I am a book snob. I try not to be. But I come out that way anyway. Sometimes. It’s a habit of mind I learned, I hate to say, in graduate school.
Heady times, graduate school. Joyce, Woolf, Milton, Faulkner, the Pre-Raphaelites. Lit Crit. Looking down my nose at and trying to divorce myself from the writers of my youth and teens: Robert E. Howard, Alan Dean Foster, Tolkien, Larry Niven, Piers Anthony. Science fiction. Swords and sorcery and fantasy. Books and novels and stories I loved because they turned on my imagination.
In grad school I was disturbed by my peers embracing and devouring Stephen King — a horror writer, my god. Popular fiction. Surely he’s a hack. (To my defense: I genuinely don’t like to read horror fiction any more than I like watching horror movies; I really don’t like to be scared.)
And yet, after grad school I devoured John LeCarre’s Russia House and Rita Mae Brown’s Venus Envy, both popular novels, at least LeCarre was then a popular suspense-thriller writer.
Another book snob scolded me for reading Brown. It was humor, she said. Not serious. As an aspiring writer I should be reading serious works, she said. (Venus Envy was laugh-out-loud funny. And I had read "serious" fiction. Was reading what my friend considered serious fiction.)
It took me several years after graduate school to remember why I loved to read in the first place. Grad school taught me to hunt for meaning, even meanings that might not really be there. I wasn’t reading for pleasure.
Which is what one of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby, has recently said is the primary reason to read.
He was interviewed in the London Times in September and the interviewer notes:
Hornby loves reading, that’s all there is to it. and he wants more people to do it and fewer people to be afraid of it, or think it’s something that’s "good for you". If you’re reading a book you don’t like, Hornby has some simple advice: stop reading. Pick another. It’s that easy. Read for pleasure, that’s all there is to it.
Hornby seems to suscribe, at least in his book diary Polysyllabic Spree, to The Believer magazine’s philosophy of book reviewing–no snarkiness. In the interview he says, "’It’s depressing to think that evaluating a book is the only thing you could do with it, as opposed to engaging with it, talking about it.’"
Engaging with the book. That’s the pleasure in reading. That’s what I love about books. The conversation, the entrance into another imagination. No matter what book it is, or who the author is.
So, from now on I’ll do my best not to be a book snob.