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Defining BookSnob: Dan, I Don’t Hate You.

Recently standing at the ever present ‘selection tables’ at the front of a bookstore, my husband sheepishly said: “I think I need a break from smart books.

(He said this s l o w l y,  like an idea he was testing…as he was nonchalantly paging through the new Dan Brown book.)

Okay, look.

This is not a dealbreaker.
There are no house rules about devouring a page-turner.
I don’t scorn thee, Dan Brown.

I, too, have been known to turn out the light at 4am not putting down a book like DaVinci Code.

But it did get me to thinking–what do I really mean by BookSnob?

I am not talking about a literal definition. It’s more of a question about whether reading is educational (mind-expanding or thought-provoking) or entertaining (enjoyable, even mindless at moments)? BookSnob, the very name, implies that educational would always trump entertaining.


Not exactly true.

For me, entertainment always comes first. I need to be involved, amused, dazzled, appalled, humored. It’s an emotional reaction. But from there, if it doesn’t expand my thinking, or carries no brainy weight, it distracts from my enjoyment. I am searching for entertainment that is smart, that is sharp.

Here’s an example. I own a subscription to the New York Review of Books. It seemed like a perfect gift: it was all about books and would be deep, rich and insightful.  I would learn a lot. Yes, it would be educational.

But, well, yikes to you New York Review of Books.

The reviews are too dense. Too dry. They’re written by real life authentic snobs who use $10 words and rip apart  literary elements for show. Ooh wee, these people take themselves seriously.

The New York Review of Books feels kinda like flossing.
I know it’s good for you, but I would rather be doing something else.
Because flossing isn’t that fun.

Now that the subscribers to BookSnob are in the hundreds (hooray!) and not the handfuls, I need your help:

Why and how are you a booksnob?

Give me anything you got. Go nuts.

Whoever I crown as the person who puts it most simply, most deliciously…you get a book of your choice. From me to you. As a personalized thank you note for giving it thought.

Oh. One more thing.

Don’t even (even!) think about calling this some hokey blog contest. Because while I am exploring what BookSnob is, I am oh-so-sure what it is not.

It is not some cheesy blog contest thinly veiled as a book giveaway.

No. Shame on you.

Your input now. Please.
Because, you see, BookSnob may be more than a pet project some day…

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feel exactly the same way about NYRB (and LRB for that matter, which is similar but shorter). Life is to short to feel “forced” to read such reviews. I admire them but can’t quite stomach them.

    Delia Lloyd

    February 22, 2010
  2. It’s so funny that you posted this because my thought upon discovering your blog was: great name! One I could easily have chosen for myself. And one that has nothing to do with what is “supposed” to be good or intellectual or whatever, and everything to do with a story that wraps me up and takes me away. To put it another way:

    Why am I a book snob? Because life is too short to read lousy books.

    February 22, 2010
  3. Jasmine #

    My definition of a book snob: A reader who is most entertained by books that require ‘work’, with the occasional well-written vampire escape novel thrown in.

    Not long ago I thoroughly enjoyed, for the first time ever, Vergil’s Aeneid (with the help of The Teaching Company, a frequent companion in my reading of late). All of the Greek drama can be read in one delightful summer. Right now I’m trying out Plato, and that is a challenge. I haven’t reached the enjoyment phase of reading the dialogues yet, but I’m cautiously optimistic. At the whole other end of the spectrum, I am reading the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series. I tried that other one (which EVERYONE under 21 has devoured these past few years). Didn’t like the writing or the story. So in a small way I’m a book snob in my escapist vampire reading as well. I have a dear friend who doesn’t like to have to “think” when she watches a movie. We do not go to movies together very often. Thinking is most of the fun for me, in reading and in viewing.

    Some examples:

    The English Patient: An enigmatic story that kept me trying to figure out who the burned man was.
    Wolf Hall: Fabulously written, but not the usual linear historical fiction.
    Cloud Atlas: Nested stories that connect to each other. I made extensive notes on this one and was deeply rewarded. One of the best.
    Shakespeare: The language!

    Happy reading,

    February 22, 2010
  4. (Jazzie, I am so with you on the vampire escapism. In fact, Twilight has made me sort of reexamine myself as a human. It’s keeping me humble, and totally unable to judge other people’s reading tastes. It’s a teenage romance book for the lova God. But then again, I am someone who is an absolute devotee of Lord of the Rings, the height of nerd reading.)

    So how do I define BookSnob? I actually do not consider myself a BookSnob (sorry Katy). To me, books are my friends. And while they are certainly a reflection of who I am, I like being surrounded by a motley crew of Mathletes, cheerleaders, drama dorks and jocks. Would my books want to hang out together? Probably not, unless they were trapped in detention on a Saturday. But that’s the fun of it. I think any time we label ourselves or the things that form our consciousness or speak to us about what it means to be human, we lose.

    I love this blog not because I expect a “cool kids only” filter, but because Katy, you have a great point of view, and a lens completely different from mine. And that’s why I keep coming back for more. I want to know who is hanging out on Katy’s nightstand.

    February 22, 2010
  5. Mary #

    To me a book snob is someone who expects the written word to teach them something new about themselves or the world, not to simply reinforce their existing views but to challenge them.

    February 22, 2010
  6. david fellows #

    Why am I a booksnob? If our bodies are shaped, to some extent, by what we eat, then it follows that our thoughts are shaped, in part, by what we read. Why read the equivalent of a doughnut when you can choose sushi?

    February 23, 2010
  7. How am I a booksnob? Well, I will not check out books from a library…they are dirty and a million hands have touched them! (I will, however, borrow books from my friends- as long as they return them). Other than that, I read a vast assortment of books – some are *smart* books, some are self-help, some are silly novels and some are classics; I love it all. So the booksnob in me, likes a clean, untouched book!

    February 23, 2010
  8. I’m a book snob because I’m distrustful of bestsellers. If the general public likes it, can it really be that good?

    February 24, 2010
  9. One way to go at the question: Your header tells us to read the good books. How good? Here, you and some commenters are suggesting that life is, in fact, long enough for bad books, which I think is true.

    I am a snob in that I believe in standards of quality. But I am also an Appreciationist who tries to find what is valuable in any book. The snobbery (or standards) lie in my belief that I can sort the valuable from the valueless.

    By the way, do you really think that Ingrid Rowland and Frank Kermode and Larry McMurtry, to pick a few regular contributors to The New York Review of Books are “authentic snobs” doing what they do “for show”? Or was that shorthand for something else? How do we tell a snob apart from an expert?

    I see another way I’m a snob – I take literature seriously. I have confused readers by mocking great books, but that’s another story.

    February 25, 2010
  10. carole sinclair #

    I can’t seem to categorize exactly where my literary taste falls….I enjoy my vacation reads on the beach with authors that help me escape and learn about a different era; Larry McMurtry being one of them.

    katy, you make all of us dig a little deeper by asking each of us why are we attracted to one book and not the other?

    One author that I think that everyone should read, if they haven’t already is Carson McCullers. She’s truly amazing! maybe you can add her to your list, k? I’m reading the Member of the Wedding right now, it’s too early to make a recommendation, so I will keep you posted.

    February 26, 2010
  11. Thank you so much to ALL of you!!!
    I love love love the comments.

    I am going to give those that get the weekly newsletter time to respond….and then I will let you all know how I am going to award the new book.

    Hope you can tolerate the suspense!!!

    February 26, 2010
  12. Chuck Turner #

    The joy of a great read is incredibly rewarding. Witness our need to tell everyone about it and our regret when we’ve finsihed the last page. Conversely,the lost time wasted in a poor or marginal read, is greatly resented. The pretentiousness of NY Times book lists and similar ilk does not significantly improve my good read/bad read batting average. Ergo, Book Snob to the rescue. The comments and reviews match my interests much more closely. If given a vote, I would opt for more coverage of non-fiction or historical fiction. Still, kudos to the site.

    February 26, 2010
  13. Mary Turner #

    Katy: I am a book snob because I wouldn’t think of reading anything so plebian as Danielle Steel, Judy Krantz, Stephen King and the rest of the ilk. I love to wander through book stores and check out all the new books and look to my very erudite friends who are such good readers. The New York Times review of books is much too effete for me – they try way to hard to impress. That is why I like your very fresh approach. Call Oprah..

    February 26, 2010

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