Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday Musings: In which Elizabeth discovers she is a miserable, horrible, judgemental book snob.

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.


  1. "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." -> I totally agree with this; which means that we’re not in any position to judge a reader on what they read or why they read it. I think we should just stop nit-picking other people’s taste and reasons just to conform to what we know ideally. :D

  2. I think you point it out perfectly. And it is hard not to be defensive when you feel judged yourself. I admit I give side eye to people who will only read "literature", most of which I find dreadful. But that is because I feel insecure about not liking it too. Why don't I like it? Am I too stupid to get it? But on the different side of the same coin, I will judge people who freak out over Twilight and/or 50 Shades of Grey. Especially 50 Shades. But I wish I had their fervor for a book.

  3. Well, that sounds like a suitably awkward conversation - and this is a good example of why outside of the blogging community I only talk to a couple people in my family about books. I've tried reading 'serious literature' and...I don't like it. I find it depressing and boring. (Honestly, that's about the way I feel towards the classics, too.) I am one of those kinds of people though that, unless I think the book has a bad message, I tend to be of the 'don't try to convince me to read something, I won't pick at your taste' mentality. The fact is that I've read so much in my life that I know what I like. I read books for fun - give me two choices in books, one serious and thoughtful and the other about teen supervillain training (using the book I'm currently reading as an example) and I know which one I'll pick. Good luck to you!

  4. I think it's really funny because until this happened I TOTALLY thought that I already thought that! ....sometimes the amount I DON'T know myself amazes me haha. I think in general a lot of YA readers are pretty open with what other people read. They might get a little pushy (*ahem* TFIOS), but they don't really judge people on what they read. Or at least in my lucky experience so far :) I think it's awesome I've got a community of people who A. Read the same books as me B. Don't judge me for said books or any other books I might read. Readers unite!

  5. Yeah I think I have a background in both which is why it led to this point haha. And I swear to god "literature" is ALWAYS about freaking failed marriages! Whether the MC is cheating, the cheater, being cheated ON, or their marriage is just stagnating slowly into nothing...I hate that. I didn't even know how MUCH I hated it until I noticed the turning point where I was like...ugghhhhhh in said books. And ok, there are exceptions, but still. I like my drama to be DRAMATIC, this sucks I guess. Also the cheating. I never used to understand people who said they wouldn't read it in their books til I realized how prevalent it is in contemporary adult literature.

    And...yeah. Twilight I sort of understand? I mean I was able to read them, and honestly I don't think they're TERRIBLE. Just sort of terrible. But 50 Shades? I don't even think I could read the first chapter! each their own?

  6. ...yeahhhh...I tend to do that because mostly I get blank faces haha. But when someone brings a book up I get so damned excitable and forget myself! And yes that's EXACTLY it - "depressing and boring". Like when YA books are sad...they're REALLY. SAD. Not just kind of Life sucks. Whatever. With no change by the end of the book. Where are your plots people?? And I HATE that as a fantasy reader, I hear a lot of people who don't get that shit gets real in fantasy novels. And they can be JUST as thought provoking as contemporary novels. They just have you know...dragons and the like to spice it up. Plus a plot. (I maaaay have 1Q84 on the mind. And it's not even really contemporary it's sort of sci-fi!)

  7. Yes! I find in "literature" that everyone is basically an asshole and unhappy with their lives but too disaffected to do anything about it. Hate. It.

    So, I did read the first Twilight. I liked it well enough. Not enough where I was very interested in continuing with the story, but I certainly didn't hate it. My problem with Twilight is actually more the movies, which I think are just...gah! WHY?! I despise Kristin Stewart. And the fangirling over it makes me speechless. 50 Shades...just, no.

  8. Thanks for sharing this epiphany! I'm so careful when I talk books with other people because I realise I'm a unique bookworm lol. Respecting each other's right to read is spot on. Although I completely understand that uncomfortable feeling of talking books with more literary inclined readers (which is so weird because I actually enjoy reading literary novels. It's just that literary stories can stray so far into themes of alienation/disillusion that I need something with a bit more hope/adventure to balance it out.) I tend to read more female authors too (in all genres - literary, YA, fantasy, scifi etc.) so sometimes, I feel sad when I can only discuss prominent male authors because the person I'm speaking to doesn't necessarily know the other awesome authors from that genre. Though I guess systemic gender bias is for another post lol.

  9. I will be back to comment. My Kindle battery is dying, but I wanted you to know I read the post and loved it. Ha ha ha. :)

  10. Yeeeees! That's a big part of it that I hadn't been able to figure out how to vocalize - it's the casual acceptance of it. So it's basically just a bunch of whining haha!

    Bahahaha I'd forgotten you hated her so much! I don't think I've seen a single film she was in (I gave up on Twilight about 1/3 of the way through because...dear god it was awful. Like even more awful than the book! And Jacob with his Fabio hair had me in fits of laughter the whole time haha)

  11. I think it's weird too - I actually read a fair number of classics (I have a harder time with contemporary "literature" (is there a word for what I mean? Gah this is going to bother me!) - for exactly the reasons you just said. I need hope and adventure in my novel! Otherwise a lot of the books are just depressing and nothing changes by the end of it all).

    And yeah I definitely notice the gender discrepancy more in "literature". And I think it definitely plays a part into why I only know men who are into reading only classic/contemporary literature. I think as a woman reader...well, I get sick of a lot of the stereotypes and ideals that pop up when you go through a phase of only reading male writers. (Again, see 1Q84 for all of my complaints about all of this ever haha)

  12. Aww well thanks for letting me know haha! xD

  13. I think if I didn't dislike her so much IRL, then I could stomach her "acting", but I get tired of her emo. Don't be a movie actor if you don't like the attention, just sayin'

  14. I'm one of those pretentious people! So I wanted to quickly explain why. A quick caveat, I don't read that many books (maybe 1 or 2 per month). This means that I'm probably missing out on dozens of books which would change my opinions.

    Side note: Just read Kafka on the Shore already! It's good, I promise!

    >>> "Some people want to expand their world view..."

    Some of my favorite books growing up included Redwall, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and The Gates of Rome. The main characters, on paper, are quite different: a mouse with a sword, a Victorian magician, Julius Caesar...

    But these characters, like most of the characters in the non-classics I've read, aren't hard to understand. They're actually not unlike the friends I already have in my life. Even though they may be in really different societies than my own, the characters still seem like regular people; even the weird characters seem like regular people with a characteristic or two twisted to make them interesting. They're still described from the perspective of a modern Western person.

    But when I read an author like Dostoevsky, I'm brought into a world created by a (probably insane) 19th century Russian, filled with rich characters I would never find or understand in my own life. I have to really struggle to understand them; they aren't written in a way that's easily accessible to a typical American. But that's what I find so rewarding about reading his books!

    I don't think a modern Western author could ever write a novel like Dostoevsky. Not because they aren't as talented, but because their life is too different. And while there may be other great, non-classic Russian authors, there aren't many of them with easily-available translations to English. But there are translations of the classics.

  15. I will, I will! ...actually maybe I should read that before trying to finish 1Q84 since I'm so emphatically NOT into 1Q84. Maybe 1. I'll enjoy Kafka on the Shore, and 2. It'll give me some insight/push me to finish 1Q84.

    This has given me a lot of food for thought. (You'll be happy to know that 85% of the time I don't think you're pretentious haha! When you are talking about books you're usually coming from a place of genuine interest and not caught up in how smart you feel for reading said books. I love Sejoon...but sometimes he falls into this trap.) I also think that as someone who has enjoyed books that aren't what I call "literature" (but really mean books that rate high by critics and are bought by lots of people because of that, but generally aren't read. Like Ulysses. Or anything by Jeffrey Eugenides.) and because you are seeking out translated works, you are coming to it from a different place than the average person I mean by this post, but I may also be underestimating the average person. And you're absolutely right - I've been thinking since you left this comment about YA books that don't have accessible characters - because there are definitely some of those. But they aren't nearly as common, and they are almost exclusively coming from a Western worldview. (I find the fact that an extremely high percentage - I'd love to know the real amount - of authors are American, with quite a few from the UK and then a super, tiny amount from Canada or Australia upsetting. That's it. But that's a conversation for another day). So...I don't have anything to say other're right, and it's made me think :)

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