Friday Coffee Chat - Book Snobbery

Are you a book snob?

I have had this conversation with a few of my friends in the last year. Some of them are avid readers while others prefer to sit down and relax in front of the television after a long day of work. I've found that since I have started blogging, the world of books has opened up for me. 

Did I used to be a book snob? Quite frankly...yes, I was a book snob. I turned up my nose at books I considered "grocery store reads" because if everyone was reading Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer or some other author I routinely saw at the check-out stand, I thought the book must be total crap. I also have in the past turned up my nose to the Romance and YA genres (I am an adult you know...why should I be reading YA books?!!). Things changed when I worked with a woman that was an avid reader. I saw her with tons of different types of books so we started talking about what we read. At the time, she was reading the Twilight series so I told her I'd try it. Honestly...I devoured them. I can't say that I loved them, but I didn't have the bad reaction to it I thought I would. They were fun, escapist (and at my job at the time I really needed an escape), fluffy reads that I enjoyed. I wouldn't call them great literature, but it didn't cloud my enjoyment of them. After this experience I decided to be more open with what I read.

I also recently had a conversation with another person who is quite choosy about what they read. She commented that she thought Orson Scott Card (*gasp*) couldn't write. I think some of his books are fantastic and that he is a gifted writer. She was so vehement about her hatred for his writing that I was honestly a little surprised. Since that conversation I've been earnestly pondering a few questions:
  • What constitutes a book snob?
  • Do I ever judge others based on what they read?
For book bloggers, I have another question:
  • Since you've been book blogging, have you become more or less of a book snob?
                   --OR (if you don't like the term book snob)--
  • As a book blogger, have you become more or less choosy in what you read?
  • Has the world opened up in terms of genre for you, or have you decided that you know what you like and don't want to wade through all the books out there that you could care less about?
  • Do you turn your nose up at certain genres (i.e., Romance, YA, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Manga, or any other genre that typically gets the know...THAT FACE)?

I still think that I exhibit some signs of book snobbery. I still haven't tried a romance, nor do I read many YA books. I am definitely on track for opening myself up more just to find out if I don't actually like a certain genre, but I definitely feel like I have become less judgmental about what other people choose to read.

I'd love to know what you all think about this!

**Also, if I have taken someone's idea for a recurring post topic/meme, please let me know. I looked around to see if someone was doing something similar, but I didn't see anything in particular. I don't want to step on anyone's toes!


Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Good question! I tend to be a bit of a book snob. I'm just not a big fan of the sorts of "grocery store" reads you're talking about because I feel like I don't get a lot from reading them, and I like to learn things when I read.

But I've been trying to learn to be less judgy with other people. Instead, I try to see what they're reading and suggest something I think is "better" but that they'd still like. That's still pretty snobby, I guess, or maybe it's just me trying to share my reading tastes with other people.

Carin B. said...

@Kim - I definitely felt like you for a long time so I get where you are coming from for sure! I am sort of in a learning mood lately so three of my last four books have been non-fiction reads. I do have a question for you though...Do you judge/suggest books you think are "better" before or after you've read something similar to their tastes?

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

@Carin - It depends. I used to be a Dan Brown/YA Romance/chick lit/political thriller reader, so I sort of know what those books are, generally, about. And since that's what my family reads, I can recommend stuff that is sort of like those genres and feel like I'm in the ballpark.

Other stuff, it's mostly a guess. I try to recommend books I've recently read that seem similar to people's personalities -- a nonfiction travel adventure book to people who like Survivor or don't read much, for example. So, it depends :)

I also only try to recommend books when people ask, or when they tell me about the book they're reading and it reminds me of something I've read that seems similar.

Rikki said...

Carin, what a great question you are asking.
I am a terrible book snob which might come as a surprise considering that I am now reading and reviewing mainly a genre that a lot of people wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.
I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction simply because I'm not interested in it. And if someone hasn't read any highly acclaimed Booker Prize winners or whatever I don't care.
However, if I come across someone who hasn't read, let's say Thomas Hardy or F. Scott Fitzgerald, I'm wondering what sort of book lovers they are. I can't explain it well, but to me there are some books that one must have read and if someone hasn't I tend to judge them a bit harshly.
Of course, reading in itself is a good thing already, but for me you must have read the right stuff first, before you are allowed to read the wrong one, :-).
When I come to someone's house and they have one shelf and on that shelf is a collection of 10 books, all of them Dan Brown and the likes, then I judge them - possibly wrongly so.
A friend of mine collects Stephen King books. Fair enough, I like Stephen King. But she only collects hardcover because "paperbacks don't look that good on the shelf". OK, now I start laughing. Then she tells me she'll give Under the Dome away because "the cover is not blue like the others and won't go with the rest". Give me a break! When I told that to a friend and laughed like crazy he told me I was a book snob. Yeah, so be it!

Oh, btw, your idea about the bestsellers in the supermarket might not be that great because everybody reads them reminds me of a quote from The Economist I put up on my blog. It goes:
"A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read ‘The Lost Symbol’, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it."

Nymeth said...

As much as I'm not a fan of Meyer or Brown, I try my best not to be a snob - I've been on the receiving end of too much snobbery to ever intentionally do it myself.

The term "choosy" actually makes me a lot more uncomfortable than "snob". I dislike the implication that when I read YA, fantasy, sci-fi or comics (the things people usually patronise me for reading), I didn't deliberately decide to read them using all my critical faculties, same as a person who reads only Pulitzer winners. Which couldn't be further from the truth.

Carin B. said...

@Rikki - Oh yay! I love your comments! Sure to be controversial or at the very least very thought provoking! I actually disagree with that Economist quote simply because I now read grocery store novels and enjoy them (not Dan Brown though--read The Davinci Code and didn't like it), but I also try to read literary stuff. Maybe that puts me in a small percentage of people that read both, but I think there are people out there capable of enjoying Dan Brown and Thomas Hardy at the same time. I've also heard writers like Alexandre Dumas were considered fluff in their day and now they are classics (although maybe that is just crap I heard that's not true) Is that crazy of me to think that both can be enjoyed?

I also think those fun, fluffy reads can help people jump into the mix of more literary books later on in life. I feel like I have to mix up my literary reading with fun stuff like fantasy and sci-fi (which can also be literary of course).

About the shelf thing. I am somewhat the same way, but not quite that bad. I like my books to look uniform when they are a series for sure! I refuse to buy The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's nest because I want it in trade paper since that's what my Girl with the Dragon Tattoo copy is. I like some uniformity in my shelves. ;)

I like your point of view though because I know a lot of people who share it. Some of my friends refuse to read stuff unless they find it enriching (similar to what Kim said above). For me, I just feel like I've come to the point in my life where I don't want to judge a genre unless I'm willing to read it at least once (including GLBT which I've been meaning to ask you about since I know nothing about the genre).

Carin B. said...

@Nymeth - I actually have fallen into the category of judging YA readers when they are adults. I have picked up a juvenile fiction book that someone recommended to me (Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan) because I felt it was unfair to judge based on my ignorance. Also, I won't judge you for reading comics or graphic novels, or even fantasy and sci-fi. I enjoy fantasy and sci-fi a lot and a lot of my friends like graphic novels. Have the people that patronized you over what you read actually read the genres they are criticizing you over?

I wonder if sometimes the judgmental nature of some book snobs is borne out of ignorance. I now think people should read what they enjoy--some read just for escape so they don't want to read the heavy stuff while others want to be enriched. Some people feel differently so it's definitely interesting to hear what people have to say on the subject.

Rikki said...

Oh, I totally agree with that you can enjoy both. Absolutely! I have read Dan Brown and loved the DaVinci Code. Only when I read Angels and Demons I realized that he writes the same story over and over and nobody seems to notice. But I thought it was great entertainment. I'm reading fluff all the time nowadays and love it. All I'm saying is that if someone only reads fluff then they might want to reconsider.
As for the shelves, I'm all for non-uniformity, the more colorful and eclectic looking the better.

Nymeth said...

Ignorance does have a lot to do with it, yep. I also sometimes wonder about the extent to which a reader's expectations influence their response, even when they do make an exception and read one of "those" books. If someone's TOO determined to, say, dismiss all fantasy as fluff, they will do it no matter how complex and layered the fantasy book you recommend to them is. Sadly this is experience speaking :P

Carin B. said...

@Nymeth - Oh, I have a good book for you to try with your friends. Hyperion by Dan Simmons. All my friends scoffed when I chose it because the cover...well, it's a ridiculous sci-fi cover. None of them read science fiction, but after we read it everyone said they liked the book. It's well written (and you can argue that it has the poet John Keats in it so it can't be that weird!!!) and a great story.

Fiona said...

I think people should read what they want. I don't want to read vampire books or strictly romance books - they don't interest me and I don't see the point when there are so many other books out there I'd rather be reading.

I do get very frustrated with vampire fiction as it takes over the whole bloody YA section of the bookshop - and great, if you want to read that stuff but I don't. In the adult section of the library romancey books seem to take over the bookshelves and some authors get sidelined to only having one or two books on the shelf.

I hate The Lovely Bones with a passion and I thought The Da Vinci Code was an ok book, but nothing that shocking or amazing. Yet I love Stieg Larsson's Millenium series.

I guess... if you only ever read crimes, or you only ever read romance, or whatever - that is limiting.

I don't see the point in just reading one kind of genre be it vampire fiction or high end literary. But y'know in the end it's up to the individual what they read - or what they don't read.

I am a bit of a pink-snob. I don't buy books if they have pink book covers that look overly girly and wishy washy. Probably missing out on some good books this way, I've seen some books that I've really liked in the past being re-packaged into some awful pastel covered, girly, glitzy cover.

So I guess that makes me a cover snob.

I think what makes a book snob is not what books they choose not to read. That's just personal taste and personal opinion.

I guess what makes a book snob is people telling others what they shouldn't read.

What winds me up is people who don't read YA and think that adults who still read YA must be immature and unintelligent. That gets my goat.

If someone doesn't like YA books that is their opinion and their choice it doesn't make them a snob. That I don't like vampire or paranormal fiction doesn't make me a snob - it just means I don't like those books. Yet bizarrley I always feel a bit like a snob when I say that I'm not interested in it.

I AM a bit (ok a lot) of a TV snob. I hate reality TV, it's ruined good, decent intelligent TV in my opinion. The amount of quality dramas that have been axed in the UK to fund Simon Cowell's pay cheque makes me mad. And everything is about reality stars nowadays. Or random no-good celebrities who aren't famous for anything other then getting their tits out. Talentless nobodies who parade around on TV and get themselves in glossy magazines about how fat or thin they are. And who are they? What do they do? Nothing. Ugh!!! And my favourite hospital drama has turned into a soap that is more about who shagged who then hospital patients. I could go on for ages how once decent TV dramas have been turned into badly written shadows of their former selves.


Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting conversation, Carin! Glad you started it.

The only way in which my book snobbery shows itself is that I judge people who do NOT read. I just can't help it. And I find that the people who rarely to never pick up a book (any type of book that is) have similarities in other aspects that lead me to judge them more.

That said... I think people who judge others by the genres they mystifying. I find that it is usually people who think literary fiction is the only worthy fiction. I have to wonder if these types actually believe that or if they are so worried about what others think of their reading habits that they adopt that attitude? I sense that it is similar to a bully on a playground... the most insecure readers tend to judge what others read. Those who are secure with themselves are happy and want others to be happy (i.e. reading what brings them pleasure).

I read across the board. This past year I have read everything from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall to Nora Robert's Vision in White. So I'm not a specific genre reader. Perhaps it's the teacher in me that admires the individual in each person -- including their tastes in art (which all literature is part of).

Granted there are genres that I don't care for as much as others, but rather than think less of the people who read them, I try to find out which ones are the most loved in said genre... and then give it a try.

Lastly, I think we have to consider why people read. Not everyone reads for the same reasons (and often our reading tastes change from time to time). Some read to learn, others read to escape, and still others read to stretch their minds. Many readers read for all of the above. I know people who lead very stressful difficult lives. Who are sick, or constantly taking care of others (etc), so they prefer a lighter read to escape from the deepness of their lives. I also know others who feel as though their lives are humdrum, so they want books that will make them feel something. So, I challenge those who judge people who read "fluffier" novels to consider that next time they judge. And to wonder what it would be like if someone judged them for being unable to appreciate a lighter read considering what I said above.

My two cents are done. :) Good convo!

Anonymous said...

great post ,I d love to say I m not a book snob but know I am of the worst sort ,I hat brown meyer all the ilk ,growing up reading classic and modern lit has narrowed my view but each to there own ,now I focus on translated fiction my view is hard on grocery store books ,all the best stu

Fiona said...

Like Wallace I am a bit of a snob towards people who don't read. Not reading just sounds so boring!

Carin B. said...

@Fiona - Oh, as I said in my post I have definitely fallen into that category with the YA genre. I definitely feel like I need to open myself up to it and after meeting so many bloggers that blog about YA fiction, I feel like I have made a mistake in my judgment. YA bloggers are smart and vibrant part of the book blogging community and I now appreciate them. I also now want to read some of the books they review.

I agree with you about TV too. I watch very little reality TV because it's so dumbed down (although I do watch shows like Deadliest Catch which I consider more documentary-ish). I abhor American Idol and SYTYCD ::hides from the anger that will cause::

@Wallace - I agree about the escapism. I have met people who read fluffy books purely for fun because their lives are so crazy and heavy all the time. I've found that they are really intelligent, and so I've been convicted there too. It's helped me to become less judgmental about what I see people reading. I've seen people on book forums talk about how they are too embarrassed to read Twilight on the train (but they really want to). Just read it. Who cares what people think?!! Own your reading I say! :)
Also reading the post on your blog right now Jane Austin was a Chick-lit writer and Thoreau was a Hippie now. I'm almost finished reading. Liking it a lot!

@winstonsdad - Nothing wrong with knowing what you like, and I'm glad you think "to each his own." :)

Chelle said...

That is so totally THE FACE! I see it from time to time and pitty the fool making it. I don't care for romance myself but I don't go around feeling high and mighty about it. You never know where a person is along their life journey and maybe what I think is a waste of time to read is exactly what they need. It never pays to judge - least of all by a cover!

Fiona said...

In my opinion - young adult books are the same as adult fiction. There's equal amounts of crap on both sides. ;)

Also there's a wide range of ages these books are aimed at - from younger teenagers to much older teenagers.

I definitely think you should try more YA just to see what you'll like. My favourite YA authors are Diana Wynne Jones (fantasy) Kevin Crossley Holland (historical) Philip Reeve (fantasy) and Eva Ibbotson (romance - yes romance so I do read that genre, see see not quite as much of a snob I thought I was! Or maybe that makes me a hypocrite. Hmm. Well one of the two.)

I haven't read a lot of the more recent, popular YAs though... unfortunately none of them have really maintained my shorter attention span.

I find since becoming active on Goodreads as my first online book community (I can't say blogging has changed my reading habits as GR changed them before Is started to blog) that I have a shorter attention span when it comes to certain books. Before I'd have continued reading and maybe enjoyed it enough. Now unless it captures me, or interests me enough I don't want to read it.

Carin B. said...

@Chelle - I loved that face immediately because I get those looks from friends for reading fantasy and sci-fi. It's hilarious. They are just missing out! :P

@Agreed, Fiona! I will definitely try those authors and report back to you. Mind you...I'm on a book ban and it may take a long time to get to those books, but I added them to my Shelfari TBR list (except for Phillip Reeve--give me a suggestion from him). I added the first Arthur book from Holland and Howl's Moving Castle--I've been wanting to read that forever!

Chachic said...

I used to be a book snob, I think. Until I realized that I loved YA and fantasy and people turn down their noses at those two genres. Now I know that it's just a matter of taste. There are a lot of books out there and as Shannon Hale said before, 50% of the book depends on the reader. It's up to the reader to decide what he/she takes away from the book. So now I just accept the fact that people might not like the books that I love and I might not like the books that they recommend.

I used to look down on romance too! Until I gave a couple of well-recommended books a try. It still isn't my favorite genre but I enjoy reading romance books from time to time.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm a book snob! But not because I read the classics and look down on people. It's more that I read a lot and just can't believe that some people read more than me.

Then when I look at their list, it's all YA and romance. Yeah, I think, I could read those and double that amount.

But it's not a competition really!

I start to consider these days that it's actually good that people are reading at all be it a lighter genre than I prefer.

Carin B. said...

@Chachic - I pretty much feel exactly how you do now although I haven't quite gotten rid of my snobbery towards chick-lit, YA, and romance. I'm working on it though. I put some YA books in my TBR pile on Shelfari and am definitely open to reading a good chick-lit or romance just to really determine whether I like it or not. I did read Bridget Jones' Diary and really liked it so there is good stuff out there!

@leeswammes - I feel like that. I have only read 23 books this year, but I think it's because I've read a few 800 page books. It so frustrating to see people finishing books on a daily basis! hehe

tolmsted said...

I think I’m less a book snob and more of a book hypocrite. I read just about anything – fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, romance, chicklit, history, classics, comic books/graphic novels, YA, mystery, horror, the backs of cereal boxes…hmmm, did I miss any? I’m really not all that picky when it comes to genre. But I am picky about what I’ll review. Not because I look down on a specific genre (though I do that too); but because I usually don’t have a whole lot to say about a cheesy historical romance, chitlit or a YA novel after the general plot summary. And most readers can probably get that info off of Amazon.

Now the “hypocrite” applies because I COMPLETELY judge people on what they read and what I see on their bookshelves. I actually started my blog based on that premise – recommending books to read in public (you know, so people like me can judge you :-)). And though it isn’t as forced as it was when I started, I suppose that’s still basically what my blog does. Because if you’re reading Twilight, The Bridges of Madison County, R.A. Salvatore or Infinite Jest in public… wow. That is saying a whole lot more about you than you really want to say. At the very least I’d recommend you invest in a nook. (That’s the beauty of the digital reader – it’s like a duck blind!).

Carin B. said...

@tolmsted - I think that might be the comment of the week! That is too funny. I DO in fact read books I am too embarrassed to read in public on my e-book reader. I don't judge people for reading Twilight though--because EVERYONE has read it it seems like. I have talked to people who are too embarrassed to read some of the things you mentioned in public. I think that's kind of sad. I'm trying to learn to own it when I read something embarrassing. :P

Anonymous said...

Leeswammes and Carin -- I think that's really tricky for reading challenges as well. Some people rack up the books because they choose really short, easy novels. I understand how that can be frustrating. That's why I based my challenge on pages instead of amount of books. It just seems more fair that way. We don't want to be discouraging people from reading challenging works either, right?

Carin B. said...

@unputdownables - I do like the pages idea, but I feel like overall I wouldn't change what I read just to pump out the reviews. I've noticed that I've made good friends through blogging even if we choose to read different things and I can always look at their reviews while I'm working on my ridiculously long books (it's become a terrible pattern. A short book for me is now 600 pages). I think there is enough room in the blogosphere for both short and long books so I welcome both. I will definitely join in your reading challenges in the future!

Carin S. said...

I'm certainly a book snob, and blogging hasn't changed my mind. I do read widely, but not genre books (romance, thrillers, mysteries). I do sometimes read a crazy-popular book, not because I want to, but because I think I need to know what's going on in the book world for my career. I read The DaVinci Code for this reason (and considered reading Twilight for the same reason, but I still have resisted that one.) I think it's okay. I've read a handful of all of these - I've even read 1-2 fantasy or sci-fi books. They just don't do it for me. I do think people ought to try it before dismissing outright, and there are of course exceptions to every rule, but after many years and thousands of books, I know what I like. I do try to stretch myself, but I also make judgements, and will (mostly) cut out categories that I overall don't like, and I think that's certainly fine. After all, you have to have some kind of decision-making process, otherwise you'd be completely overwhelmed.

Carin B. said...

@Other Carin - I agree with you on knowing what you like. I think for me, I was the opposite. I was VERY choosy when I was younger and since blogging I've started to realize that some of the fluffy reads out there are quite fun--so in that respect, it's opened me up a lot. I've also read some books people have recommended to me that I was convinced I wouldn't like and ended up liking (The Omnivore's Dilemma was one). So all in all, I say, "To each his own." I love reading your blog because you do have such a great variety of books you review!

Man of la Books said...

I don't think I'm a book snob, but I won't read something I'm not going to like (chick-lit, romance books), I like comic books and Kingdom Come is still on my top ten list books I love even though it is a graphic novel.

I certainly do not look down on those who read genre I don't like. Hey, they read and that says a lot.

Carin B. said...

@Man of La Books - Secretly (but don't tell anyone), I would probably worry about you if you did read chick-lit! hehehe...I want to say I'm joking, but I think if I saw a guy on a bus reading Confessions of a Shopaholic or something like that I might do a double take. Then I might think they were super cool for owning their love of Sophie Kinsella. :)

Thanks for dropping by! You are an awesome commenter and I hope people will see your comments here and drop by your blog. I need to go make some comments on your blog as well! I've read some posts and really like your blog, but I'm behind on commenting!

Trish said...

LOL! Nothing like talk of book snobbery to bring on the comments. :)

I don't like the term book snob--like Nymeth I think "choosy" is more appropriate and I do think that I fall into this "choosy" category. For me the toughest thing is to not draw biases on a genre as a whole, but I tend to do this sometimes. If there is a Fabio-esque man on the cover ripping the bodice off a busty lady, I'm not likely to pick it up. Maybe these books are great? I have no idea. And maybe that makes me a book snob. :) Same goes for mystery and thrillers in general--especially the mass market ones, but this comes from my experience that they don't really stimulate me as much as another type of book might. I think we all just get comfortable with certain genres and authors and I don't see anything wrong with this. BUT, looking down on someone else because they do? I don't agree with that. Reading is reading, right?

Carin B. said...

@Trish - I definitely know where you are coming from. I used to not read the mass market thrillers, but I decided to give them a try and I joined a book club that reads stuff like that and honestly...they are super fun. They are nice fluffy reads and you can hang out with friends and laugh about the characters (The Killing Floor by Lee Child we laughed about because the main character is popular with the ladies despite never bathing--according to one of our group members). It's kind of fun to hear what people have to say about them because those wacky comments come out. Now I enjoy the genre even though I don't think I'm a hardcore reader of it. I've opened myself up a lot since starting this blog so I think I've progressed as a reader that way. I'm all for reading what you like though because there's something for everyone out there!

On a side note to everyone, these Coffee Chats have been really fun these last few weeks because I think we've all kept it civil and had real dialogue. I love the book blogging community. You guys are all awesome in my eyes!

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