Book Snobs

You know the ones...

...the ones who turn their noses down at any fiction not classed as 'literary'. They really piss me off.

What is 'literary fiction' anyway?

According to The Free by Farlex literary fiction is -

Literary fiction is a term that has come into common usage since around 1970, principally to distinguish 'serious' fiction (that is, work with claims to literary merit) from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction. In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the 'pageturner') focuses more on narrative and plot.

What distinguishes literary fiction from other genres is subjective, and as in other artistic media, genres may overlap. Literary fiction is generally characterized as distinctive based on its content and style.
The key thing for me here is the last paragraph. "What distinguishes literary fiction from other genres is subjective...". When it comes to anything artistic, I sometimes can't believe that people actually get paid to be critics. Because in the end, it all comes down to personal taste, and just because a piece of art, or a work of fiction, isn't what they consider, based on their perceptions (which have been shaped by the experiences of their life), to be 'good', then who are they to look down on me for liking it.

Book Snobs are the people who think that, just because it's classed as 'literary fiction', it is automatically better, and of higher quality, than other genres of fiction. And that because they read 'literary fiction' they are automatically better than someone who reads other genres of fiction. Book Snobs are the people who won't even consider a book if it's located within the General Fiction section, or heaven forbid!, the Fantasy section.

I like to consider myself a Book Whore. I'll read anything, written by anyone, at any time. For a long time I turned my nose up at Fantasy. Not because I'm a Book Snob, but because I was scared. Scared that I would catch an infectious disease that would require me to start reading every book in a never-ending saga because, as inevitably happens, you take that first hit, and you just want more!

Thankfully, with a little help from my Fill-In friends, and, my personal inspiration, Stephanie Plum, I have been able to par-take of the Fantasy genre without succumbing totally to it's charming intoxications.

Unless you consider Harry Potter to be Fantasy. In which case I'm in the grips of a full-blown addiction, with no signs of stopping my consumption until the books fall apart from having read them each more than 100 times!

Which brings me back to the problem with Book Snobs. If distinguishing 'literary fiction' from other genres is subjective, then it's really hard to class a book correctly. As is the case of Harry Potter, which has been classed as everything from general fiction to fantasy to juvenile and young adult fiction. Many labels for one story.

When I worked in the Chain Bookstore this was made crystal clear to me by the way the Category Managers were constantly changing the subject categories of books. One day it's Literary Fiction, the next day you're moving it over to General, and in the case of one book, it went from True Crime one day to Literary Fiction overnight!

A quick search on brings up 109,567 listings in the General & Literary Fiction section. At it's 117,509. At they list 8 books under the category Literary Fiction. So, I ask again, what is 'literary fiction' anyway?

All I know is, I've read books from almost every fiction genre there is. There are some books classed as General Fiction, or Chick Lit (a term which I DESPISE!), that could easily make the jump to literary fiction, and plenty of books that could be knocked down a peg or two to General Fiction.

A perfect example of this is a book called Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (which I got for my birthday and have yet to's rather long so requires a large time commitment). When this book first arrived in the Chain Bookstore I worked for it was classed as True Crime. It's now travelled over to Literary Fiction, as it's not technically an auto-biography, it's just semi-autobiographical. So it's made the leap. Compare that to James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, touted by Oprah, lauded as a gripping auto-biography, which turned out to be largely fiction and highly embellished truth. It was semi-autobiographical. By all rights, it really should have been pushed over to Literary Fiction. But in the Biography section it stays!

SO, what I'm saying is, Book Snob, don't look down on me because you think the books you read are better than the ones I read, which makes you think you're smarter than me... I read Perfume and it SUCKED! Give me Stephanie Plum any day!

What kind of 'Snobs' piss you off? Food Snobs?.....Music Snobs?.....Shire Snobs?(If you live in Sydney you'll know who I mean!).....Jeans Snobs?(I really hate those Jeans know, the ones who won't wear a pair that cost less than $100...ugh!)


Bill said…
Because a lot of people I respect cited it as an influence, I once took a stab at reading Ulysses.
After ploughing through the 90-page academic introduction, I got about 70 pages before giving up. I just wanted to slap him and say,
"Okay, you're very, very clever - now just shut up and tell the bloody story!"

It's not that I don't enjoy great wordiness and sentence structure but for me, Joyce was WAY over the line between great use of language and literary masturbation. Portrait of the young man as an artist.

On the other hand, I read the Da Vinci Code just to see what all the fuss was about, but I would never read a book like that in public for fear of looking like the kind of person who only reads widely-talked-about best-sellers. And I thought it was a good yarn - but that's all. Not particularly well-written. I mean, if I can spot the fibonacci sequence as soon as I see it, why did it take the world's leading symbologist two pages before he twigged?

I am a music snob - and I make no apology for that. Some say life is too short to drink bad wine, I say life to too short to listen to bad music. And claiming irony or nostaligia is no excuse. This doesn't mean I will ever tell anyone what they should or shouldn't listen to. If it makes people happy to listen to Wham! then that's fine, but don't expect me to get into it. I'll be over in the corner quietly humming Smiths songs to myself.

I don't think snobbery is a bad thing in itself, so long as it's kept in check. My mother, who is an English teacher, says it's okay to read trash so long as yo know it's trash. I feel the same way about most art forms. For instance, Fatboy Slim is of no great artistic value but I love it because it's just good dumb fun and we all need that once in a while. We also need intellectual stimulation once in a while too, but just because Ulysses is great literature doesn't make it a good read.

Really great art does both.
Elissa said…
LOL Shire Snobs yes, I used to work in their central shopping centre so I know all about that.
Great post, you really got me thinking.

See, I would have thought that I didn't have a snobbish bone in my body. I too am a book whore, if it's got words, I'll read it. However, I'm with Bill in that I'm a bit of a music snob - but, as with books, I like my music for every category and mood. Nothing gets me up on a dancefloor (or any flat surface) like 80s and 90s pop (including Wake Me Up Before You Go, Go) but when you check out my iPod, my indie credentials are well-established.

Critics bug the living daylights outta me when they don't bother to place themselves in the position of the intended audience eg: a teen film that's juvenile? Um, yep, that's the intention...
Bill, Your Mother is a very wise woman. I know some of the books I read are trash...and I make no apologies for it. I figure as I long as I balance it out with enough non-trash I should be ok!! I too read the Da Vinci Code and found it to be an ok read. Not spectacular, just as good as some of the other stuff I've read. But I also read it when it first came out and wasn't on the bestseller list, so I was one of those smug people who couldn't understand what the fuss was about from the start. It's fiction people!

I will admit to being a radio snob. I refuse to listen to commercial radio for two reasons...1. Because I HATE radio commercials, and 2. Because I can't stand most of the music on commercial radio. Having said that, I'm open to listening to anything once (except for maybe death metal, never gonna get that!) and would consider myself fairly well listened(?) (I would say well-read, but well, you see my point) and I love heaps of really different music. But ask me the name of a song or the band/artist who performed/wrote/covered it and I got nothing. I can make-up a harmony by the second chorus, but the name of the song? Nothing!

Elissa, I feel so sorry for you! How did you survive?...LOL! I love teasing my soon-to-be brother-in-law about coming from the Shire. In fact, the first time we met him my Uncle and I put shit on him about the Shire all day! Hmmm, does that make me a non-Shire Snob?
Kylie Purtell said…
I've read Shantaram. It got a bashing from the critics but I found it absolutely gripping. The thing that is irritating me like a shaving rash on the beach at the moment is school snobs. There's so much of it about my area.
Kylie Purtell said…
I hate all snobs, except wine snobs, cos I'm kinda one, sort of - I also agree with book snobs. Great ranty post Ky xx Em

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