Book snobbery

Does it matter what you read? As long as, that is, you read at all. In this case, we’re considering reading fiction and reading for pleasure – or for leisure, rather than explicitly for educational purposes.

We’re probably all aware of the phenomenon of the book snob, generally describing those who not only scorn ‘popular’ genres for themselves, but also would sneer at people who enjoy mainstream fiction.

Personally, I look at reading and fiction as a sort of wardrobe of options. Just as there are different clothing items to suit different seasons, weathers, moods, and occasions, so it is the same with books. I am happy to read through a variety of literary, middle-brow, and popular fiction at various times according to my varying disposition. I think many others are the same.

In any case, a distinction between popular and literary fiction is arguably false and something of a publishers’ marketing exercise. And a relatively recent marketing tactic at that. How does one even create definitions? Literary fiction has been described as, variously, character-driven, realistic, complex, more likely to engage the mind, and, most unhelpfully of all, ‘serious’ – whatever that means. Popular or genre fiction, then, gets described as plot-driven, simplistic, less likely to engage or enhance the mind, trivial… Some of these descriptions work. Sort of. Sometimes. But they are clearly limited. We know, of course, there are plot-heavy literary novels, hard issues addressed in certain popular works, and so on.

In response to book snobbery, novelist and journalist Matt Haig noted the universality and importance of story-telling, that ‘The greatest stories appeal to our deepest selves, the parts of us snobbery can’t reach… Stories, at their essence, are enemies of snobbery. And a book snob is the enemy of the book.’ If you need a response to anyone disparaging your choice of fiction, you can find Haig’s full, much shared, post 30 things to tell a book snob post at this link.

Gratifying image for the book fetishist

There are even, some may say, different categories of book snobs. This article by Rachel John in The Print identifies five of them, summarised below.
– The ‘print version is better than the ebook’ elitist.
– The book fetishist, who gets their kicks from the smell, look, and feel of books.
– Those judging people who buy from (ahem) major online stores rather than local bookshops.
– Those readers who deem only classic and critically acclaimed works to be worth perusing.

It is important to say at this point that your personal reading likes and dislikes do not make you a book snob. In terms of my own tastes, for instance, I can be a bit of a book fetishist, and there are certain genres I just won’t try – a case of so many books, too little time, as they say.

So go ahead and indulge in the worthies, the classics, the books reviewed in the heavy Sunday supplements; be particular about any standards you’ve set for yourself; eschew the summer read and the supermarket best-seller. Consider yourself a connoisseur, if you must. Refuse the e-reader for a more sensual experience. Absolutely fine. We all have our preferences. However, I would add, just don’t get superior or dismissive about other people’s choices in reading.

One more point to note relates to cognitive benefit. A study published early last year (linked here) found that reading for pleasure has benefits of improved language skills regardless of your choice of reading matter – Zadie Smith or Wilbur, Anthony Trollop or Joanna.  The main thing is to read, to enjoy it, to identify as ‘a reader’.

No one’s identity as a reader should be harmed, nor their pleasure in reading be spoiled by others. No one should be put off reading because of another person’s condescension.

Image thanks
Main image by Vlad Vasnetsov on Unsplash
Small image by George Sharvashidze from Pexels

10 thoughts on “Book snobbery

  1. Hi. One thing I’ll mention is that for the last few years I’ve stuck with short books, a reading strategy that I go into in my latest piece. Enjoy the day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting, I’ve been getting more into novellas myself – benefits of the short story with benefits of the novel form! Look forward to reading your piece.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A fine set of attitudes, Libre. I looked up Matt’s excellent article. When he was a teenager in Newark I used to run with his Dad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting connection! I think Haig has said less than positive things about Newark – perhaps a teenager’s perspective on growing up in a small town. We visited a few years ago and my impression was very positive, river boat trips, an attractive market square, and rummaging about in antique and second-hand bookshops!

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  3. Anonymous is Derrick

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  4. I do gravitate to literary fiction more often than the popular ones, but it isn’t because I’m a snob. At least, I don’t think of myself as one. After all, I’ve read all more all the books by V.C. Andersen and Andrew Greeley, who have written for the popular audience. For some unknown reason, though, I can’t see to wrap my head around the books about Harry Potter. Yet, I’ve reread Pride and Prejudice three times, which is extremely rare for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, preferring literary fiction isn’t snobbish at all. I think the snobby part is about looking down on other people’s choices of more popular fiction. I read widely but tend to prefer literary stuff, mainly (plus the occasional thriller and beach read). For my ‘return to’ book, I re-read Wuthering Heights every couple of years.

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  5. I don’t think it matters what you read, anything that excites your imagination and stops you gazing at tech screens is healthy……… Over Christmas I discovered a website laden with erotic short stories uploaded by ordinary people, some I’ve read are awful, some are really very good and some😂are hardcore (in my eyes) pornography, no photos of course thank goodness…….takes a lot shock me but one or two have!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree; even within the same person there are multiple reasons to read and multiple moods for different types and genres of reading matter. Some of the erotic literature online is awful – by which I mean simply not erotic, and often badly written. But it’s a case of each to their own, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

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