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.