- 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.
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.
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?