Nobody likes a book snob.
You can’t please them. The best you can hope for is their tepid approval. Even if you like the same books, you surely liked it too much or not enough or liked it for the wrong reasons. In my younger days, I tried on being a book snob but I found the wrappings ill-fitting and uncomfortable. I lacked the knowledge to adequately discuss form, the insight to offer original analysis and the discipline and desire to hone either capability. Fortunately, I was too insecure to step out too far. I knew even the most perfunctory probing would expose me as a fraud, a poser.
The idea of book snobbery came to mind recently while I was gushing to a coworker about an incredible book I’d just finished, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 1. This is the first volume of the Norwegian author’s six-volume, 3,600-page autobiographical novel. My praise could have only have sounded more book-snobby if I had concluded my praise with the caveat “of course I only read it in its original Norwegian.”
Horrified, I began to wonder if I had become a book snob. I don’t see myself as one. I don’t want to be one. Since my youthful dalliance with the idea of being one, I’ve come to dislike book snobbery, believing it to be anathematic to a true love of books.
See, book snobbery demands two important acts, neither of which held any interest for me. First, it requires a certain amount of credentialing. To be a book snob means there are a certain number of the “right” books I’d need to read and have a variety of insightful insights. Some I’d need to critically beatify, while others would need to be taken down a notch with withering wit or verbal napalm. I would need to use the word “jejune.”
Beyond having the literary cred, the role of book snob requires a couple of levels of denial. First, I’d have no time for the trivial—even for good genre fiction or music biographies or graphic novels…things I like. Second, and even more insidious, I’d have to secret away my enjoyment of such things. A proper book snob must not only know all the “right” books, but he must also feign ignorance or affect bemused indifferent superiority (or superior indifference) to whatever’s popular.
Fundamentally, being a book snob (or a snob of any sort, really) is all about exclusion, wanting to be seen as above and apart from others. A true love of books is one of inclusion…I want everyone to find some of the magic that books regularly bring to my life. As a bookseller, I feel it’s my purpose and my reward to do so.
Loving the difficult, the weird, the arcane, even the critically acclaimed doesn’t make you a book snob. Believing that what you love and the way you understand and appreciate it is objectively better than what others love does. It also makes you a jerk.