The Book Snob

From the length of the blogs I end up writing, you can probably guess that I am one of those odd people who reads for pleasure. Not only do I read for pleasure, I read proper books full of words with many syllables written by people you probably haven’t heard of and who sometimes compound that error by also being foreign.
You see, rather than impressing through the usual routes of attractiveness or achievement, I like to impress through literature. I bought a copy of Douglas Coupland’s Generation A the week it was published. I didn’t actually get around to reading it for a month, but anybody who came to my house was able to see it occupying the surface of my coffee table and ask if it was okay to use it as a coaster.

Happily, my local library manages to defy the trend of the rest of my local amenities by being rather good and for this I forgive them their conviction that Braille is a necessary and desirable thing on all of their signage. Unlike the local library where I grew up in the UK, they do not keep Lady Chatterley’s Lover beneath the counter; nor do they file Helen Fielding’s books under J.
Instead, they provide a wide variety of newly published books, run two book clubs, hold events for aspiring writers, organise exhibitions about local history and promote reading as an activity to the next generation. All this and interweb access. Marvellous.

Of course, being in a small town not generally renowned for its literacy, the librarians know all the regular users of their facilities and like to be helpful to them. I was returning my books on one occasion and the librarian said she had something out the back that she thought I might enjoy. I was very relieved when she returned bearing nothing more scandalous a copy of Xinran’s Sky Burial (and she was right, I did enjoy it).

The down side of this is that a book snob such as myself can no longer just pick out the books that take her fancy. She must instead treat the books as a collection. For every piece of populist dross I check out, books totalling a level of opposite complexity must be included.
For instance, last time I was in I borrowed a Sophie Kinsella and to cancel it out, took A.S Byatt’s The Children’s Book (recent Mann Booker nominee : +20 points) and Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts. To be on the safe side, I took an Andrey Kurkov as well.

This may seem like an unnecessarily complex system but it actually helps me to push myself with regards to the books I read. If I get to the end of the shelves to find I have too many, let us say, “commercial” novels in my bag, I’ll do another round with an eye out for something impressive by somebody who gets nominated for things.
It was in this way I came to read Michael Booth’s Just As Well I’m Leaving (Non-Fiction about somebody Dead : +10 points) from which I learned a wealth of things about Hans Christian Andersen which his Wikipedia page, inexplicably, fails to mention. Did you know that not only was he thought to have died a virgin, he was also a copious masturbator who made careful note of the frequency of his habit? Don’t say I never teach you anything useful.

Clearly I am wrong to behave like this. Shame on me for being so snobbish and judgemental. Shame on all of us.
You see, anybody who enjoys reading is a little bit of a book snob. I blame our childhoods. Show me a person who buys books exclusively from a supermarket and I will show you a person who made fun of me as a child. They called me weird. I will now take my revenge by sneering at their literary choices. Dan Brown? Ha! I mock your convoluted plotlines and questionable grasp of Parisian geography! James Patterson? Ha! I look sideways at your repetitive narratives and conveyer belt output! As for you celebrity ghosted commercial fiction, do not think your sparkly pink covers will diminish my disdain. They will not.

It’s rather bizarre that we Readers are so averse to anybody joining in. Shouldn’t we be a little bit pleased that we no longer have to explain the purpose of these flattened trees we insist on carrying around with us? Instead, we’re like all of the hardcore gamers who complain about the influx of casual gamers they now have to put up with. Personally I’m just pleased that people no longer look at me with fear when I mention that I’ve been wasting all of my spare time growing crops which don’t exist, but for many, playing the wrong sort of games is, somehow, far worse than not playing games at all.
Really, it all boils down to frustration. There are a wealth of brilliant games on a multitude of systems and instead you’re spending your money on “Imagine: Lobotomy” and “Hannah Montana Looks At A Poorly Animated Background”. It’s the same for us Readers, why are you reading Martine McCutcheon when you could be reading virtually anything else? This is time you are never going to get back and you waste it.

Even I waste my time reading dross. As a book snob, the majority of the dross I read is by whoever the literary author of the moment happens to be.
Ian McEwan can write; he just doesn’t seem to write anything I enjoy reading. Saturday? Atonement? I found them both hugely boring. It’s just selfish the way he refuses to acquaint himself with my personal tastes in literature and bend his talents to writing something I would part with money for.
The aforementioned A.S Byatt’s novel was, again, wonderfully written, but enjoyable? Only in parts. It came and it went and paused helpfully for book club discussions. There were characters that didn’t seem to do anything; they would occasionally be mentioned and I’d have no idea who they were.
I read Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger and, having absolutely loved it to pieces, went to read Affinity. It was disappointing. I found the protagonist underdeveloped and never had a sense that anything happening when she wasn’t there. I was similarly disappointed in The Night Watch. I was left underwhelmed by the story and still don’t really “get” why it was structured as it was.

However. Reading literary novels you haven’t enjoyed is not the same as reading some of the more transient authors landing publishing deals. My complaints about the above authors stem from my frustration because I know that somewhere in their writing is something I can connect with and forget what is going on around me, it’s just being stopped by something which doesn’t quite click. I could talk all day about any one of the above authors - what’s good, what’s bad, what I would have liked to have seen more of , why a character behaved the way they did – but how long can you maintain a discussion about a celebrity Chick Lit novel?
People who only read bestsellers from Tesco are missing out on half the pleasure of reading a really good book: talking about it. Like a film, a book doesn’t stop when you reach the end; it enters into your culture and the way you think about things. You can quote parts to other people you know have read it and you can apply its language to your life.
More valuably, it will teach you more about yourself than any other medium I have found.

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