Spare a thought for us poor Book Snobs. No-one likes us.
Go to any part of the web where books are discussed, or talked about, or even just mentioned in passing, and you’ll find broadsides against Book Snobs. I won’t bother supplying links: just do a search on “book” and “snob” – or, for a little variety, “literary” and “snobbery” – and you’ll find there’s no shortage of hits. Everyone is agreed: Book Snobs are terrible people! No-one, but no-one, has a single good word to say for us Book Snobs.
Perhaps I should stop being a Book Snob. I’m not quite sure how I became one in the first place. It’s something you get to be without even realising it. For instance, I look through some book that is very popular, think it shoddily written, and am foolish enough to say openly what I think; and even such folly marks me out as a Book Snob. Do I not realise that millions upon millions of people enjoy The Da Vinci Code, or 50 Shade of Grey, or whatever? Who am I to look down on other people, and on their pleasures? I know, I know … I am thoroughly ashamed of myself, but there seems little I can do about this. And the next time I find myself browsing through a popular book that strikes me as badly written, there I go again, saying what I think. Shocking, absolutely shocking.
And then I go around saying how much I enjoy books that only Book Snobs ever read. If I read Ulysses, say, or The Brothers Karamazov, or the odes of Keats – yes, I know, that last one isn’t even proper prose! – and, what’s more, if I say I enjoy it, then, obviously, I am lying. It’s only because I’m a Book Snob that I can’t admit I’d rather be reading The Da Vinci Code instead.
So why don’t I read bestsellers? Why is my reading almost entirely devoted to classics, or books that are highly regarded by literary types – i.e. rated only by other Book Snobs? I offer the excuse – a weak one, I know – that I am actually quite a slow reader, and, not having the time or the energy to read everything that is out there, I am forced to be selective. And so, I focus on works that are well-regarded: while that doesn’t ensure that what I read will necessarily be of a high quality, it does improve the odds somewhat.
And what’s more, most books on the bestseller lists that I browse in the bookshops seem to me shoddily written.
Damn! – there I go again!
Then, I don’t take everyone’s opinion equally seriously. This is very damning. For, as we all know, in our democratic age, all opinions carry equal weight – especially when it comes to books: we are all entitled to our opinions, and anyone who says otherwise is a Snob. Sadly, I am snobbish enough to look for evidence of understanding, of insight; I look for lucidly stated argument; and I take more seriously the opinions of those who can provide such things: for when they do provide such things, what they have to say becomes more than an opinion – it becomes a critical judgement. And thinking in this manner makes me, I fear, an unredeemable Book Snob.
Or take these e-readers. I actually do have an iPad, which can act as an e-reader. And the first thing I did on getting the iPad was to download what for me are the three most indispensable books in the English language – the King James Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and the Complete Sherlock Holmes stories. This is handy when I’m away from home: it saves me lugging large volumes around. But I am of a generation that is too used to paper books, and, for that reason, I do find reading from a tablet a less rewarding experience than reading print on paper. Sometimes, in making this point, I get a bit carried away and overstate it somewhat: “E-reading isn’t real reading!” I say, reflecting merely my own experience: for it doesn’t seem like real reading to me! But as soon as I say something so heinous, I am instantly a Book Snob, a person fit only to be shunned. Once again, I acknowledge my guilt, but what can I do? I weep about it on long, winter nights.
And I am, I admit, very attached to my paper books. I love handling them. I love the smell of them. Silly, I know, but there you are. Some people love their shoes, some their jewellery, some their cars, and some even their snooker cues: I love books. I wish I could help it, but I can’t. I get upset when I drop something on the page and stain it; or when a paperback spine becomes badly creased, and pages start to fall out. How very Book Snobbish of me!
I also buy books from independent booksellers, as buying heavily discounted books from chains and from internet outlets seems to me to be bad for the book industry. And since I love books, and would like the publishing industry to thrive; and since, further, I am fortunate enough not to be on the breadline; I like to support independent outlets as best I can, even though it costs me a bit more.
Oh dear! – there really is no help for me, is there?
Well, what cannot be helped must be accepted: I am a Book Snob, and there isn’t anything I can do about it. But please don’t look down on us: looking down on people is, after all, our job!
So here’s my suggestion: all of you out there who aren’t Book Snobs, why don’t you make friends with one? Let’s have an International Adopt a Book Snob Week. And you may well find, I think, that we Book Snobs are, underneath it all, actually quite cute and cuddly people.
Even though we think 50 Shades of Grey is a steaming pile of crap!