Book Snobs


A woman in my online book-club opened her review post with a kind of caveat: she said that even though she knew she would probably get ‘slated’ for recommending a certain book, she had to admit that she did enjoy it.  The fact that she felt she had to apologise for her taste in reading really struck me.  I’m pretty new to this whole book club thing, but shouldn’t everybody be entitled to read (and enjoy) whatever they want to read?  And whose wrath did she not wish to incur?  Yep, you guessed it, the book snob.  But what is a book snob and how do you know if you are one?

I’ve created a totally scientific questionnaire* that might help elucidate matters.

  1. Do you wax lyrical about the smell and feel of ‘real books’ and develop an angry rash on contact with an eReader?
  2. Do you think Amazon is the devil incarnate and despise anyone who buys their books online?
  3. Does your reading list consist of only prize winning and impossibly obscure titles?
  4. Do you feel superior to other readers and often find yourself telling them what they should be reading?
  5. Do you believe that if a book is popular, it can’t be good?
  6. Do you still refer to self-publishing as vanity publishing?

Ah yes, the book snob.  We’ve all come across them.  Individuals who are notoriously suspicious of change in the book world, and who openly judge people for what they read, how they read, and where they get their books.

I suppose we’re all guilty of snobbery, to a certain extent.  Just look at your bookshelf and see which spines you’ve decided to put on display?  It’s no different to music snobbery or even fashion.  We want the world to think our lounge-wear is all cashmere sweaters and low-rise jeans, when really we’re in last years’ jogging pants and a bobbly fleece with some questionable stains, listening to Kylie!  I think we are all inherently worried about being judged by other people, but in so doing, are we just proliferating the pattern of snobbery?

There’s a difference between taste and snobbery.  Not liking a book is not the same thing as dismissing its value based on its genre, audience or author.  Assuming that one author or book has a greater value or merit than another, is absolutely detrimental to the joy of reading.  Obviously, there are lots of crap books out there that are badly written and fall well below a certain standard, but that’s not what I’m referring to here.  Book snobs view reading as a worthy, noble pursuit.  It’s not about being entertained – you’re not supposed to be enjoying it!!  This is such a narrow view of what reading should be.  Reading is so many things to so many people.  It’s a way of learning, a means of escape or just pure entertainment.  How can you quantify a books’ worth, other than the impact it has on the reader?  How we read is often more important that what we read.

In the same book-club, another woman announced that she’s not going to read any more books that are shortlisted for literary awards because she never ‘gets’ them.  I was glad to see a reader taking ownership of her reading list and showing that she wasn’t going to be swayed by other peoples’ opinions.  Reading is such a personal journey.  Again, it’s like discovering a new band or a new album; the discovery is half the fun.  If you’re constantly being told what to enjoy, it does tend to take the fun out of it.  How many times have you fallen for the lauded book that everybody’s reading, only to find it’s not to your taste at all?  And you feel cheated, because the people in the know said it would be good.  The same people in the know that would probably scoff at the stack of mainstream fiction on your night-stand.  To the book snob, critical acclaim is more important than commercial success.

Authors like Ken Bruen, the Godfather of Irish crime, are the book snob’s nemesis.  He has penned 35 novels including the Jack Taylor series, which has recently been adapted for screen, winning Bruen an even wider audience.  He has won a plethora of crime writing awards across Europe and America, but in his native Ireland, he has been left firmly outside the literati circle.  This is book snobbery at its finest; shunning genre fiction as ‘less than’.  In Ireland especially, there is a very clear divide between the literary set and the rest of us.  It’s as if what we have to say isn’t as important and the message is received loud and clear by their exclusion of talented, successful writers.

The greatest stories appeal to our deepest selves, the parts of us snobbery can’t reach, the parts that connect the child to the adult and the brain to the heart and reality to dreams. Stories, at their essence, are enemies of snobbery. And a book snob is the enemy of the book.

Matt Haig

At the end of the day, we all love books for the same reason, even if we don’t love the same books.  Never make another reader feel ashamed of their reading choices, because when it comes down to it, there are only two types of books in this world –  those you enjoy and those you don’t.

*might not actually be scientific


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Token Paddy’s Day Post

Feck it

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona Daoibh!  It’s that time of year again when the Irish culture is both celebrated and bastardised the world over by well meaning ambassadors and not-so-well meaning drinks companies.  Contrary to popular belief, our national pastime isn’t drinking porter and it frustrates me that with every passing year, our day to shine in the world’s spotlight is sabotaged by leprechaun hats and a drink that was invented by a unionist and is now controlled by a British multinational drinks company.  And as the rivers run green and landmarks throughout the world are bathed in bright green lights, let us not forget that Saint Patrick was in fact, Welsh.  Thanks Wales.  Up to that point we were just a bunch of stoners honouring the moon and trees and stuff.  Good times.

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But I’m not going to spoil the party (much) with a long-winded rant.  I have some very happy memories of St Patrick’s Day as a child.  It was the one day when God, who had made a very Irish agreement with Patrick, gave us all the day off from Lent.  All of us kids raced down to the corner shop as soon as the parade was over and stocked up on every kind of penny sweet we’d been denying ourselves for the previous few weeks, then proceeded to gorge ourselves on chocolates and sherbets for this one sweet day of reprieve.  That, to me, is the heart and soul of the Irish psyche; we like to do what’s expected of us, but by God we’ll do it our own way.  At least, that used to be Ireland before Europe got their hands on us.  800 years of British oppression and we never lost our ‘cute hoor’ mentality until the Germans got involved.  Perhaps it was the bailout that did it.  There’s nothing to shake a country’s confidence in itself than almost going bankrupt and losing its sovereignty.  Although it was small signs of rebellion such as this that kept all our spirits up!

But the group of people to whom this day matters most is the Irish diaspora (or #teaspora as they’ve been lovingly referred to) who are probably celebrating our 17th March holiday this weekend.  I’ve spent Saint Patrick’s Day in Athens, Toulouse, Montreal and London and I’m not ashamed to admit that nothing makes you pull on the green geansai quicker than a Paddy’s Day abroad.  We are a maudlin lot and really hate to be away from home; yet we can’t get out of here quick enough!  As our national carrier states: We are a nation with the travel gene. Still, it’s all fun and games until there’s an economic recession and we are compelled to leave (yet again) in order to make a living.  Thankfully, we receive a kinder welcome now than our forefathers did (yes, there were signs that read ‘No Blacks, No Irish’).  But we can be friends with England now, because the Queen said so, which is a relief as half my family are Londoners!

So, what does the future hold for our country?  Well, on this very special 100 year anniversary of the Easter Rising, I believe that Ireland’s future lies (as it did back then) in the arts and creative sectors.  The rebellion was fought by a group of dreamers who had the vision and the courage to shape a new Ireland, free from the shackles of the past.  Today, we have so many talented storytellers, who don’t have to rely on the traditional ‘top of the morning, is it yourself that’s in it?’ image to get noticed.  Just look at this years Oscars; we had two novels adapted for screen – Room by Emma O’Donoghue and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin; a best director nomination for Lenny Abrahamson and a best short win for Benjamin Cleary.  A culture, when trying to reflect upon its own nature, will invariably have a jaundiced view.  However, it is our stories that offer the greatest insight into who we are as a people. So if you’re a stranger to Irish authors, why not celebrate our national day this year by discovering writers such as Niamh Boyce, Martina Devlin, Ken Bruen, Anne Enright, John Banville, Paul Murray.  There’s more to Ireland than Joyce and Yeats, and if we’re talking music, there’s more to Ireland than U2 and Enya!  If you’re looking for a place where music, film and literature meet, why not check out Roddy Doyle’s timeless classic ‘The Committments’.  Only after you’ve watched Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins so you can find out how the Republic of Ireland was born, in a Hollywood kind of way!

So Happy Saint Patrick’s Day everyone and I hope you’ll celebrate whatever ‘being Irish’ means to you.  Maybe it’s just a time to welcome spring, from which all hope is eternal 🙂

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