(Note: This article was originally published on my old blog on July 30, 2014.)
Is reading literature a form of snobbery? Literature has always been associated with the upper class because traditionally only rich people have access to it. They are also more likely to have the education necessary to appreciate literature. But in this day and age of global communication, when you don’t have to be able to read or understand a single word of French to appreciate Proust, is it still snobbish to read “Remembrance of Things Past?”
When my daughter turned 12, I began a personal tradition of giving her books I love, as opposed to books that she’s asked for. My choices have included Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View.” It occurred to me that maybe I was subconsciously imposing literature on her. If I didn’t buy her those books, she would read only a staple of popular YA and zombie books.
I respect her choices. I gave her a copy of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” because I consider it the quintessential YA book. Although “The Catcher in the Rye” has all the elements of a YA book, it’s considered primarily as a literary novel maybe because it was written by J.D. Salinger. A form of snobbery?
Literary Exposure v. Literary Snobbery
I’m pleased that my daughter has enjoyed all the literary novels I’ve given her so far. When she told me she has read Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, but considered only the first book as worthy of reading, I was glad that she had an informed opinion.
I, myself, haven’t read “Twilight,” so I didn’t have any opinion on that. I have a great respect for Meyer and other YA authors who are responsible for the success of the genre. But I don’t read YA just like I don’t eat sushi. I simply don’t have the taste for it.
What I want to do is to help my daughter cultivate the right attitude about reading so she will be able to choose the “right” book for herself and form intelligent opinions not just about books, but in general. Exposing her to literature is what I’m aiming for. The rest is up to her.
Attitude Makes All the Difference
This brings me right back to my original question: What is literary snobbery? Is cultivating a taste for “good” books snobbish? How do you define a “good” book?
Ultimately, literary snobbery has a lot to do with attitude. Reading James Joyce’s “Ulysses” because you truly enjoy a challenge is one thing. Reading it so you can brag about it and celebrate Bloomsday with the cool literary types is another thing.
6 Signs of a Literary Snob
Below are some of the signs of literary snobbery I’ve seen.
Reads only literary fiction; absolutely no commercial genres for this reader.
Refuses to read self-published books.
Refuses to read any best seller, even if it’s literary.
Doesn’t like to read feel-good books or happy endings. The more depressing a book, the better for this reader.
Doesn’t like to read “easy” books. The more incomprehensible, the better.
Won’t read a novel published after a certain decade or period (e.g., nothing after the 1960s or after 19th century, etc.)
Perhaps most of us are guilty of some of these things to some extent at one point in our lives. I know I am. Today I’m just happy to read whatever I can while I’m waiting to get my allergy shot at the doctor’s office or before I drop dead of exhaustion at night.
If you want to read more about literary snobbery, check out this taxonomy on Flavorwire.