Are You a Book Snob?

The nose is mighty fine, but the tip...
A glorious nose (to say nothing of the lips), but look at that upward-pointing tip. Is that how a reader’s nose should be?
I suppose I am a book snob. Not a big one though. I never criticize other people’s reading taste, but I am apt to look down on notoriously popular books before actually reading them. In other words, when seen in profile, the tip of my nose points a little up, to Shakespeare in the heavens.


It was worse when I was a teenager. Back then, if I discovered that someone whom I thought interesting was reading Twilight, I would  have been a bit disappointed. I had not read Twilight myself but I had heard what others whispered and that was enough.

Time, reading, experience all moderated my reactions, and gradually the tip of my nose, seen in profile, became a little less pointy. Still, it is not as level as I would like it to be.

These days many people seem interested in a certain Fifty Shades of Gray. I have no idea what it’s about – although I suspect it has vampires or sex or both – and yet I look down on it already because I have heard others whisper ‘Twilight fan fiction’. By looking down on it I mean that I will not be likely to buy it.

I have this fear that reading notoriously popular books will make me a poorer writer. I do not think this is justified, but try to tell that to the snob in me. I have heard writers say that a bad book teaches you more about the craft than a good one. I agree because it I think one cannot be taught how to write, but rather how not to write, by bad example.

In theory, if I read a notoriously popular book and it’s bad, I will learn how not to make certain writing mistakes. And if it’s good, I will be pleasantly surprised. It should be a win. And yet, I still can’t get myself to read Twilight or the like.

A fine nose
A mighty fine nose, but it seems to me that the tip is still pointing a little up.

Time is also important. There are many stories out there that I just know they are wonderful, and that I want to read before I die: half of Shakespeare’s plays, most of the works of Nobel prize laureates, two thirds of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories, and all G.G. Marquez novels apart from One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Can I afford, as an aspiring writer, to read Fifty Shades of Gray now, before all those marvellous books? Can I afford to spend my precious hours between drafts to read a book that might disappoint me? If I was just a reader, there would have been no problems. But when you want to be a writer, things are different.

I do not mean to say that I think Harry Potter, Twilight, even Fifty Shades of Gray bad books. Quite on the contrary, to my mind, a great fiction book is one that entertains and inspires more than just book lovers and writers. Of course it has to be well-written, but the literary merits of the book are not all that there is to it. All those books above have made an impression on many people, so they deserve my respect at least. I would go so far as to call them great even. If a book makes people happy, it is a great book.

A proper nose tip
Now that’s how I would like my nose tip to be, level, maybe even pointing a little down.

What is curious is that my prejudice applies only to certain types of popular books. A Song of Ice and Fire is popular too, but I did not hesitate to grab that one. I devoured it, putting aside Shakespeare and the rest of the classical lot for over two months, to read all the five books in the series, as well as the prequel novellas. At the end I was impressed. I seem to look down only on children’s or teenagers stuff.

And now that I think about it, I dislike those books probably because when I was a child or teenager I did not really read those genres because I did not read at all.

To conclude, from now on I will try not to judge a notoriously popular book by its reputation alone. I will suspend judgement until I actually read it, even if the signs are worrying, even if the smart people whisper bad things about it. I will try not to look down on a book just because I think it to be what I do not want it to be.

And now the question I wanted to ask you all along, reader: how’s the tip your nose?

33 thoughts on “Are You a Book Snob?

      1. I suggest you read “East of Eden”. I definitely enjoyed that one! And I believe it won’t be waisted time or anything similar to waisted time. To me it was (is) time well spent that left a lot of great thoughts and pictures to recall.

        1. By notoriously popular books I mean stuff like Fifty Shades of Gray. NOT John Steinbeck. The guy’s a classic. Besides, he looks exactly like a guy who used to be my best friend. To conclude, I think John Steinbeck worked in an aquarium. 🙂

    1. What do you read Julie? (Is that your name?) You have fine kitchens on you blog, but little about yourself! You might be a celebrity in disguise for all I know. 🙂

      1. …or a homeless that found a free internet spot and has just all the time in the world.

        Doesn’t this come from a man who likes mystery, and always keeps a bit of space for imagination?

        From what I see we have quite similar “book taste”. Although I read a lot of native writers that most probably you never heard of. To my top foreigner authors (besides Shakespeare that you mention quite often) I’d add Charles Bukowski. I love the realness of his writing. It’s so not forced. And it’s clever. And has a dark side that I probably don’t fully understand since it’s so different from my own experience. But I believe that not fully comprehended dark side makes the story even more interesting…
        Do you like Bukowski?

        Another author, I recently found and find very clever is Vincent Mars. That guy has got a writing future, I tell you! He wrote a very romantic short story ’bout a boy with a useful umbrella on a rainy day, living in a yellow house behind a bus stop. There was suppose to be more of it… and I’m waiting…


      1. I like to be mysterious myself, but to tell you the truth, I like to know everything about others, and especially about hat-wearing women. 🙂

        I have not read Bukowski, but it seems he has quite a reputation. I will read him soon.

        That you mention me I am flattered and if I would be the blushing sort, I would blush. I will be happy all day though. As for that story, I think you refer to this one…

        How about you read it again and tell me how it ends?

        1. You keep changing names…! You’re right, I’ll read it again.

          Another thing I forgot to write before is that it’s hard to get me to read fantasy books. However quite a while a go a good friend of mine convinced me to read Terry Pratchett and Andrzej Sapkowski. And “Stardust” which was before the movie appeared. I read several Pratchetts and the whole serie by Sapkowski, and I have to say they’re good books, and I even managed to create great sympathy to one of Pratchetts’ characters – Death. But that would be all… I’m still no fantasy lover and the only fantasy book I ever enjoyed remains “Hobbit” by Tolkien. And I guess it will stay like that for now. Until someone manages to convince me one more to read fantasy, and then maybe I’ll finally get to know what’s all the fuss about “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”. Not knowing them yet seems like illiteracy, doesn’t it?

      2. I named the character in your honour, by virtue of your grace…

        Not knowing them seems like illiteracy, doesn’t it? – How well you speak! I feel the same way.

        Fantasy. Not all of it is good. You might like A Song of Ice and Fire though. It’s bulky and gritty and long, but it’s well written!

  1. I began reading Eclipse, the 3rd book of the “Twilight” series last night. I have not read the first two books but have watched the films.

    I understand the appeal now after having a similar stance for years. I often wrestled with time, wondering how I would consume all of the world’s great literature before I died, but my stance has softened greatly. Aside from Animal Farm and Candide, I have read only contemporary, mainstream fiction over the past six weeks and am finishing works at a quick pace. I long considered myself to be a slow reader, but that was largely due to the books I was reading.

    Each book finished provides readers with a sense of accomplishment. “I read a book today” is all most readers need. They can convince themselves they have read a “great” book, even is the scholarly or intellectual communities disagree.

    There will be books that change the world, books that change lives, and books that pass the time. I felt that talented writers, or at least writers to aspired to be talented, would aim for the high, literary fiction type stories. I am not so sure not that there aren’t many types of talented writers.

    Perhaps my pretention disallowed such a crazy thought.

    While Stephanie Meyer breaks a lot of the “rules” of writing (telling, not showing/using adverbs), she is talented and crafty enough to weave a story that people can consume at a high speed in language that is much akin to what readers would hear at home. They can relate to the characters, to the society of the story, to “being grounded” or having feelings for two people who don’t care for each other.

    I enjoyed this post, perhaps the most contemporary piece I’ve seen on your site.


    1. I perfectly understand what you mean with reading slowly. I need a week to read (twice or even thrice) a play by Shakespeare, and at the end I still feel I have not grasped all.

      I read both Animal Farm and Candide and liked them both. Voltaire was quite a rogue he was. The Church hated him.

      ‘There will be books that change the world, books that change lives, and books that pass the time.’ – I like that.

      I can understand the appeal of Twilight and other books, I just ask myself whether these books are good for aspiring authors. For readers they are great, but for writers, I don’t know.

      Anyway, I think it’s silly to avoid ‘notoriously popular books’ like I do.

      PS: I like your comments Antonio Menez.

      1. The timeless, tested classics of literature will always tell a story of humanity, regardless of era.

        These “notoriously popular” books tell of humanity in this era.

        We are equally the most insipid breed to ever walk upright and the most cunning, sophisticated lot as a whole.

        In regards to Twilight, I turned to Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground” last night and struggled to venture through the first twenty pages after slamming 100+ in a sitting reading contemporary fiction.

        As a writer, I know that years of reading scholarly or academic works stripped some of the humanity from my fiction writing. Then, following every rule I have read over the past few months online turned me robotic – 85% of what I have been churning out is tepid, lifeless garbage. I am not patient or talented enough to incorporate dry, subtle humor like the masters, and my readers would not appreciate it. In truth, I have not earned the right to even attempt to ask for such a belabored commitment from them.

        Contemporary is different. I read them to learn, to grow, to stalk. “What are they doing, how are they doing it, and how could I do it better” is what I think going in to every work. When I think I could have worded something better, it’s reassurance. When I’m blown away by a line or a passage, it’s incentive to get better — to write something of my own that blows someone away.


  2. My book snobbery is not so much against popular (same with music – I don’t dislike it just because it’s popular). But it has to be a good read, which = well written. My biggest reading disappointment was plowing my way through the first three True Blood novels. The TV series was so mesmerising, and unlike the movies (where usually the books are better), this was such a big let down. I could see where the idea was great, but that was where it started and finished…sigh. Having said that, in your case, might I say, you have very refined taste 🙂

    1. Yes but I cannot really say whether it’s well written before I actually read it, so for me the snobbery is hard at work when I choose what to read. I have too many preconceived ideas.

      Yes, most books tend to be better than the films but it seems that some TV adaptations are better than the books they were based on. I remember a few years ago Dexter, which I used to watch from time to time, and there were people who said the books were bad compared to the series.

      As for my taste, I don’t know. I like the past centuries and their charm, which is why I probably read mostly dead authors. It would seem queer to me to read a contemporary book that mentions Facebook and Twitter.

    1. That’s exactly what I want to do, but how can I tell whether a book will enrich my life or not before actually reading it? I have to trust popular opinion, no? And when I do that prejudice creeps in.

  3. Yes. All this. I held off reading Harry Potter for ten years (Deathly Hallows had just come out in hardback) because it was so popular. I finally read it only to pre-read it for my daughter, who I was homeschooling at the time.

    But as to 50 Shades, you’re in luck! I read it so you don’t have to. Hilarity ensues (one hopes):

      1. I actually really liked Harry Potter, but I never would have read it otherwise, bc of being a book snob… :/ So sometimes it backfires

  4. “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”
    ― Flannery O’Connor

    Booksnobs turned writers live conflicted and harder lives than most, and have a tendency to never make millions of dollars, but they do wear nice hats.

  5. “50 Shades Of Grey” is a BDSM fantasy inspired by Twilight (though totally different characters), or at least what vanillas think BDSM is. I don’t think being a book snob is necessarily the worst thing (so long as you’re not rude to others based on your dislike of their reading material), and I do think there are a number of better books on that subject in the literary canon if you want to read about it.

    1. I’m not into BDSM and that sort of thing. I suppose if I would have to choose between 50 Shades and Harry Potter, it would be the latter. 🙂

      I have never annoyed anyone with my book prejudices and I never plan to. I wear a hat, and I cannot afford to be impolite.

  6. I have the kind of nose one would steal a picture of to take to the plastic surgeon. I do not say this with any pride, because of course, having a small shapely nose, I yearn for something more substantial and strong, like Vera Nabokov’s. And I won’t read most new stuff but I do occasionally partake in a binge of popular fiction. From it I get more than mere entertainment– I learn something about pacing and suspense and what it takes to entertain. I don’t want to write highfalutin things that only a handful of people want to read. I’m interested in all the skills and tricks a writer might use to woo a reader. There’s always something to learn.

    1. If I’d have an outstandingly long popinjay feather of unsurpassed length and inconceivable fluffiness, I would somehow get it through my open window, and hold it over my city and my country and my continent and the Atlantic and the United States and California (?) and use it, while you bask in the sun at the pool with your eyes closed, wearing your hat, thinking of The Awakening, to tickle the tip of your

      But since I don’t have such a feather,
      Nor have I ever seen a popinjay,
      I’ve just left you
      this peculiar comment. 🙂

      1. That’s me– asleep, dreaming of waking up.
        I think your feather is a more charming version of what they call “poking” on a popular social network.
        For comments, peculiar is my favorite kind.

  7. I would consider myself too much of a book snob to offer much care, if any at all. While everyone else is busy reading the most recent book that hit the shelves, because some tween said it was a good read, I’m likely busy reading up on writing techniques.

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