The problem with literary snobs

PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTLEBEDEV.COM  Read what you like — literary snobs are just insecure.


Read what you like — literary snobs are just insecure.

Emily Buxengaard ’22 | Assistant News Editor

I used to hate it when people asked me what I was reading. I loathed the snide remarks I'd get about the tattered Harlequins I liked to pick up from the thrift store.

It's not like I'm only interested in crappy romance novels, but I still feel self-conscious every time I read something my peers might deem academically not worth my time.

I could explain that I'm a writer, and I need to read popular fiction to understand what sells and what doesn't. I could explain that I like literature too. That my favorite book is “War and Peace.” That I don't really like cheesy romance, and I'm just doing it to study the craft.

If I'm being honest though, I love challenging reading, but after too much of it, I need a breath of fresh air. I'm sick of having to defend my choices to the dreaded literary snobs.

You know who I'm talking about. They're usually either angsty, arrogant teenagers or old dudes in jackets with suede patches. And they seem to be everywhere.

Their favorite catch phrases include: "Dog earing pages is a desecration," "I only read REAL literature," and "I would never read young adult/romance/western."

I'm telling you, these are the kinds of people who don't like ice cream. To be honest, I've been guilty of literary snobbery in the past. I've silently judged people on their preference for commercial reads, cursed the Kindle and all its brethren and been embarrassed just to be seen in the YA section of the library.

But as someone who once proudly called herself a literary snob, I can tell you that most of us are just insecure. We think the only way we can prove ourselves as the elite in an imagined hierarchy of readers is to read “Ulysses” and pretend to like it. Because no one likes “Ulysses.” Anyone who says they do is just kidding themselves.

This overall snobbery isn't just annoying. It has real harms. Reading has been on a steady decline for decades. In fact, it's one of the things literary snobs complain about all the time.

Why aren't people reading more? The answer could lie with the very people who seem to be so concerned about the issue. Think about it. Is making reading an elite club really attracting more readers?

If I was one of those book-haters (god forbid), the condescension and stuffiness of the hobby would immediately turn me off. It shouldn't be that way.

Everyone reads for different reasons. Some do it just because — gasp — it's fun. When I look at all the readers in my life, I realize that there is no common thread that defines us.

My friends read to learn or to talk about books with each other. My mother reads because she works all day and needs a way to relax. As for me, I suppose it's a combination of all those things. There's really only one "wrong" reason to read: to color what other people think of you.

When someone asks what I'm reading, I can now proudly say "Love is in the Cards,"and feel just as confident as when I'm saying "the aphorisms of Epictetus." Because when it comes down to it, I'm a reader. That's the important thing. I don't need to explain myself to anyone.