Book Snob

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” Henry David Thoreau

(A bit of humility before I go into why I’m so good at reading and you’re not: I spent half an hour searching for the above quote. I could remember the jist, but not the actual words or the author. Then I noticed that it is literally the first thing I ever posted on this blog.)

This about sums it up. Via Perez Hilton.

I’m a book snob. I’ve been feeling extra snobby lately, and I blame Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s all I hear about on forums, Facebook, and Twitter. But wait – isn’t it a fan fiction of a young adult novel, not to mention very poorly written and edited? Okay, it’s racy, but so are lots of novels, from romance to erotica. That’s nothing new. So, what gives? And why does it bother me?

“Fifty Shades Fever” feels like the culmanation of a bigger trend towards adults reading “young adult” and/or just plain *bad* novels. And I do not mean “so bad it’s good.” I lurk in a few book challenge discussions online (people trying to read 25 or 50 books in one year), and lots of them are reading chick lit after chick lit book. Why bother? What’s the point of a challenge if it’s not challenging?

I realize that these feelings make me a snob of the worse kind. Why do I care what people read?  Who am I to decide what’s worthy of a reader’s time? But… I can’t help myself! As the Thoreau quote suggests, there are SO MANY good books. More than anyone will ever read. I’ve been working at the 1,001 books list for FIVE YEARS and I’ve read 10% of it. And I started at around 5%. I get that people are looking for a fun read or escapism, but it’s unfathomable, and even offensive, that people spend so much time reading terrible books!

The bad book by which all other bad books will be judged.

Of course, like most snobs, I think it’s okay to go slumming as long as it’s done ironically. Some work colleagues are running a fantastic bad book club. I was lucky enough to sit in on a discussion of “Flowers in the Attic”, that classic and horribly overwrought  ode to family dysfunction (and incest.) But, most of us read it for the first time as children, not adults. (Which, upon reflection, is pretty messed up – due to all that incest!)

It will probably surprise no one that I’m also a music snob, and in a former (pre-kids) life a clothes and bag snob. What can I say? I appreciate quality. And I’m judging you. Sorry. But, if you must read bad books, at least William Faulkner’s got your back:

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!”

What do you think? Do you consider yourself a book snob? Why are people freaking out about Fifty Shades and the like?

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23 comments

  1. Miranda

    I am a book snob too! I have yet to read The Hunger Games or Game of Thrones or most other books made famous by their movie. The YA fiction takeover is bound to be the dumbing down of society. I have been working on the small list of 100 Novels for the last two years and I am only a quarter of the way through. :S It is daunting, but fun. I didn’t realize you have been working on the list of 1001 for 5 years. I bought the iphone app for the 1001 books list and according to statistics at my current rate of reading I won’t finish before I die! Thats not going to stop me from trying though.

    • lauratfrey

      I’ve only been really actively working on it for a year, but I’m pretty sure I bought the 1001 Books book in 2007 or 2008. There’s an app?! I hope it’s available on android!

  2. @FreestoneJenn

    I believe in snobbery too, but all of the “bad” books I read I chalk up to better understanding pop culture. Sometimes you have to go to the dark side to understand how the rest of the world works. 🙂

  3. Brie @ Eat Books

    Ugh, try working in a bookstore where 50 Shades of Grey is flying off the shelves! Women who don’t even have a clue what these books are about are coming in to by them. Erotica is not a new genre people! And why does 50 Shades get to be shelved with general fiction?

    I hate to admit it – but there’s a teeny tiny part of me that wants to read these books just so that I can back-up my trash-talking of them. But then what if I actually *gasp* enjoy them?! ;p

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  5. Phil Dwyer

    Hi Laura. Great post, and one that provoke a whole long rant on my own blog. I’m definitely a book snob, although I try to curb the worst aspects of my snobbery. Being a book snob does, however, pose a little dilemma: that of ‘authority’. Who gets to say that books are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and what gives their opinion any more weight than the Fifty Shades of Grey reader on the streetcar? Recent critical thought has tended to reject the ossified canon the the ‘classics’ in favour of works that were (in their day) thought too vulgar or naif to be considered true literature (The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a case in point, although I see it’s on the 1001 list). There are a number of books on the 1001 list that I wouldn’t consider great works of fiction (39 Steps by John Buchan, for example, which is just a thriller) and some books which are now considered modern classics in some quarters that didn’t make it (The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz for example). I’ll definitely take other people’s opinion to steer me towards books I might like (especially if it’s an opinion I respect) but in the final analysis we are our own arbiters of taste (and of course, our taste is impeccable). Thanks for the post.

    • lauratfrey

      Thank you! Lots of new peeps are checking out my blog thanks to your link.

      I will do a post one day about books that should and should not be on the 1001 list. I was so choked when I realized Douglas Coupland is not on it. And I don’t think every single book by Ian McEwan is necessary.

      Your post was much more coherent than mine and you do indeed have impeccable taste! Look forward to reading more from you.

  6. Kristilyn (@ReadingInWinter)

    I feel like I’m going to get rocks thrown at me for commenting here, but while I think it’s totally okay to be a book snob, I just don’t get it. I mean, what constitutes a “good book”? Really, it’s in the eyes of the beholder, or — in this case — the reader. Personally, I think it’s hard to believe that people would be looked down upon because they read YA or the latest blockbuster book or a book that’s so popular it’s BOUND to be bad because nothing can be that good.

    I agree with the Faulkner quote — reading is reading! People should just read, read, read! I think there are too many people who don’t read anything at all that the fact that we’re willing to say, “Oh … you read YA? Really?” shouldn’t even be a question. Instead, we should be pushing these non-readers to just read … anything. In my eyes, it doesn’t matter if you’re reading Gogol or Dostoevsky, John Green or E. L. James, so long as you’re reading, that’s the important part.

    Now, with the YA books. I don’t think that they’re dumbing down society. Really, when I read YA books they were nothing to write home about. Out of what I’ve read (and I do read quite a few YA books), there are a number of authors willing to tackle hard topics like cancer, depression, deformities, suicide, abortion, anorexia, etc. That’s not exactly “light” reading. Of course, that’s not ALL YA books … there are still light and fluffy ones and I do partake in those as well, but as I said — at least I’m reading.

    Now, while I do read a lot of light fiction in the year, I do like to tackle a good “classic” novel … I have TONS of them on my shelves and know I should be reading more of them. But for now, I’ll go with my mood and read what I want, when I want, regardless of genre. With a book being published every 30 seconds, it’s hard not feeling anxiety over wanting to read ALL THE BOOKS, so I’m not going to let it get to me that I haven’t read a lot of classics this year.

    This is a great discussion!

    • lauratfrey

      No rocks thrown by me! My posty was meant to be controversial, and I want to heat from people who read other genres.

      You raise good points. I agree that it’s important to read something, anything! Further to that, I would never suggest that anyone read *only* the classics. You would end up reading mostly books by dead white dudes. Talk about limiting.

      So, I don’t know much about YA. what books Wolfe you recommend for someone outside the YA community? What are some shining examples? Harry Potter? I would bet up for a YA read to challenge my beliefs!

      • Kristilyn (@ReadingInWinter)

        I would say to try something by John Green. His writing is accessible, but real. Morgan Matson has some great reads, too.

        I don’t think you’d ever run out of books if you read ONLY the classics, but I still thing something light and fluffy is totally allowed. 🙂

      • lauratfrey

        Totally! I take breaks all the time. I took a huge break earlier this year and read stuff like The Help. It’s necessary!

        I’ll make a note of those authors, thanks!

  7. .Ambur.

    I have read the Fifty Shades Trilogy and I enjoyed it. The hype is a bit excessive, but honestly, just like I did with Twilight, I love that it gets people reading. Too many people don’t actually realize how awesome reading can be, and if one book, even a hype-filled book, can get them reading, I’m all for it. Here’s to Fifty Shades as a gateway book! *cheers* 🙂

    I also enjoy classics, but I won’t lie…if all I read were classics and books that I “should” read, I’d go crazy. Real life has enough stress already, and I have to read plenty of those books I “should” be reading for school…why would I just want to read books that other people think it’s important to read in my spare time too? I just wouldn’t. I’d much rather read fast-paced books in genres that I love, and frankly, I don’t care if anyone judges me for that. 😛 I’ve honestly never saw the point of being a book snob, or a snob in anything else for that matter. People should be allowed to read, listen to, watch, or do whatever with whatever they want (minus illegal things that would be harmful for themselves and everybody else…that’s just not good, and I in no way endorse it 😛 lol), and so I say, who cares? You shouldn’t, just like everyone else shouldn’t care that all you want to read are the classics or the books that “should” be read. Read what you want…who cares what that is. As long as you enjoy reading, I don’t see how it matters what you like to read.

    As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not a book snob. I like to read a little of everything (well almost everything, I still stay far away from books on exercise, but if someone else likes them…you go for it! 😛 haha). It actually makes me a little sad to see how many people are book snobs. Honestly, it’s that kind of behaviour that keeps some people from reading. It makes them feel ashamed of what they read, and turns something that they love into something that they get mocked for. At least with ereaders, self-conscious readers will be able to gain some anonymity when it comes to all that though, but still, I just have to admit that I don’t like it. I think we should be able to read what we want and not be ridiculed for it. I agree with Krisitilyn, reading is reading. I don’t think that because people read certain genres that they are better or worse than others. We’re all readers, who cares what we choose to read.

    This is definitely a great discussion post, even if we don’t agree. 😉 Thanks for bringing it up. 🙂

    • Kristilyn (@ReadingInWinter)

      Well said, Ambur! I love that someone agrees with me. While I think it’s okay to be a book snob, I also think that people shouldn’t feel embarrassed by what they read (<– a discussion post in a few weeks on my blog!). Reading is reading and we should embrace the written word in any form!

    • lauratfrey

      Thanks! I love the idea of a gateway book 🙂 I agree that you can’t and shouldn’t only read what you’re suppose to read. Reading is so personal, and everyone’s taste is different.

      • .Ambur.

        You’re welcome! 🙂 I agree! I remember in my last year of high school, and Twilight had just started playing in theatres, and there were so many people reading it and the rest of the series! I loved that because at least half of those people (that were in my grade by the way), had never ever read a book before… and that’s even including the books they had to read for class. Twilight was something that they WANTED to read, and it made them want to read more. 🙂 It was amazing, regardless of what type of book it was, I was seriously happy that it got them all reading. Hopefully, they all kept up with it, too. 🙂 That’s definitely true. Great point, Laura! 😀

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