(Opinions#1-5 are to be found in my first post.)
Opinion #6: One positive aspect of being a literary snob is that many of us understand that genre is not a description or a declaration of quality, and so therefore we don’t tend to let genre preferences dictate our reading habits as often as other readers. A genre is a category (of books, movies, music, etc.) that is defined by elements of style, form and content. In other words, genre is a short-hand way of describing something so that we can understand and discuss some of its basic characteristics. A statement about genre shouldn’t be a value judgment – and this is where many literary snobs fall short. As I mentioned in my earlier post, most literary snobs place genre authors and novels at the very bottom of the culture junk heap; they tend to be very dismissive of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, etc. Not all Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels are the same, though – those serialized novels that reiterate the same basic storyline over and over again are not the same as The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or the work of Orson Scott Card. (Side note: I plan to post more specifically on the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres at a later date, so check back for more Thoughts on Literature postings.)
Once you realize that genre is not a value judgment and should not be used as an assessment tool, it opens up a lot of new horizons. This isn’t to say that you should feel obligated to like all kinds of literature – maybe you will always prefer stories about witches and wizards, unicorns and time travel, dystopian words, or Medieval lords and ladies simply because you enjoy the flavor that these elements lend to a story. But you might discover other artists whose lyrical prose you enjoy, despite the fact that they’re writing about much more mundane experiences. You might find a novel or two about the Revolutionary War that you find entertaining – and learn more about yourself through this process of discovery.
The important thing is that you shouldn’t feel bound by genre. It has even really started to bug me when people want to peg my reading (and viewing) interests by genre. I get the line, “Oh, you wrote your Master’s Thesis on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter? Have I got a Fantasy/Sci-Fi novel for you…” When they say something like that, they’re making the assumption that the primary reason(s) that I like those two series have to do with the Fantasy elements, when in reality, I chose to write about those two series in terms of how the adolescents in both deal with the death of their parents and other parental figures. I was interested in the emotional portrayals of the adolescents set within fantasy worlds, so FYI – I am not indiscriminately drawn to all Fantasy Literature. I like complex metaphors and well-developed adolescent characters, which are ultimately two of the most important qualities that Buffy and Harry share.
Opinion #7: Despite the fact that many literary snobs have a bias against genres, many of us have a secret guilty pleasure hidden on the back of our bookshelf, and this is why we shouldn’t judge other people’s reading habits. Come on, admit it. Some of us like comic books, but we tell ourselves that they are “graphic novels” so that we feel better about reading something with pictures and stilted dialog. And a lot of us (myself included) like Twilight – we literary snobs need to have a coming out party for this one. But even though I admit to liking Stephanie Meyer’s famous, notorious, fabulous vampire love triangle novels, I’m able to maintain my literary snobbery by quoting Meyer herself, who admits that she is not “a good writer,” but instead is a “good storyteller.” And I agree – her prose is pretty flaccid most of the time, but she can really create some interesting characters and intricate plot lines. No matter whether or not we can find a way of justifying the pop-literature we enjoy, though, we would do well to remember that Charles Dickens was first published in serialized form and was also considered to be pop culture fodder. We should stop worrying about our own tastes, stop looking down our noses at what other people enjoy reading, and just enjoy ourselves.
Opinion #8: This is more of a hint, rather than a opinion. If you’re a literary snob who just can’t bring yourself to come out of the closet about your Twilight obsession (or something similar), but you want to carry your guilty pleasure pop book with you on the bus, I’ve found the perfect solution for this embarrassment. Buy the book(s) in hardback and simply remove the dust jacket. That way, as long as your hand is over the spine, no one will really pay much attention to what you’re reading because it will have a blank cover…
Opinion #9: This is another admonishment regarding the literary snob’s ability to just enjoy books, no matter what the genre/subject. If you’re not a literary snob, you should know that there is a certain amount of pressure amongst the snobs to love the classics. “You haven’t read Proust?? You don’t like Milton??!” Some snobs enjoy works such as Dante’s Inferno with an excitement that borders on zealotry, whereas other literary snobs simply feel like they ought to enjoy all the classics and so spend time trying very hard to find something entertaining about Proust, Milton and Dante. We snobs need to liberate ourselves, which involves not only admitting to some low-brow tastes, but admitting when we don’t enjoy the high-brow stuff. So here’s my confession: I’ve yet to read Proust, but I don’t like Shakespeare’s history plays, I didn’t enjoy Milton’s Paradise Lost, and I totally missed the point of Dante’s Inferno... maybe the video game would be better. I’m told that if I read the rest of The Divine Comedy, it would make all the difference – but honestly, I just don’t care. Although Inferno may appeal to fans of horror literature, investigating the different levels of hell just didn’t do it for me. But just so that I can still feel like an elitist, let me remind everyone that I love love LOVE Virginia Woolf, in all her lyrical obscurity.
Since this has already become quite a long post, I’m going to save my last Opinion Statement about Literary Snobbery for another day – so stay tuned for my thoughts on literary snobs and the film versions of novels.