I’m a snob when it comes to books. My friends recommend something to me to read and frequently, I can’t get through it. The grammar, the writing style, the characters…something prevents me from finishing or at least from enjoying it properly. They tend to make it seem like a bad thing, that I have such high tastes that I can’t enjoy a good book when I encounter it, but I disagree. I think there is virtue in snobbery.

First of all, one of the reasons I’m a snob is because I do have high standards. As a writer, I do my best to make sure the grammar is sound, the spelling accurate, the writing clear and readable. If someone else doesn’t do the same, I cringe. I read other people’s novels for enjoyment, and reading a poor-quality work for fun is like asking a concert pianist to listen to the children of strangers playing recital pieces for enjoyment. The discord and poor playing would make it anything but relaxing.

But I lately realized there is another reason for my snobbery. When I read, there are different facets of me all reading at the same time. The editor in me, the writer, and the reader all read together. Ideally, the reader is the only part that is engaged, but if there are lapses in the grammar, the editor rises up and notices. If there are plot threads that aren’t answered or are confusing, the writer in me starts analyzing what went wrong and how it should have been fixed.

It is much like what happens when firearm enthusiasts watch movies and notice that they’re using the wrong weapons for the task at hand or calling them by the wrong names. Or when history buffs watch (or read) historical works and notice everything that isn’t historically accurate. When the watcher or viewer gets pushed aside, we get called snobs, but it would be an insult to our other hobbies, other interests, other passions, if we didn’t notice. After all, we spend time studying these things, developing an inner sense of what should be. We’ve worked hard to become so knowledgeable, just as musicians work to develop an ear for melody and harmony. Not to be a snob would be to take a step towards dulling our sensing and returning to how we were.

This isn’t to say that everyone should be like me when it comes to reading. Everyone else may not have the passion I have for the written word, for grammar and writing style and form and plot. But I refuse to feel bad for having such a passion, even if it means that I can’t get past the first paragraph in works like The Hunger Games and find myself unable to wholly enjoy The Sword of Shannara—completely independent from its heavy borrowing from Tolkien. (But that is the subject for another post.)

Being a snob is a good thing, for me; it’s the sign that I’ve developed a sensitivity to writing (my own included, hopefully). I may note problems that few others will see—I’m sure I’m not alone, though—but that is the very level for which I am striving. Everyone sees the big things. To be an expert in my field, I have to notice the little things—the brushstrokes, the light, and the hue, as it were, of the written work. Snobbery is the sign that I’m arriving.

Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren

5 thoughts on “Defending Snobbery

  1. I have the same problem. It’s hard to read a lot of books for that exact reason. So many authors don’t watch for their own grammar and plot mistakes. And it seems like some of the big publishing companies have terrible editors. And I hate when people tell me that I have to read past the bad grammar and just enjoy the story.

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  2. I’m not sure if what you’re describing here is really snobbery, though. To me, snobbery has overtones of prejudice, and it doesn’t sound like you’re prejudging these books that your friends are recommending — you just have different criteria to your friends.

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    1. I think you are right, but I chose the word because it seems that many of my friends see it as snobbery, since to them I appear to be unable to set aside my “narrow” ideas of what a book should be and can’t overlook the faults at a certain point. To some, being “open-minded” is so important that having a scrutinizing approach is considered faulty, narrow-minded and snobbish. 🙂

      Of course, we could read with a more open mind, it would just require ignoring or discounting other aspects of ourselves; I would argue it should be done sometimes, for a good cause, but never lightly, for it does leave our minds open to forget what we have studied to learn: excellence.

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