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How To Know If You’re A Book Snob

At different points in my life, like maybe right now, I’ve confessed to being a book snob. For the longest time, I gave up fiction…because what can you learn from fiction? I was a nonfiction snob…and a contrarian, too.

These days, as is obvious, I’m all about fiction. But now I fight back my snobbiness in other ways—like my disdain for the Twilight series or my love of the printed book.

So, yeah, I tend to have snobby reader tendencies. And since I can speak from authority, I came up with this short, marginally helpful guide, to help you determine whether or not you, too, are a snobby reader.

Here are the signs.

You think it’s your job to tell everyone what the book “really means.”

For example: Oh, my poor child, it’s preposterous to say that The Great Gatsby is an indictment of upper class mores of the 1920s. Have you even read the book? Can you even read at all? Do you know what words are? Letters? Can you pronounce syllables with your mouth? Does your tongue move? Are you a living, breathing human being, or do you have gills or hooves? Do you type with a beak? Are you a pigeon?

Seeing as you have an amateurish view of Gatsby, I suspect that one of the above must be true. Here’s some birdseed. Enjoy.   

You read other reviews before you develop your own opinion.

Oh, I understand why. You need to make sure the literary world agrees with your opinion before you decide on your opinion. Literary snobs must stand united! What will everyone say when you say how much you hated Mrs. Dalloway? Or, good heavens, what will they do if they see that John Grisham book in your front seat? But, come on, you can do better than that, right? Close your web browser and answer this question: Did you like the book or not? Explain.

You turn your nose up at mainstream books or other genres you don’t like.

My name is Robert, and I’m a recovering book snob—still in rehabilitation, of course. If you buy your books from grocery stores, I judge you. If you’ve read Twilight, I judge you. If your idea of “good fiction” is Danielle Steele, I judge you. If you’ve never read The Great Gatsby, I judge you. If you only read nonfiction, I judge you. I’m sorry. I’m working on it. But feel free to judge me for you judging you. That should be real healthy for both of us. Remember, I’m a recovering book snob. Cut me some slack.

You quote famous authors in casual conversation.

Wife: “What do you think about the new shower curtain I purchased from Target?”

You: “Well, dear, you know green of any shade hurts my eyes. But it’s like Faulkner said: ‘Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.’”

Wife: “Did you just quote Faulkner in a discussion about shower curtains?”

You read James Joyce in public places.

My one-year-old son likes to do this, but very few people can get away with it—me, included. At last count, 12 people on earth thought Finnegan’s Wake was a comprehendible, classic novel. Ten of them were literature professors and book critics. The other two were Alex Trebek and the dude who wrote the Clif Notes for Ulysses. Unless you’re one of those 12, don’t read Joyce on the subway. Or in the mall. Or at lunch. Or in the church lobby. I like James Joyce, but Joyce attracts pretentious book snobs like hot dogs attract heart attacks.

I’m sure this list could go on for pages and pages.

But the bottom line here is…don’t be a pretentious book snob, okay? And, if you are one, like me, the first step to recovery is self-awareness. Just admit it.

Simply say, “I’m a book snob, and I promise to become more sensitive to the literary choices of others.” You’ll come around.

In the meantime, don’t make direct eye contact with Twilight readers and reduce your Faulkner references to once a day. Deal?

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52 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gayle Saks #

    PERFECT and I am guilty of every single one (except the shower curtain part which I’ll have to sneak in at some point and see if my husband notices)

    I love that you continue to hate “Mrs. Dalloway” as much as I did.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
    • Mrs. Dalloway will always haunt me in my dreams.

      Like

      June 8, 2012
  2. J. #

    Excellent! I, too, am a book snob. In fact, I mock my father on a regular basis for listening to books on his iPod–and not even literature but pop fiction!

    But really: as I tell my students: it doesn’t matter what you read as long as you’re reading. If you can finish more than one book a year, you’ve got the average American beat.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
    • Totally agree. I think we should probably stop complaining about what people read and just be happy they read.

      Like

      June 8, 2012
      • Less than one book a year? How do they survive?! I’ve got two or three going all the time! I devour books, and I want my students to love them just as passionately. It’s a sad, sad world!

        Like

        June 9, 2012
  3. I’m a book snob, and I promise to become more sensitive to the literary choices of others, as long as I don’t have to like them (choices not people). I will continue to provide quotes where it may help the listener with their situation at hand if thats ok? Carpentry/restoration.kitchen design – not Thomas Hardy, J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett or Charles Dickens. I will not assume that something I do not like the look of or lack interest in is obviously awful. I will (possibly with gritted teeth) expand my fields of interests by reading (and if found to be uninteresting after reading, at least expand fields of awareness). Yep, it feels fairly good to read that back to myself. I think I will start with rereading Soundings (not just the likeable bits) and asking my Sister what she has been reading and take it from there. How often are the meetings?

    Like

    June 8, 2012
    • Welcome to rehab! We meet once a month at Twilight conventions. 🙂

      Like

      June 8, 2012
  4. Jen #

    I’m not a book snob. I revel in popular fiction (romance novels, paranormal, urban fantasy…), and yet I think those books still have lots of value. My philosophy is if you like a book enough to pick it up and read it, the author has done his/her job. I’d rather read a novel than watch a movie most of the time, and I figure it doesn’t matter a whole lot if it’s James Joyce or Eloisa James…I’m still reading. And with reading–no matter the subject–you’re still expanding your vocabulary, picking up some facts here and there, and using your imagination.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
    • Indeed. Like I said in the comment above, I think book snobs should just be happy that people are reading and not watching crap on TV.

      Like

      June 8, 2012
  5. Hmm. I think I may have a mild form of the disease. I do have an attitude regarding ‘Twilight’ even though I have not read the book (but I have seen the film -ugh). I also have an attitude regarding Dan Brown, even though I have read two of his books (why? No idea). I will try your therapy tips 😉

    Like

    June 8, 2012
    • Give it a few weeks and you’ll see results!

      Like

      June 8, 2012
  6. I’m surprisingly not a book snob according to your list. There is my disdain for the ‘Twilight saga’ but that comes from my objections to her politics and the story of abstention – I will read them but I refuse to put money into her (or the Mormon churches’) coffers!

    Like

    June 8, 2012
    • But I am planning on reading James Joyce and in public – but that’s because I ride public transport and do a lot of reading there. Thankfully it’ll be carefully concealed on my Kindle 😀

      Like

      June 8, 2012
      • Which book?

        Like

        June 8, 2012
        • Ulysses – definitely not Finnegan’s Wake or at least until I revert into a book snob.

          Like

          June 8, 2012
          • Oh good. Ulysses is a tough read. Really tough read but I don’t think it’s anything like Finnegan’s Wake.

            Like

            June 8, 2012
  7. I’m a book snob, and I promise to become more sensitive to the literary choices of others…in public.

    I can’t promise anything behind the scenes. Hahaha!

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  8. Recovering, perhaps. Snobbishness can turn around and bite you, though. Book snobs have a tendency to disdain anything popular, and can thus end up missing some really good stories. That said, however, there is room for discrimination. Some books are meant for those who want merely a diversion or a passtime. Nothing wrong with that, but such books are not for those who are more interested in challenging ideas.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  9. I especially agree with the second point, to the extent that I carry it over into film as well as books. “Oh, Philip French liked this film? Then, I can too.” I tell myself that I’m putting said book/film into a wider context but I really just want affirmation. Being Irish, I can confirm that hardly anyone reads Joyce in public except on Bloomsday, that annual outbreak of pretension (and fun).

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  10. Siuon #

    I think one more rule shall be added and that is You disdain people who read books which are just made into movies, no matter whicjh book it is.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  11. I don’t know if I’m a book snob, I don’t really think so. I wish I maybe was but I just like the act of reading too much. I read comic books and vampire stuff and yes I read Twilight– the whole series and I hated it and was so mad but I read it.
    The thing is, the one I am most guilty of is not wanting to read what is popular simply because it is popular. HOWEVER. Very few of my friends read. So when they DO read I want to read what they’re reading because then I can talk to someone about a book we’ve both read. Sometimes it pays off, like Harry Potter. Sometimes, it doesn’t, like Twilight. But it still is nice to be able to talk to my friends about books. That never freaking happens and it makes me sad 😦

    Like

    June 8, 2012
    • Yes, Harry Potter was a pleasant surprise. That’s when I stopped not reading stuff just because it was popular.

      Like

      June 8, 2012
  12. karitreese #

    Who’s a book snob…. This girl!! I never realized how super snobby I was! Thanks for enlightening me 😀

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  13. I am definitely not a book snob. I am THRILLED to see anyone reading – I don’t care if it’s “The Remains of the Day” or “Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Potty Snatchers” (quite a funny book). I am proud to say that the author of the latter-mentioned book is the reason my son graduates tomorrow with two degrees: a B.A. in English Literature (oh boy…) and a B.S. in Cognitive Science (what the heck is THAT?) . Through Dav Pilkey’s books, my son learned the joys of reading. I could not get that child to read anything but “How Things Work” books until Captain Underpants came along. May God bless Mr. Pilkey for that.

    I won’t read that “Twilight” series simply because I couldn’t get through the first chapter of that ilk. The woman just can’t write. John Grisham can write to a point, but can’t figure out how to end his stories (sad, but true). Danielle Steele – well, she has a special place in my heart because I used to have to read her books to my blind grandmother. Trash novels, but they kept a 70-something year old woman happy and taught me how to read aloud to others (I do storytelling at our local library).

    Like

    June 8, 2012
    • Very cool. There’s an art to reading out loud. I never really realized it until I started reading to my son.

      Like

      June 8, 2012
  14. sampiper22 #

    Brilliant post!! I fear I am guilty of many of these signs! I judge who to sit near on the train or beach by what books they’re reading!

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  15. Jen #

    I feel I should also add that if a book is popular, there’s usually good reason for it. TWILIGHT certainly wasn’t a literary masterpiece, but it did reintroduce a lot of preteens and teenagers to the idea of reading for pleasure. Again, the author did her job in creating a story engaging enough to cause readers to continue to turn the pages. Ultimately, isn’t that the goal?

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  16. Once I think too much about what I read I’ve wasted precious time. Snob-not snob, argument too black and white for my dialectically gray britches. I vacillate. The concept (themes), characters, narrative, author,setting(s), genre, even length-of a book matter. What’s golden for recent publications: word of mouth. I love to read so much that I do stick to literature-but with good used bookstores around I can afford to buy a book for next to nothing to read. If I love it, great, if not I return it (donate it). I’ve never read Ulysses,or Twilight or Harry Potter. Not vampire, sci-fi or fantasy or spec fiction fan. Ulysses is just too much. It pisses me off to read that the average senior in high school reads at a 5th grade level. No wonder. I won’t hold myself up as an example of a snob, because I require that I engage in challenging literature. Best book (one of) William James “The Varieties of Religious Experiences”. It explored an area of study I found fascinating. I read Diary by the guy who wrote Fight Club. Story great. Told at 3rd grade level. I’m a snob of vocabulary, and challenging my brain, and reaching goals, and blah, blah…If I’m intrigued and challenged: count on my effort.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  17. Am just a good for nothing snub who can’t even write a good poem.*sad* Never stop wondering what you liked about things fall apart. So, unprofessional! Lol

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  18. I freely admit to book-snobbish reading tastes, but I try to keep a handle on the dark side of book-snobdom. There are alot of people reading Fifty Shades of Grey, etc., who don’t read much, so the fact that they’re reading anything is progress. And who knows – maybe Fifty Shades of Grey would lead to Outlander, which would lead to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which would lead to actual literature. Where there are words, there’s hope.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  19. Emma Semple #

    I’m happy to discover that I am not a boo snob. Even though I thin Twilight is.. well .. horrible, I have read it. But I read anything I can get my hands on.

    Like

    June 9, 2012
  20. I don’t think it would pay to be a book snob. As with anything in the world, you do not know until you have tried it. If you tried reading Twilight and hated it, then you can rightly say you hated it. But if you refuse to read something because it is popular or whatever, you could be really missing out. Would you not rather just open your mind and try it? I think everyone who has written a novel has something to be proud of, because it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s always going to be the Marmite situation where some people hate it and some people love it. But readers should unite in their love for words and not hate on each other because of our personal preferences. We all have a personality, and each is different.
    Love, fellow readers 🙂

    Like

    June 9, 2012
  21. Yet, pray tell, good sir, what is the downside to being a book snob? That I’ll be judged? That I’ll be considered prudish? I read books. Already that makes me an outsider. Doesn’t matter if my standards are high. I read. Those are high standards by contrast to most. Because most don’t read. Get it? What are you, an orangutan? Now if you’ll excuse me, my beak is sore.

    Like

    June 9, 2012
  22. Monica #

    I consider myself to be a book snob wanna-be. I have the desire, the passion, and the ability to read above an 8th grade level (Well above average in this day in age); however, I have small children in my home that prevent my from enjoying high-brow entertainment. Instead, I am forced to enjoy painting over sharpie marker on the walls, cleaning jelly out of my wool rug, and chasing (my…sigh) naked children back into the house on a regular basis. Please, someone send me a good bottle of wine, Atlas Shrugged (I haven’t read yet), and did I mention wine? This is the reason that I can only get one GOOD book read in a year.

    Like

    December 6, 2012
  23. I’d like your take on what precisely constitutes high brow reading. The contrast between literature and pulp fiction needs criteria, not book titles. I just finished Lord of the Flies by Golding. I’m convinced that’s literature because of the focus on human nature and society. Yet reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or anything by Hemingway left me feeling as though I’d accidentally wandered into the young adult fiction aisle. Yet juvenile literature, such as Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles or George MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin or Jungle Books are classic and certainly among my favorites because of their moral instruction and their celebration of virtue. Much of this is purely subjective on any given reader’s part, and I can’t help but think I’m a Scrooge for abhoring Harry Pothead and a freak for considering Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Chronicles brilliant an substantive. The Devil’s Dictionary by Bierce, while certainly both fun and (I think) considered a classic, achieved none of the above. In other words, what is the criteria as you see it? As much as I lament the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, as least those people are reading and not watching reality TV.

    Like

    December 7, 2012
  24. tkipsky #

    I definitely have snobbish tendencies, but a lifetime of being sneered at for reading fantasy and science fiction (as well as Shakespeare, Dickens, Pynchon, etc.) has left me with a strong feeling of solidarity with the masses. What really disturbs me, however, is what people think is appropriate reading for children! Diary of a Wimpy Kid, really? The Secret Garden used to be a children’s book, and last I checked, it was considered much too difficult for the fifth grader I was nannying. If adults want to read lower-brow stuff, more power to them! Does the book make them think? Great. But let’s please, please, have higher hopes for our children. If you must give them a book with pictures, when they’re old enough to read novels, make it a quality graphic novel, at the very least. I will now get off my soap box.

    Like

    July 14, 2013
  25. My kindle is reserved solely for the books I don’t wish to be seen reading in public.

    Like

    February 21, 2014
  26. LOL Nice post! I recoil at grocery store books too and I often must fight the urge to talk like Atticus FInch or Hamlet, so I guess I am an even worse book snob!

    Like

    June 16, 2014
    • Methinks I’m in love. Is thou single? (Lest you get the creep vibes, I’m only being silly.)

      Like

      June 17, 2014
  27. And the fact that I accidentally capitalized the “I” in “Finch” is annoying the Havisham out of me, so yeah, I have a problem. 🙂 (Darn it! I just referenced a long, old book again!)

    Like

    June 16, 2014
  28. James #

    Some of my favourite books:

    The Iliad
    The Odyssey
    The Divina Commedia (preferably in Italian)
    The Gilgamesh poem (in translation)
    The Silmarillion (in English or Italian)
    The Lord of the Rings
    The Chronicles of Narnia
    The Worm Ouroboros
    The Harry Potter books
    Winnie Ille Pu (toy bears and piglets are better in Latin)
    Domus Anguli Puensis
    Arrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis
    Harry Potter a l’ecole des sorciers

    Reading the Sil in Italian gives one a fresh appreciation for Tolkien’s English. Tolkien’s great myth makes me think all the time, as does Rowling’s tale. Tolkien provides a working model of the universe, which provides a model for thinking about the universe as known. His characters may not be historically real, but their pride, lust, fear, anger, suspicion, malice, hatred, rashness, undaunted courage, perseverance, sorrow, bereavement, self-sacrifice, deceit, cruelty, possessiveness, creativity, longing, and other qualities are all very familiar qualities. The myth in which they are present is in that respect much more “realistic” than many superficially more “realistic” novels. The Harry Potter books operate in a similar way.

    Homer never says, outright, that Achilles’ resentful unforgiving sulk is fatal to his fellow-Achaeans – he has no need say that, for he shows it instead. There is no sermonising or lecturing about the behaviour of Odysseus, Telemachus, Penelope, Calypso, Eumaeus, Argus, or the Suitors – all Homer need do, is get on with telling the story.

    Like

    December 31, 2016

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