Monday, December 21, 2009

Me, the Book Snob


Last week I read a really great post over Rebecca Reads, where Rebecca talked about the need to be picky about what one reads. If you look at my welcome statement, I say the following: "I read and review literary and Jewish-interest fiction, and graphic novels. And whatever else I feel like!" I made this statement so that I don't get review offers for books I'm not interested in reading- I used to have a statement that read something like "I don't read science fiction, thrillers, YA, romance, Christian fiction or most other genre fiction most of the time." I simplified it to keep the focus on what I do want to read, and to keep things positive but the fact is that I don't read most kinds of genre fiction most of the time. Does this make me a snob?

Before you get out the pitchforks, it's not like I have never read these genres, or that I think nothing of quality gets produced within them. Every genre has its masters and I've read science fiction that I respect, and chick lit I thought was well-crafted, and YA that I thought was brilliant and beautiful. But how much time am I obligated to spend ferretting the good stuff out? How many mediocre space dramas or elf adventures do I have to read, how many didactic religious novels, how many sexist romances, how many write-by-numbers potboilers do I have to get through to find the good ones? Or before I'm excused from reading them at all? I'll confess- once in a while I like a good thriller and I have been known to lay down cash money for James Patterson and Joseph Finder. But there will be a blizzard you-know-where before I read Dan Brown, or Harry Potter, or Twilight, or anything with shopping bags or shoes on the cover. It's just not going to happen. I'm just not interested.

There's only so much time in the day, you know? Nobody has time to read everything. And at this point in my life, I've developed pretty good instincts for what I'm going to enjoy and what I'm not. Thanks to blogging and the outside-the-box reading I've done over the last couple of years, I'm even learning which publishers to avoid and which to cozy up to. And I have a lot of interests of my own that I want to pursue. I try to stay current on Jewish literature for my professional life, I want to read the Booker Prize winners, I want to read Sherman Alexie's books, and I want to read some more Russian literature and some more contemporary classics. I have over 200 books in my TBR pile right now, so the likelihood that I'll step outside my comfort zone gets smaller and smaller with each new book I buy, borrow or swap.

I've discussed this issue many times both online and in real life, and the truth is that I've been called a snob many, many times because I make no bones about my preference for literary fiction and classics, but at the end of the day I think this kind of accusation says more about the person making it than it does about me. I think I get called a snob when someone feels that I am not validating his or her own taste in books (or movies, or whatever). In other words, it's a reaction borne of insecurity and lack of confidence. If we truly respected each other and felt secure about ourselves, there would be no need for childish name-calling and angry, defensive complaining about how I'm limiting myself, or missing out on so much. Maybe so, but so what? So are genre readers who don't read award-winners. There's nothing wrong with reading what you like and refusing to apologize for it.

40 comments:

bookmagic said...

As long as you aren't criticizing others for what they read, why shouldn't you read what you want? It would be silly to read books that you don't like or don't want to. I personally have to read according to my mood. I might cut out ARC's and blog tours altogether (though they are infrequent) because I don't like to read on a deadline. Reading should be fun and fulfilling, not a burden.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Actually it's very funny about the shopping bags and shoes on the cover. Because some of the classics - I'm thinking the Russian classics in particular - could you imagine if they were just printed now, what covers they would have for marketing purposes?!!! It would be fun to dream some up to match the books - think of Anna Karenina (body of woman in sexy dress, from the neck down only of course), Crime and Punishment (ax dripping blood), and I bet we could even put a shopping bag and shoes on the front of The Family Moskat!

Not that one still couldn't tell the difference between Anna K. and a bodice ripper but it's still fun to imagine! (For more ideas for great covers, see http://cataromance.com/ ).

S. Krishna said...

Wonderful, wonderful post! I get irritated when people criticize others for what they choose to read, or think that if you prefer not to read a genre, you're automatically passing judgment that its beneath you.

Shari said...

I have, to put it mildly, eclectic reading tastes. I have read some Dan Brown and all of Harry Potter. I admit tearing through the first two Stieg Larsson books despite moments of what is clearly awkward translation. But I refuse to read the Twilight books. There are so many books out there and so little time. I've only recently developed a sensitivity to awful writing, which I've heard is characteristic of the Twilight series. It's not worth my time, no matter how many coworkers I have pressuring me to read it and judging me for not reading it.

I don't think you need to apologize to anyone for your tastes or, frankly, that you should be called a snob. You specialize in one genre, and prefer others because you enjoy reading them. End of story! And the exceptions you make for thrillers? I gravitate toward literary fiction (especially contemporary) but I do enjoy a trashy mystery. Everyone is allowed their guilty pleasures!

And in the end, seeing the masses read Dan Brown is better than seeing them read nothing, right? I doubt you are actually judgmental about others' choices.

Shweta said...

I think every person has a right to choose what they want to read. I love reading YA and classics . Now in which category would that put me? :)

I am sure choosing ur genre of comfort doesn't make you a snob . It just means you know what you love reading and will continue doing it. I have been looked down upon when I read YA fiction (paranormal and others )during commute. And people have given me these looks when I was seen reading a chunky classic . At one point few years back I was frustrated by this attitude but now I don't care.. :)

Great post ..

Trish Ryan said...

I agree! My reading tastes are all over the place, but there are some types of books I simply won't enjoy. If you read what you love, and I read what I love...and we both spread the word about our great discoveries...everybody wins.

Meghan said...

You're only a snob if you look down on others for their own book choices and I know you don't. If you know what you like and you choose to read that, I think that's great. There are certain genres that I know I just won't like, and so I have decided to stop reading them. It's always better to use your time in a way that you will enjoy it. =)

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

Bibliolatrist said...

Like you, I stick to literary fiction and the classics, but I don't look down upon others who enjoy different genres. (And, to be fair, I sometimes read horror and sci-fi, as well.) Like you said, though, there's only so many hours in the day, and I read what I like.

Here's to more happy reading in 2010!

Aarti said...

I think you should read what you want to read, period. Sometimes I like to try something new to challenge myself, but it doesn't always work. Reading is done for enjoyment- so we should enjoy what we read!

bermudaonion said...

I say to each their own. You should certainly read whatever appeals to you.

Gwendolyn B. said...

I'm with you -- having personal preferences does not make you a snob! I read what I like and avoid what I don't like. I know myself well enough to identify what I'm likely to enjoy. Occasionally I'll take a peek at something popular just to see what everyone is talking about, but mostly I barely have time to read all the books that I long to read, so why spend my time satisfying somebody else's tastes? I agree with you about people looking to have their own tastes validated. But you know, if they think you're a snob, maybe they'll leave you alone.

Pam said...

I have to agree with all the other commenters. Everyone should read what they love and not worry about what others are reading. I think someone calling you a snob says a lot more about him/her than it does about you. Reading should be judgement free.

Serena said...

I think everyone said it the best way that I could.

Kathleen said...

I could't agree more...

Michelle said...

I'm not sure why having a preference is snobbery. I don't judge you for liking literary fiction any more than I like to think you judge me for liking YA. It just happens that for both of us the other person's preference is not our own. In the end it doesn't mean I don't like you as a person or your blog as a destination. Heck I may even find that gem in your preferences that I too will enjoy. That is why I read blogs....to get that variety while still enjoying my own likes!

Excellent post. :)

jewwishes said...

I read what I want to read without guilt or apology. It is my choice, not motivated by someone else, as to what I choose to read.

Who is someone to criticize my reading preferences?! I don't criticize theirs.

As far as reading genres go, we can agree to disagree on what we want and/or choose to read.

claire said...

I agree with everything you said. Time is very precious and I can't waste my time reading something I really don't enjoy, so it's quite necessary to be very selective. I also read literary fiction and classics more than anything else, but sometimes will pick up the occasional YA fantasy (of the Tolkien type, or anything with elves and dragons and the like, lol).

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Great post and I think it's pretty much all been said in the above posts: read what you like and don't down those who read what you don't like. I'm in your camp for the most part. I read mostly literary fiction and classics, but I also enjoy quite a bit of nonfiction and well-written YA (I'm a school librarian in training). There are too many wonderful books I know I'll like to waste time reading books I'm pretty sure I won't like.

KY Warrior Librarian said...

Very enjoyable post. I think you stated your case well. As individuals it is our right to read what we like, and it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks. My tastes are quite wide ranging. I have said repeatedly, if it is written well...I'll read it. I don't care if its classic, chick lit, YA, fantasy/sci-fi, juvenile, biography or the latest best seller. I have read and enjoyed some of the books you have no interest in, and I'm sure you have read and enjoyed some books I wouldn't be interested in. That's the way it works. I belong to a book club, and one of the reasons I enjoy a book club is because it forces you to get outside your comfort zone in your reading. You WILL read books that you wouldn't ordinarily pick up on your own. Sometimes that works out really well. Sometimes not. But it does help you broaden your horizons. By the way, you do like Sherman Alexie (whom I adore)...so we do have common ground there!

Heather said...

LOL! I can't stand chick lit and am damn proud of it! -Heather

pinkflipflops said...

I think you are missing out on the Dan Brown aspect.. :) Also, I never understand when people flat out refuse to read things.. I pretty much am up to read anything.. I may not finish or I may not like it, but I don't think I've ever censored myself away from something forevver.

mominsanity said...

I too am really picky about what I read. I usually give it about 50 to 100 pages and if I don't like it i put it down. I just don't have a lot of time with a full time job and a baby.

Literary Feline said...

I really have nothing else to add that hasn't already been said. I don't think you fall in the category of a book snob based on your reading tastes. When a person looks down on or criticizes someone for his or her reading choices it then crosses the line into snobbery.

Reading is so subjective. We each have our own tastes and preferences. You and I can read the same book and see it differently. There's nothing wrong with that.

JoAnn said...

Great post, Marie! I heartily agree. And I have to laugh because one of my 16 year old twins is going through a phase of "shopping bags and shoes on the cover" type books.

King Rat said...

There isn't a problem with reading what you like and not apologizing for it. But could be a problem when you categorize stuff you don't like as not good. You might take issue with my categorization of literary fiction as books where bad things happen to people you don't like who don't do much of anything. Or that people who read it are reading bad fiction. It's all in how you word it. One of my very first opinion pieces was titled "I hate fantasy!" and then ripped into it for being awful dreck. Of course, I wasn't really ripping fantasy so much as a particular kind of fantasy that I abhor, but I very much love to write things in a provocative fashion so as to push buttons.

Marie said...

King Rat- the only problem I see with saying something isn't good is if the reader takes it personally. I don't read what I don't read because I think so highly of it, after all- but when I say I think something is badly written or boring to me, it's about the BOOK and not about the people who read it. I don't care if someone else likes it; why should I? But the problem IMO is that people get all rankled and take it personally, and that's when the name-calling starts.

caite said...

I think there are good books, books I could enjoy, in every genre. For exqample, I am not a big reader of fanasty, but I can't deny that The Lord of The Rings is one of the greatest books that I ever read. If there is one benefit to my blogging...besides exposing folks to my wonderful thoughts...lol...it is the exposure to many different types of books that I might not have read otherwise. I recognize that personally I had become very comfortable in my small little book world and am happy for the chance to dip my toe into other waters from time to time.

That being said, push come to shove, when I am looking for a nice comfort read, I go with a mystery. I recognize that, as with any genre, there are a lot of poor quality books among mysteries, but there are also many excellent ones. And ones for many tastes.

Ultimately, reading is for our pleasure and out edification, wherever in the book world we find it.

Ash said...

I was just thinking about this last week actually. I always feel like I have to make excuses for some of the things I do enjoy reading, but why does it really matter what I like to read? I have never thought poorly of another person because they were reading a book I wouldn't want to read. Why waste time reading stuff you don't want to read? Life is too short.

SuziQoregon said...

Snob? no way. Tastes that both intersect and diverge from my own? Absolutely.

I wouldn't expect any less from a fellow reader. Criticizing someone's reading choices is silly. We all like different things at different times. It's rare that I don'f find some sort of common ground somewhere on the bookshelves.

Amy said...

I agree that it's when you look down at others or think less of them for what they read that makes you a book snob. If you don't do that...if you simply don't enjoy other kinds of books and are simply saying you're going to read what you enjoy--more power to you. I don't read genres I don't enjoy...not because I think they are inferior but because I'm not going to spend time reading something that I don't like. I think this is pretty straightforward. however, just because I don't like something or haven't found meaning and value in it doesn't mean others haven't. :)

I don't know why this particular topic becomes so heated except that reading is so personal.

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Well, bravo! This is my first visit here, and I applaud you for standing up for your rights. I, too, want to read ONLY what I enjoy. My tastes are eclectic, but I find that I don't like vampire stuff, or YA, or even very many chick lit books, although sometimes I will travel there.

The main thing is...we have our right to do our own thing. Hey, you probably picked up on my old "aging flower child" stuff!

I have sixteen blogs, and perhaps you'll visit one or more of them.

Jeanne said...

I think some of what's been said here applies to the blogs you want to read, too. More and more I find that I don't want to read another review of the latest fiction that's being promoted, and I want to read someone whose own prose has been influenced by literature and classics.

Rebecca Reid said...

I like this post -- except I'd say, like everyone else, that you aren't a snob if you are selecting. I think that was my point. Why must we accept a title with such a negative connotation? I'm not telling someone NOT to read a book, just that I don't want to.

I hadn't intended this issue to be heated (and I'm not offended, if someone thinks of me as a snob). I had just been thinking about it too and wondered why people assign "snob" as a title. I think we're all doing okay :)

Lesley said...

"There's nothing wrong with reading what you like and refusing to apologize for it."

I think that is the crux of the issue - we all have our own reading tastes and preferring one type of book over another - whether it's literary fiction or the latest romance bestseller - doesn't make one a snob, it makes one a reader.

Fibro Witch said...

I have discovered my reading habits have almost no fiction left in them any more. I read biographies, autobiographies. Micro-history, fighting the plague in San Francisco or typhoid in London. I have not read a NYT best seller or an award winning novel in years.

Even my science fiction / fantasy reading has dropped. Not sure if the main reason is my health (or lack there of) or just a general malaise about life.

stacybuckeye said...

Obviously, you should read what you want and not feele guilty about it. I tend to read a lot of different kinds of books and there are great things about each category. I find when I go too long reading one type of book, be it literary fiction or mystery or whatever, I become bored. But then I like a broad range rather than a specialty.
I have to ask though, what is it about James Patterson that appeals to you? After reading your post this admission surprised me because it would seem to fit in the books you don't like. But maybe that's just me projecting ;)
Maybe that question sounds judgemental? Not judging, I've read quite a few Patterson books this year, so I'd be judging myself!

Marie said...

Stacy- I have a thing for the Alex Cross books. Every now and then I just like a well-crafted pageturner with no other pretensions. I think Patterson is good at what he does and I can respect a master craftsman.

readerbuzz said...

I'm a snob, too, I suppose. No, the truth is that I am a liar. People are always giving me books and I cannot bear to hurt their feelings and say I do not want to read their beloved books. So I lie. I read the books and tell them I loved them and that's that.

And then it's absolutely horrible when they then give you the sequel! Such is the fate of liars.

Bonnie said...

I enjoyed reading your post and all of the interesting comments. Marie, you've written some thought provoking posts this year that have gotten many of us bloggers and readers to think and discuss. I appreciate that! I think most of us agree that you aren't a book snob when you are honest about what you like and dislike. Everyone has the right to their own choices and interests in reading and we all need to respect that.

Zibilee said...

I have been called a snob as well, and I am not sure that I am terribly picky about what I will read or not. I think you are right about people who bandy around the word "snob" and I believe that everyone has the right to choose what is and is not interesting to them. I also would never read a Dan Brown novel, but I don't look down upon those who would, nor would I ever think to judge anyone by their reading tastes. I think it's pretty cool to know who you are and what you like, and not to be afraid to hold your own opinions on things that don't interest you. You are right about there being too many books out there to suffer through something that doesn't fit for you. So, I guess what I am saying is, if choosing your own likes and dislikes in reading material qualifies you to be a snob, then I am sure you are far from alone in being one.