I recently had the very uncomfortable revelation that in many ways I'm a huge book snob. In fact, I'm like the mirror image to all those people you see decrying adults reading young adult fiction. Except I'm worse because I know better.
A couple weekends ago I was hanging out with a group of friends, including a few people I hadn't met before. Somehow the topic of books came up, and I of course have NO FILTER on excitement and intensity when talking about things I love. (That's a conversation for another day). The guy I was talking to seemed very nice...but we had completely different interests. He talked about Murakami, and I mentioned that I had a REALLY. HARD. TIME with 1Q84, but I wasn't averse to trying his other books. (Kafka on the Shore is my brother's favourite book and I promised him I wouldn't give up on Murakami until I read that). We branched off onto what other sorts of books he enjoyed reading and he'd said Murakami and Cormac McCarthy are his favourite authors, and that he really enjoyed Infinite Jest. And that's when I shoved my foot not only into my mouth but straight down my throat. There was basically major foot shovage. (And I maaaaay have day drunk before heading over to their place to...have more drinks. So I'm a bit more...honest than I mean to be when there's alcohol involved). I basically said that I thought people who read those sorts of books were pretentious.
Yep. I said that. To a very nice stranger. Admittedly, it wasn't quite that blunt, but I immediately felt total and utter shame. I was really bothered by this - I thought about it ALL. WEEK. Just because I wouldn't ordinarily say something like that doesn't mean I don't THINK it. Which is also totally not ok! I then spent a lot of time just thinking about why I think this and how I can go about changing this mind set.
I think some of this sentiment started because a lot of people who read said authors totally judge me when they find out what I read and often say things along the lines of "Oh...well you should read some real authors, I think you would like x." And I often find that discussions with readers whose tastes tend to be only classic and "literary giant" authors (rather than people who read a variety of things, including classics, etc.) do come off as pretentious. (Although the poor guy I was talking to wasn't that way at all!) In a lot of ways it seems like they only read the classics because they want to be (or seem) well-read and respected. I think it also comes because these authors? They're almost all white men, and you know what? I have a hard time reading "serious" works of literature by white men. But that's another topic for another time. It feels when I have these discussions they are never about enjoyment of reading, but feel like the conversation is weighted towards the person discussing things purely because it makes him seem like an intellectual. (Also note the use of him. I don't know a single non-male person who only reads classics/award winning books.) And I'm sure that occasionally that is in fact the case. But I'm betting most of the time I make that judgement, it's not coming from a place of real observation, it's being filtered through a specific prejudice that I have. And it may be that I'm a little jealous of them - I'm really, really not well spoken. My thoughts are unorganized and I don't sound put together when I talk on the fly (and I hate that about myself). And then I had an epiphany:
People read books for different reasons, not everyone has the same goal out of it. Just because they aren't reading for fun doesn't invalidate what they are getting out of reading.
Some people want to expand their world view or want to provoke thoughts and classics and Pulitzer Prize winners have the reputation for doing that. Just because I think a work is pretentious and dull, doesn't mean that the reader is or that the reader is getting that from the story. It doesn't invalidate my opinion on the book, but it doesn't give me the right to pass judgement on them as readers or for their reasons on reading. Most people also don't read nearly as frequently as I do, so they are both choosier about what they read and are exposed to less books. It's the classics and the hard hitting award winners that get the sort of press and reviews that trickle down to nonbook following people. So I feel like most of the people I know who aren't big readers are less likely to try new genres or audiences. They stick with what they know and enjoy. And there is nothing wrong with that.
On my end, I need to step back and respect that. And instead of just shutting my mouth and judging, I need to shut my mouth and listen.