On (Literary) Snobbery, T-Giving, and Amy Grant

Hello, friends. I hope your Thanksgiving was a generously portioned and lacked any sort of drama involving your sister, her frequent Facebook status updates, and the phrase, “too-cool-for-school loser.” I ate enough stuffing for three averaged size adult women and watched fifteen minutes of a movie so inordinately unwatchable, I can’t even recall it’s name, or the fact that John Cusak and the girl from My Cousin Vinny were in it.

But the nice part of my fallcation was that I got to read. And read I did, to the tune of one and a half books. I read all of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers, and part of Chuck Klosterman’s new novel, Downtown Owl. Take that GRE Verbal!

This is the point where I reveal something about myself. I have a very hard time admitting that I really enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s books. And it is all because they are wildly popular. It is an insecurity of mine that stems from the fact that I think of myself as cooler, better read, and intuitively drawn to obscure books, or at the very least, books that can’t be purchased in the airport. Examples will be provided–
1. I refused to read the Da Vinci Code, until five years after the fact, when I stole it and read it in one night before I went to see (and fall asleep in) the movie.
2. I wouldn’t read Harry Potter, on the grounds that I was maybe the only person on the planet who didn’t know what Quidditch is, and that somehow made me sweet, or at least incredibly uninformed.
3. I make a good amount of Nicholas Sparks jokes, even though his website has a potentially useful FAQ and a Writer’s Corner.

But this is stupid, egomaniacal, and unproductive snobbery. A good book is a good book is a good book, no matter how many people have or haven’t read it in a junior high school bathroom. It’s the same sort of thing with music–I mean, there was a reason why “Baby, Baby” by Amy Grant climbed to #1 in the US and #11 on Switzerland’s Billboard charts in 1991: it was a damn good song! Right? It had nothing to do with me being ten and being visually pleased with her aesthetics! 

The problem or the issue or just the incredibly astute observation is that it’s almost impossible to not do this in some aspect of your life. If you’re a Chowhound foodie, you scoff at the idea of lowering yourself to go to Applebees (especially with that new bleach blond “hep” food guy advising you to pick up chicks on the commercial), or if you’re a film student, you laugh at the idea of seeing Fred Claus (unless its ironically), even though you like Vince Vaughn in that movie where he gets arrested in Malaysia. But what if you do go and (gasp!) you discover that you actually enjoy the Mini Bacon Cheeseburgers? Or that you think Fred Claus has several moments of unmitigated gloriousness? What then?

I am not a snob, friends. I wear fleece pants 70% of the time. But I still get that incredibly annoying urge to feel superior just because I hear someone talking up Nora Roberts. And I’ve never even read Nora Roberts! I’m not even 100% sure that is her name! So I’ve got a new semi-new year resolution: I’m still going to judge, but I’m just going to try and withhold said judgement until I’ve tried whatever it is I’m judging.

So watch out, Red Lobster! And sharpen your literary knives, James Patterson! I’m coming for you.

Before we take Comments, please stop your conversations, put down your reading materials and watch this safety video.

Boring,

The Pierces

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20 thoughts on “On (Literary) Snobbery, T-Giving, and Amy Grant

  1. Hollee J. Chadwick

    Huzzah – marvelous read – am also a literary snob, and although I have read Nora Roberts (yuck) and Harry Poter (my daughter insisted) – I cling to Wuthering Heights, A Tale of Two Cities, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Sun Also Rises. . . .I say more power to us!

  2. Erin

    Thanks, Kev. I’m going to print out your endorsement and stick it in the book for when she reads it.

    Also, your comment just made me realize that reading the odd numbers of the HP series is a great way for people to experience the phenomenon, even if they don’t feel they have the time to read all seven books. The only problem is that the fifth book kind of sucks and the sixth one rocks, so everyone would have to pretend that six is an odd number instead of five.

  3. Kevin Alexander

    Erin– I’d roll with a yay. It’s a solidly entertaining, totally semi-autobiographical read, filled with a ton of observations that Klosterman has clearly been saving up about his upbringing in the sticks of North Dakota in the early to mid-80s. I still haven’t finished it– not because it takes a long time to read, more because I started doing stuff again and haven’t sat down with it– but if this person digs Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and doesn’t mind reading about three different characters all clearly inhabiting diff parts of Chucky K’s psyche, make ye purchase.

    Oh and I forgot to mention that I eventually did end up reading books 1 and 3 of Harry Potter, and they were both kind of awesome, and I can totally see why JK Rowling will be both the first billionaire author and the first person whose name birthed an extremely popular shorthand way to tell people that you were just joking.

  4. Erin

    P.S. …Kev, would you be kind enough to voice a yea or nay on the Chuck Klosterman novel? I’m smelling a potential Christmas present for the friend who first lent me Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.

  5. Erin

    Genevieve,
    A warning about Twilight. I read it because I write for a movie blog and wanted to be clued into the phenomenon to stay relevant. But I knew it was going to be tough when the very first page included the phrase "as he sauntered over to kill me." Sauntered should NEVER be used unless you are talking about cowboys.

    So, even though I ended up reading all four Twilight books and also kind of enjoying the movie, I still act kind of snobby towards it. But Harry Potter is a totally different story for me. When I was a junior in college, I was in this horrible "Contemporary" Literature class with a 900 year old professor who considered anything from the year 1900 on to be considered contemporary literature. Technically, he may have been right, but it was still the dullest, stuffiest literature course I ever took and while I was in it, I was finding myself starting to hate all books and the people who read them (which was not good, since I was studying to become a writer!). A good friend of mine is still angry at that professor for making me hate Saul Bellow.

    Anyway, while I was in that class, I got to a point where I knew I needed to find something fun to read before I lost my love of books altogether. So I picked up the first Harry Potter book and it was exactly what I needed. Only the first four were out then. By the time I finished the third one, it was the day I was scheduled to leave for a two week trip to England and Scotland. On my first day there, I bought a British version of the fourth book and had a wonderful time reading it on trains through the English and Scottish countryside, and feeling like I was on the Hogwarts Express.

    I never waited on lines or showed up at chain bookstores at midnight, but reading Harry Potter on those trains was everything I think reading should be for people. And I don’t care if it cost me any cred I may have as a lit snob. (But for the recrod, I’m perfectly willing to take a patchouli bath and have free love with anyone who shares my hatred of the word "sauntered")

  6. Nikki

    Genevieve

    Yes Twilight is worth it. Great imagination went into that book. I am sure that Stephenie Meyer had a blast writing that one. It is acually called the twilight sage and consists of three books. There is also a movie that just came out called twilight. I am not sure if they are related but by the trailers I think that they are.

  7. Genevieve

    Nikki, I meant to comment on your comment. I would like to acknowledge your first time on a blog. Kevin, you should feel honored. (everyone please rise and applause) Yay! (now sit and feel silly. Especially because you’re at work and you just stood up in front of your computer and clapped).

    Stacey and Nikki, I have been told to read Twilight from another friend. So it’s really worth the teenybopperism, is it?

    Olivia, the word "abysmal" is indeed awesome.

    Kevin, Twitter is for people who shudder at the idea of playing the mandolin, don’t read books, and don’t sleep with their friends not because it isn’t beautiful but because they’re much much too busy gazing at their cell phones. Now if they could find a way to have sex with their phone, well, that might peak their interest, not to mention up their minutes. Am I a snob about the latest cell phone craze and cell phones in general? Yes. And proud. I will stand up to applaud myself by my computer. No it’s time for all of you to reply with something like, "Actually, Genevieve The Snob, I’m on Twitter and so was Hemingway."

  8. Nikki

    Genevieve

    I don’t see a problem with shopping at chain book stores. They have a great selection. Although I get banned from them once every six months as most of the time I go in with one book in mind and come out with three or four bags, have spent a couple hundred dollars and have put a serious dent in the balance on my "emergency" credit card. But hey I consider being forced to sit at home and watch daytime TV a serious emergency.

    As for waiting in line for Harry Potter, Guilty. But I can say that it was the first and probably the last time I will ever do that. There I was this grown woman standing in line surrounded by tenny boppers who are all talking like a clueless rerun. Then some dude started running through the parking lot yelling that Snape died. No respect. I have no idea why I did that anyway as they have this thing called pre ordering.

    Kevin,
    I happen to like faux vintage tees. Whats wrong with that? And, yes. You outed yourself as thinking to much about that, but as an authur isn’t it natural to over-analize everything?

    Nikki

  9. Kevin Alexander

    It’s okay, Genevieve– if it makes you feel better, I don’t think the term "Bohemian" means anything anymore, unless you, like, bathe in patchouli and know how to play the mandolin and think it’s totally fine to have random free love with other artists because it’s "beautiful."

    And doing that stuff doesn’t make you trendy, unless you happened to be doing that stuff while wearing Hudson skinny jeans and a faux vintage Sex Pistols tee.

    I think I just outed myself as thinking about this stuff too much…

  10. Genevieve

    First, Kevin I haven’t read your blog in two weeks and after I read this one I thought, "How did I not make time for this?" My favorite line this time around: So watch out, Red Lobster!

    Second, Olivia! (shakes finger disapprovingly) I’m surprised at you. Of COURSE Tom wrote a long comment. That’s, like, his job. He is the official hog of the blog and he should parade himself around proudly like that pig in Charlotte’s Web. And I will make it a goal to eventually beat him! Mwahahahaha!

    Third, I read Harry Potter but I only did it because my friends were doing it. No seriously, I’m not kidding. My friends Fred and Jennifer have damn good taste in lit and they were totally hooked to the series. For the last book that came out, the three of us actually waited outside of Barnes & Noble at midnight.

    Oh dear God. I just outed myself as trendy, didn’t I? I read Harry Potter and shop at chain book stores. Can I even call myself a Bohemian anymore? (sips half-caff,skinny mocha latte) No.

  11. Nikki

    Ok. So this is my first time on a blog, period. I saw yours in Writers Digest. My first time reading that as well. I just read your farewell article and wish I would have started reading it sooner. I wanted to comment on being a literary snob. I used to be one. I wouldn’t read Harry Potter because " it was all the rage" When I finally did, I had to go back to the boolstore the next day and buy 1-5. That was all that was out at the time. I read them all in like four days and ated that I had to wait for the next one to come out. It just goes to show you that some things are " all the rage" for a reason.

    Nora Roberts is ok. She has written like one hundred books or something. I have read around twenty or so. I usually have to read about five books in between each Nora Roberts. Sometimes it can seem like the same thing over and over again.

    Anyway if I dont stop now I couls go on and on like Tom. By the way I enjoyed Toms comment. I could see him trying to do this in between phone calls. I used to work for a call center and once wrote a short novel in between calls. I finished it and like to have died when I reread it. I even typed parts of conversations with customers in the middle of my sentences. I have since decided that it’s not a good idea.

    One more thing. I swear. I am responding to Staceys comment on Twilight. I have read the last one. I got it from my little cousin when I had nothing else to read. It was good. Very good. A very new and interesting twist on the Vampire world. It also has warewolves for all the wolf lovers. I was very angry thatI read the last one first. In fact, I never keep books. I give them away because I have never read a book twice. I still have not given the book back to my cousin, it’s been like four months. Anyway I’m glad I picked up the copy of WD. You have a way of getting your thoughts out there and still keep the readers interested. I hope one day that I can do that as well.

  12. Olivia

    Money and lattes won’t buy your way out of this one, Tom.

    Without that insanely long comment, I would have never got the chance to read such disturbingly entertaining phrases as "Otherwise I’ve read a nary a word of good lit", "Color me disinterested", and (my favorite) "The Billboard Top 40 is a wasteland of corporate dreck."

    Thank you Kevin for not deleting it. It was even better on the third read-through. The two of you should join blog forces and create something altogether new and more evilly hysterical.

    Just a thought.

  13. Tom

    Please, I beg of you. I’ll send money. 4 rlz.
    No. Better – I’ll send you a pretty nice-sized gift card to that coffee shop you hang out at. This is what I get for commenting in between taking various phone calls.

  14. Kevin Alexander

    Tom, I will NEVER delete that comment. It has set several records for length, and it goes on such fantastic different tangents that it has become an instant must-read. I think if I knew what Twitter was, I’d, um, Twitter (?) about it…

    Apology not accepted. But, like, in a friendly well-meaning way.

  15. Angie

    Well, you’re a better person than me. I recognized such snobbery in myself a while back, and I am not bothering to even try to correct it. I have also never read Harry Potter – not because it’s so popular, but because 1) whenever people talk about it, it doesn’t sound interesting, 2) there are seven damn books (or is it eight??)!! I can’t even hope to catch up, and 3) there are many other books that I DO want to read, but do not have time for.

    I also don’t force myself to finish books just because I’ve started them. I used to do that, but then I decided that life is too valuable, and if there isn’t something in the first chapter or so to keep me reading, I may as well put it down and move on. Time is short!

  16. Stacey

    Hi, Kevin!
    I was actually just on Nicholas Sparks’s website a few days ago and it really does have a lot of good stuff, especially the sample query letter. I completely understand what you mean about wanting to refuse to read popular books. But a lot of them are really good! I did read Harry Potter, but I only up to the fifth book. One of the most popular books for teenage girls right now is Twilight, which I haven’t read and probably have a similar attitude toward like the one you mentioned.

    Tom, I too have had barely had any time to read in November at all because of NaNoWriMo. In fact, I don’t think I read anything outside of school the whole entire month! But I did finish The Catcher in the Rye about a day or two ago, and I really enjoyed some aspects of it.

  17. Olivia

    Seriously, Tom, after all that, I thought for sure you would have at least updated your OWN blog, but no, you didn’t.

    It’s okay, you made up for it by using an awesome word — abysmal. That just made my day.

  18. Tom

    Oh no. This is terrible. This is horrid. How on earth did I go on that long??????

    Can someone with authority delete that unweildy thing? It’s abysmal.

    My apologies, Kevin.

  19. Olivia

    Did I just get warped to "That’s Tom?"

    No, Tom is just a blog hog. I now feel horribly inadequate by simply saying, "I understand you about the books, Kevin, and I was also an Amy Grant fan."

    (Thanks, Tom.)

  20. Tom

    Ack! Dude, I just watched, like, half that video. More than half, actually, because I was waiting for the safety portion to kick in. I saw nothing safe about it. It was in black and white. Maybe that had something to do with it. However, since I’m at work and cannot enable the soundy portion of said video, I was able to take away one important lesson, which I will use in the future. Hear me now: when I get into a (famous) band and make a video, I will watch said video with the sound off and make damn sure that it doesn’t look like pointless, vapid, and kind of cheap-frosting-y without the sound going. Maybe it will be a video of my band kicking ass onstage intercut with me rebuilding a supercharger or going drag racing with my brother, or building some killer rolling ball sculpture, or land speed racing, or even…reading a book! (Yeah, I know the girls are hot…but…blech for the video.)

    Let us move on.

    Was this movie you hated War, Inc. perhaps? I can’t admit to having watched it, but I did hear Cusack describe it as "part Telemundo soap opera" which I thought was funny. Maybe it didn’t translate well to screen.

    I will admit to being a bad reader, at least lately. NaNoWriMo sucked up my life for 30 days, and only one hour in those thirty days found me reading anything that was not related to work. I read part of "The Last Lecture." Otherwise I’ve read nary a word of good lit. I’ve certainly not started on my (original war-time printing) copy of Ernie Pyle’s "Here’s Your War," love it though I may. I’ve not started on "The Outsiders," nor have I managed to track down an original printing of "Bill, the Galactic Hero" which is apparently kind of pricey. These are cardinal sins for a write, and of this I’m well aware. Perhaps I’ll don some sack cloth before I begin my next book. Today I have to read four different works for my critique group. It makes my head hurt, trying to make corrections and suggestions as I read.

    Having said all that, I did read Harry Potter. All of them. I thought it was weird that my then-girlfriend was reading them, but she’s really smart, so I picked one up. Ended up reading them all. Excellent story, and after doing WriMo, I admire the hell out of anyone who can juggle THAT MANY different plots and subplots all at once and tie them all up at the end!

    I have not read that Davinci Code guy. I got even more turned off to the book after the movie came out, and there was this big uproar with Catholics (of which I am one) about seeing/not seeing it because it apparently said horrific things about the church or some such. I’m not even speaking in favor of one side or another, I just got annoyed with the controversy. I figured it was a book, meant to tell a story, no secret agendas about anything by Brown. Color me disinterested.

    You listened to Amy Grant? I listened to Donnie and Marie. I guess I’m kinda old these days.

    I should know who all those authors are that you mentioned, and yet I don’t. This makes me feel kind of like an idiot, which may serve a purpose in getting me to actually read some of them, but then I don’t seem to read stuff that other people are reading, which kind of is your point, right?

    Sometimes that is because "everyone is doing that so I can’t POSSIBLY follow the sheeple!" Other times it’s more like, "Yeah, the Billboard Top 40 is a wasteland of corporate dreck and has no redeeming value aside from the fact that I could use its packaging as a prop for the corner of a wobbly table. Where’s my Little Walter?" I’m a bit snobby that way, but I don’t think there are a lot of people who are going to argue that Pink is really bringing forth some deeper truths with her songwriting sklz.

    I do watch standard fare on occasion. Most movies I go to are just general entertainment for me, not art films. I have listened to same – I grew up in the 80s, and I thought Van Halen "ruled, dude!" (Totally.) I have probably also read the same, if you want to count stuff like Harry Potter in that realm, although I kind of think it’s not.

    I’m not sure where I was going with all of this, except to say that there’s plenty of crap out there, and some of it I avoid as if it were the Rage Virus, while some of it I enjoy as a bit of a guilty pleasure, like vanilla lattes…which I can’t get in my office. Life is so unfair. I’m sure others are weeping at my misfortune.

    Not nearly metro enough for Katy Perry,
    Tom

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