we fell in love with it. How do we champion it without sounding like a fake? How do we go about saying that it’s a great book without seeming like we just read it so that we would appear smarter, or superior?

I guess if we judge books right away based on popularity, reputation, other people’s opinions, and its readers, that would be snobbery. Perhaps the best way to do this is to look at the book’s elements. Yes, it boils down to that. Judge the words: the grammar, sentence construction, diction. Judge the characterization. The plot, the setting. The conflict, the themes. The use of literary devices. And if we can handle it, research a bit on the author’s life to get some context.

Do this with a sound judgment mixed with your style and taste. In doing so, one cannot be faulted for the practice of snobbery. This is actually the art of literary criticism. Or book reviewing, if you prefer not sounding like a snob. So long as it’s objective criticism, one is good to go. If you’re still viewed as a snob, then it’s their problem.

: one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste

Perhaps the issue materializes when one tries to quantify good taste or create a set of criteria that will qualify it. Not everyone can be pleased, so one can only imagine what reactions there will be when one’s tastes are regarded as inferior. This could be true if one has feelings of insecurity.

But so what if Danielle Steel can’t calm your tits? I didn’t care that my high school classmate was reading Charles Dickens and I was reading just another love story. I wanted to talk to her about the sex scenes, but she would not listen because she was too involved with Dickens. I was Steel’s slave in high school until I realized that I had too much. It’s time to try other authors, other books.

It’s not that I regard Steel as inferior. It’s just that I learned that reading works for me if there is variety. I guess I have a lot to thank her for because reading her novels taught me that. Repetition sucks if it’s not done in style. So I read a lot of short story anthologies. It’s like reading a sampling of writers with various styles. From then on, I became wary of what is popular. You know what they say about popular things. I developed my set of criteria with no regard to what the majority likes. I became rather picky. My reading palate craved for unique books.

I guess nobody saw the literary snob in me spreading its wings.


This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).

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9 Comments

  1. You caught my attention with my name in the opening line. I had to go back and refresh my mind about what I didn’t give a damn about. My comment was really aimed at those I used to work with, supposed professionals with very limited world views. On leave right now I am getting ready for a major literary festival in my city next month where I will be volunteering with and meeting lots of book lovers.

    Your comments about Stoner remind me of how when I was younger and REM had a hit song after being this independent college rock band for years, cool because they were not on commercial radio. Suddenly everyone was listening to them but we purists saw that as a sell out not a sign that maybe something a little different could become popular.

    One thing I like about being over 50 is that I truly don’t give a damn. I like what I like.

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    • So I guess you didn’t really care about Losing My Religion? I was a kid when it was popular.

      I will try to look back when I hit the 50s and see if I can say that for myself. The fact that I’m writing about this could mean that I do.

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  2. Monique says

    Perhaps you could have asked her what she meant by “serious books”? :) This recalls to mind an incident where one of the other younger members (who is now inactive by the way, has gained a small reputation back then as a YA girl and writes no-holds-barred reviews) said that only “weirdos” read classics. I stand by my earlier opinion that this whole thing works both ways: those “weirdos” or readers of “serious books” could just as easily say, “Oh look at those weirdos who read mindless books. They’re so silly.” Yes, we do judge peremptorily, but perhaps some people are just more vocal than others?

    This entire discourse prompted me to wonder, am I a literary snob? Because look, I enjoy reading all kinds of books from different genres: literary, fantasy, classics, YA, etc. But there are just certain books I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, based on reviews of people whose taste in books I trust. Case in point: 50 Shades of Gray. Would that make me a snob if I say I don’t plan or wish to read it if it were the last book on earth, because all the reviews I trust discourage me to? I’m the kind of reader who picks up a lot of her prospective readings from friends’ recommendations/reviews, and over the years I have learned which people to ask if I want to read something that belongs to a particular genre. If I build a preference based on these trusted recommendations, would people judge me for it? Should they?

    Do you want to clip those wings, or are you giving your inner literary snob the freedom to fly? :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, but That Girl is crazy! Haha! Yeah, I remember that she said that. I think it’s even in her reviews. You’ve made your point clearer. It totally slipped off my mind. It’s hard to see what’s on the other side when I am yards away from the fence.

      I guess your case is understandable because you make decisions based on reviews. That is perfectly fine because that’s what book reviews are for. The people you trust, I trust, couldn’t all be snobs if they have different preferences. It would be different if you exclusively pick on snobs’ recommendations.

      I’m still not sure what to do with my wings. I’ll answer next time.

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  3. Ditto to all Monique’s comment. :)
    Let’s be honest here. I don’t read half of what you are reading, and you don’t read half of what I’m reading. You don’t comment on my genre preferences, even if it is as stretched out as Farewell Spit; and I don’t comment on the lists you are following. Do we call each other snob then? NO, of course not, because we respect each others’ choices. It’s called “letting people be”. LOL
    Speaking of wings, I have a good photo op in mind! ❤

    Like

    • It boils down to respecting each other’s preferences then. And hmm, where can the photo op be? I’m suddenly reminded of the short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by GGM. If it’s me, it’ll be like A Very Twinky Dude with Fabulous Wings, hahaha!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Angus. I am guilty of being judgmental of other people’s reading preferences. But as my reading preferences widen, I see a shift from genre to literary. I still enjoy reading old favorites now and then but I am also enjoying my exploration of literary fiction. This is when I start to realize that we all grow as readers and maybe I should also give others the chance to grow and/or explore other genres? And in the meantime allow them to enjoy the books they want to read at the moment?

    The rule is told: Do unto others what you want others to do unto you. This might be true.

    Re the wings: Let’s spread them out, yes? There’s nothing more liberating than being able to fly when we want to. :)

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    • Yay! Yes, I’m ready to spread my wings and prepare to fly and I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky hahaha!

      Seriously, you have a point there. Readers go through a sort of transition or exploration sooner or later. It’s as natural as growing up.

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