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The 101 Books Guide To Responding To Book Snobs

After my recent blog post about the literary cretin know as the Book Snob (you might remember it as Bookish Pet Peeve #3), I thought I’d give a quick tip on how to respond to these literary “haters.”

Here’s what you do:

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Literary cretin? Literary haters? After those telling admissions I can see why this post is literally speechless. Bad form, Robert.

    From behind my left ear on a sunny day in Carolina, here’s a good guide to literature: if you look beneath and behind the surface narrative and discover there’s no there there, it is probably written for readers who are satisfied with simple stories that aren’t going to disturb their simple world view. These are not literary cretins or literary haters … just simple people craving simple books.

    But not everyone is satisfied with writing that appeals to the least-common-denominator and this in turn does not make them literary snobs and certainly not literary haters or cretins. Quite the opposite.

    We can use the analogy of eating to perhaps better understand: I love hot dogs but they are bad for me and when my local food critic points this out and suggests I eat more nourishing vegetables, lean meats, and avoid chemically laced food, I would look pretty stupid calling my daughter a food-snob. She’s right and for my continued health, it makes sense to listen to her. Otherwise I can rightly be considered a frankfurter-snob and what’s worse than being called a weenie?

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    August 5, 2013
    • Mike, your food analogy is absolutely brilliant. I’ll be tipping my cap to you every time I use (read: steal) this in the future.

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      August 5, 2013
    • Mike, there’s nothing wrong with telling people they should expand their horizons. If you read my book snob pet peeve post, you’ll notice that I make that point very clear. When I refer to book snobs, I’m not talking about the people who encourage you to read more than just Harry Potter and Hunger Games, I’m talking about the people who tell you that and are an ass while doing it. No amount of being an a-hole will ever convince someone they need to read James Joyce.

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      August 5, 2013
      • A couple of points in response.

        First, even ass-holes are sometimes right. Second, you mean anyone trying to convince a reader that James Joyce is worth their time is an ass-hole? And finally, you might have a personal definition of a book-snob, but the phrase “book-snob” is generally interpreted as someone who professes the value of authors and books that have withstood the test of time and often cringes at what more pedestrian readers select as good books.

        A literary cretin is a closer description of a reader who bad-mouths universally accepted literature yet cannot see the difference in value between Ulysses and From a Buick 8. This type of reader will generally respond to the advice of a “book-snob” with literary hatred.

        Are all teachers of literature by definition book snobs or even assholes if they insist that their students read better literature than Manga and Left Behind?

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        August 5, 2013
        • Mike, would you please read my responses and the relevant posts on this subject before commenting.

          I’ll address some of your points, and totally nullify my whole point of this post.

          “You mean anyone trying to convince a reader that James Joyce is worth their time is an ass-hole?

          Never said that. You totally flipped around what I said, which was “no amount of being an a-hole will ever convince someone to read James Joyce.” If the gist of a statement, is “hey, James Joyce is awesome. You should read him!” then great. But if the gist is “You’re a moron because you don’t like James Joyce, and I’m better than you at life.” Then that’s being a book snob and an a-hole.

          I’ve never said that trying to “convince” someone to read high-brow lit is being a book snob. There’s a certain tone, though, that the book snob takes on while doing so. I don’t know, but maybe you’re familiar with it.

          I’ve always found people more approachable when you look at them eye to eye rather than letting a stuck up nose get in the way. Preaching at someone doesn’t make them change.

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          August 5, 2013
    • Brother Mike hate’n on a post about hate’n. I truly circular discussion that is like looking into opposing mirrors. Nice work.

      And for what it’s worth, nobody needs to tell me what to eat.

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      August 5, 2013
  2. I experienced my fair share of book-snobs at university who mocked my love of Tolkein and all but battered me around the head with Hardy and Tolstoy and other such nonsense. I’m all to familiar with the particular tone of voice they preach in and sadly enough it’s been enough to stop me touching any of their recommendations with a ten-foot pole. In my eyes, a book snob is the kind of person with a shelf full of first editions and leather bound volumes that look very impressive, but have never actually been opened.

    Most of the books I enjoy would probably be considered trash by a lot of people. I’m fine with that, I’ve dealt with it and decided it’s really none of their business. To be honest, I agree with them a lot of the time. I have a weakness for trashy novels and urban fantasy. If you enjoyed War and Peace, good for you. I’m glad you found a book you enjoy. Fortunately, so have I, now hush up and let me read in peace… I have nothing against anyone who likes good literature, but I have a lot of problems with people who tell me I’m a moron because I’m not reading “real literature”.

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    August 8, 2013
    • Anyone who rails against Tolkein is just an uneducated poser. Having been at university when Tolkein was still teaching and writing, we used several of his translations, such as Sir Gawain and the Greene Knight. Many people in literature actually have no understanding of their subject except what is current and popular (I often refer to them as the Oingo-Boingo generation but even that is getting dated). Tolkein was a scholar who had more erudition in his fantasy novels than David Foster Wallace had footnotes.

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      August 8, 2013
    • Let’s not consider any form of literature as “trash,” but I will repeat an observation I received from one of my most memorable college professors: “There are novels and there are entertainments; Moby Dick is a novel; the rest are entertainments.”

      Now I am not a huge fan of either Moby Dick or American literature in general, but I still enjoy the message (substitute Ulysses, however, and I’m first in line).

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      August 8, 2013
      • I think what I dislike about people I would call “book-snobs” is the attitude more than anything. There are books I’ve not enjoyed that I’m still happy to discuss to find out why someone else loves them, and there are books I plan to have another go at when I’m a little older and maybe in a better place in life to appreciate them.

        What I don’t understand is a need to rate and rank books as if reading one thing makes you better than someone who reads another. To me, the best way to read is just to give everything a chance and find some books you really love.

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        August 8, 2013
        • It’s a common fallacy that the ranking of books automatically translates into a ranking of readers. A book can be lousy and the reader can still read it while maintaining most of their gray cells. The only valid complaint I have is against those readers who sit in front of the television and complain of not having enough time to read, or those readers that gorge themselves on Steven King and then insist King should replace Shakespeare in the university ciriculum.

          I’m an old New Critic and still insist that the literary work is the sole object for study. Not the author’s biography; not the state of the economy; not the social norms; not even the author’s intentions … but least of all what the reader thinks of the literature. If it’s dreck, it’s dreck, no matter how brilliant or erudite the reader may be.

          But never forget: there are good books and there are entertainments … think of the more popular books, not as trash, but rather as the print equivalent of television: the “vast wasteland.”

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          August 8, 2013
          • I think that’s probably a good way of looking at it. I can understand that there are books I enjoy that wouldn’t be much use to anyone in a classroom, and also books that I don’t particularly enjoy as a reader but that I can appreciate from a stylistic point of view.

            Unfortunately, I have to listen to people complain that they “don’t have time to read” almost daily and it never fails to irritate me. I can understand not having the time to tackle a book a day, as much as I’d love to, but come on. A chapter or an article or even a couple of sentences before bed is hardly going to eat in to your schedule.

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            August 8, 2013

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