On Snobbery & Literature

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snob

noun \ˈsnäb\

: someone who tends to criticize, reject, or ignore people who come from a lower social class, have less education, etc. (Merriam-Webster)

Snobbery is a fact of culture, and we’re all guilty of it in one way or another. While some people tend to be snobby in general, there are also many specific ways snobbery can reveal itself, even if we don’t think about these actions as directly snobby.

I think as an English major (current or former), you’re exposed to more than your fair share of snobbery in some respects. “Oh, you haven’t read ______? But it’s a classic!”

No, I have not read all that many classics. But that doesn’t make me less of an English major, less of a reader, less of a lover of words than someone who has made it through countless odious tomes of dubious quality just because they are “classics”.

I try to be conscious of the things I am snobby about, and I am aware of the same in the people I love. My mother openly admits to being an intelligence snob; my roommate and friend is a food snob, and I am a dog ownership snob.

Being snobby about specific things I think tends to correlate how much something means to you and how much you care about the quality of the product or idea. And while these are not negative ideas per se, it is important to remember that being snobby does not help anyone see the value in what you are discussing in the same way that you do.

I think many people are guilty of snobbery in literature, and it both helps and hurts us all as writers, readers, and artists. Feeling like something is important for its cultural value helps us push our boundaries and explore new ideas, but valuing a type of literature over another de-values some truly great works. Gimmicky cover design does the same.

Even bookstores are snobby, whether they are digital or physical. Separating the “Literature” from the Sci-Fi, Romance, Mystery, and others subtly dismisses certain works before they even come off the shelf. “Chick Lit”, typically written for women by women is often dismissed as a lesser, despite the fact that many excellent writers tackle similar themes to what can be found in the “Literature” section. Snobbery and sexism all at once.

So where do we go from that? How do we fairly evaluate books on a level playing field without letting our preconceived cultural perceptions get in the way? How can we be proud of what we like without feeling the need for the approval of others on our own tastes? How can we acknowledge that something we find to be irritating or of low quality speaks to someone else in a different way?

With all that said, I will not back down on being snobby about Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Some things, I just can’t change about myself.

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3 thoughts on “On Snobbery & Literature

  1. Oh, I think it’s safe to draw some lines here and there–I work in spec fic and do a little local hack work and it’s good for what it is, but I know it’s not Gabriel Garcia Marquez or even Jack Williamson. Is the latter literature? I’d say yes, but your snobs won’t even though he’s met all the criteria of sales, acclaim, awards, and the all-important dead white guy status. On the other hand, take that Shades of Grey–no question it’s a steaming pile of muck, just like Dan Brown. For all intents and purposes both are utterly unreadable and it should be a crime what those two do to “english”–or, alleged english. Classics–litter chore, we used to joke–get recognition when they display a certain level of execution paired with a certain level of ambition. Take my well-made pulp–it is still just that–really average genre pulp, just as I aimed it to be. Steph Evanovich is a complete badass, a master of mad genre science twisting your chick lit and detective into a crazy wonderful mix–but it’s not literature, despite the execution the ambition doesn’t cut it, and that’s okay. When you vomited your way through Early American Lit, all that pilgrim shit and Cotton Freaking Kill-Me-Now Mather, Anne Bradstreet and–jeezuz, everything up to Hawthorne almost–that was literature because it has become (here’s the last criteria) representative of its age. Mather couldn’t sell a book to anyone but an English major, but it’s literature. The chick lit you mention, no matter how frakking great and fun and witty and insightful and popular it is, isn’t.

  2. As an English major I often metaphorically hit myself when I tend to fall in these kind of situations, and I’ve arrived to a point where I read almost everything, dividing books just in “good” or “bad” after reading them. Twilight and especially 50 Shades are BAD. I also tend to be disappointed if a book so praised among my “book-read” friends doesn’t impress me much. So much expectation and zero actual results. Basically I’m just snob with the really bad books, and I try to read everything before judging 🙂

  3. I was raised in a judgmental family; it was a defensive mechanism to make us feel superior. It wasn’t a particularly useful or healthy dynamic. As I’ve moved away from it, I’ve paid a lot more attention to how I think and what I say. I’m still working on it but being aware of it does help.

    This was a very interesting read!

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