Home > Book Thoughts, Literature, Musings, Writing > What Is a Book Snob?

What Is a Book Snob?

Taken from BN.com

I mentioned in a recent post that I wanted to read The Hunger Games so that I could defend George Orwell. I’ve heard/read too many things declaring the series to be “Orwellian” and since my final semester at college was spend (mostly) studying Orwell enough to write a Dictionary of Literary Biography style bio on the man, I am interested in what makes the novel and the series so “Orwellian,” if anything.

I also mentioned in the same post that I wondered if I was a book snob by wanting to stay away from The Hunger Games as long as I could. I have tended to dislike book snobs. You know the ones: the ones who insist that the only books worth reading are by “true artists” such as Dickens, Melville, Hawthorne, etc.

Now, I got my degree in English and I don’t see what is great about some of the supposed greats, but I do like classics much more than I once did (hell, I’ve spent the summer reading through some of the great Russian classics). My English degree hasn’t made me like science fiction any less, however, and if anything, it has strengthened my love for it. There are positives to genre fiction, and, contrary to what a good book snob will tell you, they CAN be well written.

I started to think about what being a book snob means and if my aversion to The Hunger Games made me one of them. Then I saw this post on One Little Library linking readers to two articles about what type of readers there are. One specifically caught my eye since it’s been on my mind: The Book Snob. Here is the definition as defined by the article:

The Book Snob. You are hard to impress, Little Miss or Mister. You only read books that are well reviewed by critics that you have determined to be of the highest caliber. You would never stoop to read something on a best-seller list, or something sold in a discount department store, or something NOT GOOD. Paperbacks offend you; you only touch hardcover—preferably, award-winning in some form or fashion.

Okay, so The Hunger Games is on the best-seller list, but that is not why I don’t want to read it. I’m not in the mood to deal with poorly written prose and I fear it will be as bad as Twilight, which I couldn’t even read past page 3. I told my friend Christy about my worries (she’s an English major and she has more wisdom than me since she’s older, so I go to her when I feel like I’m being too stubborn or rash). She told me: “I think when reading certain materials, the reader’s expectations need to be matched [to the material]. I didn’t go into it [The Hunger Games] expecting amazing writing, so I wasn’t paying attention. I do think that the content gives those of us with a critical mind a lot to chew on.” With that, I realized that it isn’t the prose I want to read the book for anyway. I want to read it to defend Orwell, who did have very nice, neat, concise prose.

I am hard to impress, like a book snob, but I don’t think that makes me a book snob. That doesn’t make anyone a book snob. We should be particular about the literature we read. After all, books are being published much more now that anyone can publish. The market is flooded. If we don’t have standards and don’t make it difficult to impress, then authors who don’t deserve to be best-sellers (just getting books sold because they are cheap) will become more standard than society should want. I don’t read books that are well reviewed (maybe I do, but I don’t even pay attention to reviews because I don’t care. If I am interested in a book, I will look at other readers’ testimonies and I will ask my friends). Lastly, I love paperbacks. I love to read them and give them dog-ears. I don’t have any room for hardcovers and I am far too cheap and poor to afford them anyway.

What is a book snob? Not what I am and not what many people are. I’m ready to read The Hunger Games; I am ready to defend Orwell if there are grounds to defend him on. But, mostly, I am ready for this mini break that I hope the first book will give me. I need a little light reading anyway before I tackle some more Russian literature.

 

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  1. September 5, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    Great piece. I hate snobs in any field of work. Great literature is a special thing, but there is something to be said for reading as entertainment, as a pass time. If books are not pleasurable and dynamic, what chance do they stand against On Demand, IMAX movies, Pandora/Spotify, etc.

    In regard to “The Hunger Games,” I read all three and can only said I enjoyed the first one. The prose itself is bad, there’s no way around it, but it’s not just a best-seller, it’s a novel for children and young adult. The narrative is intriguing and paced well enough to lure a “snobbish” reader through.

    I would not call it Orwellian. The idea behind the novel, that war and blood has become a sport and might one day be televised, is Orwellian, but the novel never really goes that deep.

    Still, a fun read, a nice escapist treat. Book snobs be damned.

    • September 6, 2012 at 8:32 AM

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree with you about books needing to be pleasurable and dynamic. I believe that’s why the book industry is changing so much with the trends we see now (Twilight, The Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey, etc.).

      I’m about half way through the first Hunger Games book now and I will admit that the premise is interesting and the narrative is engaging enough to keep me going. It isn’t the “can’t put this thing down” kind of book that I was told about, but, it isn’t as bad as I was dreading it might be.

      I think there is something to be said about people who are willing to read both sides of the literary scale (entertainment v. depth). Balance in life keeps things meaningful. I know the literature I have read has meant more to me because I read a “light reading” book in between. I enjoy both types as much as the other, but I get something different from both, which I like.

      Thank you again for the thoughtful comment!

  2. Daniel Koeker
    September 6, 2012 at 7:19 AM

    That definition honestly makes me think of a stereotypical hipster, and that tells me one thing: the definition of a book snob is probably as subjective and open to every individual as every other stereotype.

    I wholly agree with having standards and preferences, and that alone does not a snob make. Nor does a book being on a bestsellers list have anything to do with its quality. For me, both the good and bad hit the list: Twilight vs Harry Potter, Fifty Shades vs. Lord of the Rings. I WILL say that I’ve been avoiding Hunger Games, though I have heard it was well-written and all that. For me it’s been because of the hype. A hipster I am not, but when people are going nuts over something I tend to feel a bit put off. (And I eventually realize that this is unfair to the book/movie/whatever and check it out anyway.)

    Good post!

    • September 6, 2012 at 8:37 AM

      I agree with you about staying away from The Hunger Games because of the hype. I honestly felt put off by all the enthusiasm about The Hunger Games, which is one reason I really didn’t want to touch it.

      I should know better though, because I felt the same when Harry Potter was big (it still is), but I broke down, read it, and loved it.

      I’m glad you pointed out that being a best seller doesn’t indicate quality, because I’ve been thinking about how Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are well-developed and have good prose. On the contrary, Twilight does not…nor does Fifty Shades.

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I will say that, now that I am halfway through The Hunger Games, it isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t say it’s living up to the hype either (at least in my subjective opinion 🙂 ). It certainly isn’t the page turner I was told it would be. But, it really does have an interesting premise that might be worth exploring by anyone who loves books.

      • Daniel Koeker
        September 6, 2012 at 2:30 PM

        I think I’m also not sure about Hunger Games’ tense… if I remember right it’s like first person present tense or something? That’s purely preference but I’m not a fan of that, ha.

      • September 6, 2012 at 2:35 PM

        Yes! I was just thinking about that myself. It really bothered me when I first started reading, but I noticed it less as I went. However, I agree, I’m not a fan. The tense certainly distinguishes it from other books, though, so I suppose Collins can be given props for doing something different.

  3. September 6, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    “You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.”

    This bit of advice comes from the late great Ray Bradbury. It’s part of a larger quote in regards to what he says a person should do if they want to become a writer. For me, what this interpreted to was to read everything, good or bad, so you can learn two things. One, how to write. Two, how NOT to write.

    Part of book snobbery comes from the almost instant knee-jerk reaction one can get by turning away from any book for any reason. Be it not wanting to fall into the hype, or not being fond of a particular genre, if you turn away from reading something then you are doing yourself a disservice. If you can’t afford to buy books or you are unwilling to give that “bestseller” your hard earned money, then rent it from your local library. It costs you nothing, unless you end up returning it late, and even then the late charge goes to the library and not the book publisher.

    You are going to run into badly written prose. You are going to wonder why such poorly written claptrap can possibly make as much money as it has and that is fine. As you pointed out, book publishing today doesn’t work the same way it did in the times of Orwell, Dickens, Melville, Hawthorne, or Bradbury. It can be upsetting to think that someone like Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James is laughing all the way to the bank because of the nature of marketing. How it’s overriding the success of far more decent authors. This being said, don’t let that anger overwhelm basic judgement.

    You want to be able to defend how The Hunger Games series isn’t like Orwell’s work. You can’t comment on it either way until you read it for yourself. It’s that simple.

    Personally, I think Collins’ work isn’t like Orwell’s in regards to prose. It’s Orwell-esk in certain portions of the content matter in the story, but to say the writing style is like his? No. I definitely do not see that.

    There was something Neil Gaiman said that’s put my mind at ease since the backlash rage at 50 Shades of Grey got started. He was asked:

    “In a recent VlogBros. video Hank Green said that 50 Shades of Grey has sold more copies than the number of books Ray Bradbury sold in his lifetime. That worries me, and I’m afraid that it will become increasingly difficult to find brilliant literature in the future. Do you think the commercialization of literature (if that’s an appropriate phrasing) has put good, thoughtful and valuable literature at risk? The aforementioned statistic seems rather ominous.”

    His answer:

    “If ever you’re curious, go and look at the annual bestseller lists for years gone by. You’ll find a lot of books that sold an unbelievable number of copies when they were fashionable. I’m sure The Revolt of Mamie Stover also sold more books than Ray Bradbury will ever have sold in his whole life in its year. Have you read it? Heard of it? Off the top of my head, Peyton Place in its year, or The Gospel According to Peanuts, or The Ginger Man, or Jonathan Livingstone Seagull in their years undoubtedly outsold all of Ray Bradbury. But when their day is done, mostly those kind of books drift back into the void, and go, if not out of print, then back into a world where nobody quite knows why they sold that many copies any more. (Do you know who Gilbert Patten was? He sold about 500 million books in his lifetime…)

    Meanwhile, Ray Bradbury sold quite a lot of books in 1956, and quite a lot of books in 2006 (Fahrenheit 451 alone has sold over 5 million copies), and he found his readers for his books and his stories in every year. And I’ll wager a hundred years from now he’ll still be read…

    So, honestly, I wouldn’t fret, if I were you.

    Nothing’s changed.Some books are, often inexplicably, bestsellers. That’s been the way of it for a hundred and fifty years or more.

    Read the books you love, tell people about authors you like, and don’t worry about it.”

    • September 6, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. What you have brought up (and rather eloquently) explains what I’ve been grappling with. I definitely agree that by shying away from The Hunger Games, I was doing myself a disservice. Now that I have read the novel, I certainly see the good qualities in it that make it so popular, and now I better understand what isn’t good about it and why authors like Bradbury, Dostoevsky, and others will continue to dominate my bookshelf. However, I think this little enlightenment I’ve had will help me not fear reading other trendy books in the future.

      I think most books have some quality (redeeming, innate, or otherwise) that readers and aspiring writers should investigate if they truly love to read or write.

      Again, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Your quotes are especially nice.

      • September 6, 2012 at 2:19 PM

        Anytime.

        Though, fear aside, I would highly advise -not- touching 50 Shades. Not unless you like to grind your teeth into stubs as you read bad prose, bad grammar, and bad story. You can still give it a shot, but don’t be ashamed if you put it down only after one chapter. I managed to plow through the book and felt mildly ill for several days after, so I’m trying to spare as many people as I can from the same fate.

        Jus’ sayin’.

      • September 6, 2012 at 2:36 PM

        Ha! Thank you for the warning. Fortunately, 50 Shades hasn’t been on my radar (mostly since the premise doesn’t interest me, not because it’s bestselling status). I will keep very far from it.

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