A while ago, on the Booktrust website, I wrote a blog about book snobs. It was quite popular and – not being a snob – I like popularity, but I also got into a lot of arguments online with book snobs who said that I was on the wrong side, because books were getting dumber. So, here’s an updated version, just for them.
1. Snobbery makes people worry about what they read. And people who worry about something stop enjoying it.
2. Snobbery leads to worse books. It plays to the idea that most people are dumb and want dumb books, and that only certain (posh/educated/cool) people like good books.
3. If something is popular it can still be good. Just ask Shakespeare. Or the Beatles. Or peanut butter.
4. Teenagers have more active brain cells than adults. And more fun. (Don’t knock YA.)
5. Being on Radio Four or being in The New York Times does not automatically make something better. It just means that it probably isn’t about zombies.
6. The book is very often not better than the film. (Jaws. The Godfather. But okay snobs, we’ll give you Alice in Wonderland.)
7. Wonder is universal. There isn’t a human in the world who wouldn’t enter the Sistine Chapel and not want to look up. Does that make Michelangelo a low-brow populist?
8. E-books, like paper books, are as good as the words they contain.
9. Snobbery pretends to be about books but really it is about people. It is about people trying to feel better than other people by belittling their taste.
10. To dismiss a book because of its type, not its content, is book racism.
11. Snobbery is about class. Virginia Woolf, the patron saint of book snobs, illustrated this when she was snobby about Ulysses. She called it an ‘illiterate underbred book’ written by a ‘self-taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are’.
12. You are one of 7,000,000,000 people in the world. You can never be above all of them. But you can be happy to belong.
13. The only people who fear people understanding what they are saying are people who have nothing really to say.
14. Books are not better for being misunderstood, any more than a building is better for having no door.
15. Shakespeare didn’t go to university, and spelt his name six different ways. He also told jokes. (Bad ones, true, but you can’t knock him for trying.)
16. Plot is not a dirty word. Plot is beautiful. Plot is the old criminal finding redemption. Plot is the quest to victory, or to love. Plot is the desire for action that is symptomatic of thinking and moving and being alive.
17. Book bloggers are not killing literary criticism. They are kneeling over its body, giving it CPR.
18. There can be as much beauty in short (words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters) as long. Sparrows fly higher than peacocks.
19. Book prizes are the result of six people getting in a room and compromising.
20. The book I am least proud of, that I didn’t work hard enough on, was my most ostentatiously highbrow one. The one the New York Times liked.
21. Reading a certain book doesn’t make you more intelligent any more than drinking absinthe makes you Van Gogh. It’s how you read, as much as what you read.
22. Never make someone feel bad for not having read or not read something. Books are there to heal, not hurt.
23. Don’t be proud of only liking realism. It is like being proud of not having an imagination.
24. Just because something is a detective story doesn’t mean it was written for cynical reasons. It might mean the writer likes detective stories.
25. Simplicity is harder work than complexity. That is why editors exist.
26. Amazon is evil. Yeah, okay, we get it. But don’t be snobby about people using Amazon if you use a supermarket. Only if you actually live in the Amazon. Then it is allowed.
27. Don’t go on about the smell of books. It is like going on about the sound of chocolate.
28. If you worry about the ‘type’ of book you are writing, or the ‘type’ of person who will read it, you won’t be freeing your imagination, you’ll be trapping it in a VIP room where nothing is happening.
29. For me, personally, the point of writing is to connect me to this world, to my fellow humans. We are all miles apart. We have no real means of connecting except via language. And the deepest form of language is storytelling.
30. The greatest stories appeal to our deepest selves, the parts of us snobbery can’t reach, the parts that connect the child to the adult and the brain to the heart and reality to dreams. Stories, at their essence, are enemies of snobbery. And a book snob is the enemy of the book.