Book snobbery; Or, we can be our own worst enemies


Jessie Willcox Smith

I’m not even a fifth of the way through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and I’ve already lost count of the times characters have tried to tell each other that they need to read “better” or “more challenging” books. These scenes reminded me of so many episodes of Dear Book Nerd in which readers have written in to say that they feel like they’re wasting time with popular fiction or feel ashamed of liking genre fiction. When Rita Meade, the host, starts to answer, I want to yell into the podcast that life’s too short to worry about what book snobs think.

I think there’s nothing more likely to squelch someone’s love of reading than forcing them to read a book they’re a) not ready for or b) books that won’t appeal to them. Don’t these people remember trying to find jokes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in junior high? Or were bored to death by The Old Man and the Sea? (I was, but my bibliophilia survived.)

On top of all this, I’ve read Jonathan Franzen’s latest interview/rant in Booth (and some of the reactions to it). In this rant/interview Franzen takes time to go after people who read YA:

Most of what people read, if you go to the bookshelf in the airport convenience store and look at what’s there, even if it doesn’t have a YA on the spine, is YA in its moral simplicity. People don’t want moral complexity. Moral complexity is a luxury.

It’s hard to tell what Franzen’s tone is in a text-only format, but the rest of the interview doesn’t make me inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. This is a very snotty attitude to take about anyone’s reading choices. I make as many jokes about Twilight as anyone, but I will be the first person to hand someone the series if that’s what they wanted to read. (I will probably also try to slip them something else, like Dracula.)

How did this attitude become so pervasive? How did it poison so many readers to the point where they get neurotic about their reading choices? Don’t these book snobs realize that they’re ruining reading for us?


One thought on “Book snobbery; Or, we can be our own worst enemies

  1. I love this post! When I first started working in a public library, I thought I would be like Jack Black's character in High Fidelity (only, you know, with books). My first few months were me pish poshing Patterson and Roberts readers….until I figured out that they are the majority. The truth is, many days at the lib. I feel like I work at Blockbuster- movies in and movies out. The “readers” read crap, but at least they read! So, I support anyone with their 50 Shades of Grey addition, bring on the bodice rippers (those women check TONS of those babies out), and read Patterson. Just, for the love of all that is literature, read. In the meantime, I'm slugging through The Country of Ice Cream Star. Am I a “better” reader for it? Nope, I'm just a reader.


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