Last week, I had an offline chat with one of our friends. We discussed what we have discussed at the two previous installments. Please don’t think of it as a loony idea because online and offline conversations are different and therefore, have different results.
I told her (okay, it’s Kristel) that I’m doing this series on literary snobbery because of something ambitious. I will reveal the reason later because it is less exciting than what we have discussed. I wish I had a tape recorder so that I wouldn’t have the sad trouble of recalling the details of our conversation. But then, we would have been conscious of the things that we were saying and I would have uploaded the recording instead as an amateur podcast episode.
We tried to identify the kinds of literary snobs. I have addressed this in my questionnaire, in one question. I admit that I should have expanded on it, but during that moment, it didn’t interest me to name them because I think that snobs operate on the same ground. They limit their reading lists to period, nationality, acclaim, et cetera, in the belief that this is what would constitute great literature. They only read ancient texts, nonfiction, translations, et cetera. Their “great literature” is limited to these, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing because we have different definitions. On the contrary, it’s interesting to find out what their criteria are, what ticks them off, what biases and prejudices they have, et cetera. It’s a topic for a great conversation, so long as there is no condescension involved.
But why do snobs aspire to read only great literature? Now this is a complicated question because there are so many things to consider and they can be very personal. So let me answer that for myself. When I was in college, I was a Pulitzer snob. I was, and still am, a slow reader so I wanted to make sure that the time I spend on reading is worth it. I no longer wanted to read the books that I read in high school. I felt that a literary prize would qualify a book as something that wouldn’t be a waste. The award didn’t matter; I could have picked the Booker Prize or the Hugo Award or the Newbery Medal. It was really a matter of chance. The day I decided that, I saw around five Pulitzer Prize winners at the book store I was at.
I only read and bought Pulitzers. When I gained a considerable number of Pulitzers, I decided to expand and include other literary prizes. Then I added works by Nobel laureates. Then I checked out those Top 100 lists. Then I joined a book club and made friends. Then I considered their recommendations. And here I am. I didn’t end up in a bad state. It’s not so bad. And oh, would you believe that I am considering getting a Kindle because I so want to read a lot of new books? Our local book stores can’t be really counted on regarding that, but yeah, I guess I kind of surprised myself when I wondered if I should get the Kindle Paperwhite or the Kindle Voyage. Any thoughts from the eReading friends out there?
After all that time basing my reading on a combination of prize-winners and lists, I learned to set my definition of great literature. I’ll put it simply: when I tell myself upon finishing a book that someday, when I have time, I’m going to reread this, that’s my great literature. It no longer has to be something of great reputation, for I have learned that I should not feel bad if I didn’t like “canon” works. This thought has nagged me before. It has taken me some time to reconcile my conflicting feelings on this matter. Although I never pretended to like what I didn’t like, I still felt silly and stupid for not liking them. But what the hell, I’m kind of over it. Goodbye, Henry Miller.
So what else have Kristel and I discussed? A lot of things. We even talked of using certain books as barometers to measure the literariness of other works, but this is merely specifying what I have already iterated above regarding great literature.
Because I could no longer recall other specifics of our conversation, here’s why I’ve introduced the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS). I’m going to have to give you a background. Too much suspense, I know, but anyway, I had coffee with a friend, one of my kind, and a local writer. We were talking of the books that we were excited to read. We chorused The Bone Clocks. Sadly, I still don’t have a copy of David Mitchell’s latest. Our bookish talk went elsewhere until the local writer suggested that we list our 100 books for the snob. Why? According to her, and I have to agree, it’s because lists attract responses. We chose snobbish books merely because we like them. The writer even offered to put our lists in a section of her blog.
That was all in passing but it stuck with me. I am not hoping for added publicity. In fact, I’m scared of creating this list because it seems like a daunting responsibility. But hey, why not put up the list for the fun of it? Literary critics have put up lists and made a lot of readers follow them. I’m following four of these lists myself, and it would be fun to show my list to people who bother about lists.
One thing is for sure. This is not an attempt to outsnob other snobs, so to speak. I would even like to call it an introduction of sorts to literary snobbery (i.e. my recommendations). With so many books to choose from, I worked on some guidelines. Here they are:
- I should have read the book and at least liked it. Look, we can name a lot of books that are so snobby but we probably would not read. What’s the point in that? So yeah, this list is a list that I could truly call my own, although it wouldn’t necessarily include all my super favorite books.
- I would limit the list to novels, novellas, and short story collections written or translated to English. Prose fiction, yeah. I’m still wondering if I should include published drama or plays, and poetry collections. I haven’t read a lot of those though. The problem I see here is that because of the differences of prose, play, and poetry in form, they are not in an equal playing field and therefore must be in separate lists. What do you think?
- I would only include one book per author. This is tough. But yeah, there must be constraints and I enjoy working around them anyway. For the affected authors, I would choose the book that I think is the snobbiest, according to the snob-meter.
- I am still in the process of finalizing my formula for the snob-meter, so the inaugural list will probably have eyebrow-raising numbers. That said, the list is going to be ranked.
- I still can’t decide if I should only include works that are published in at least two countries. If yes, most local works will be excluded. But then, I haven’t read a lot of local works. What do you think?
- The list is going to be revised by the end of each year. December looks like a good month for revision and it would be something that I’ll look forward to at the end of each reading year.
The inclusion and exclusion of the books on this list are largely based on my understanding and definition of great literature. Also, if you don’t see the books that you think should be on the list, please reread the first three guidelines. You may even point them out to me and who knows, I might include them in my to-read list.
But hey, don’t look at it too hard in that snobby way. Look at it as a recommendation list from yours truly. I’ll post the entries in batches of ten until I complete the list by December.
This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).