Are You a Book Advocate or a Book Snob?

snobI see a lot of crossover when I look at the worlds of craft brewing and independent bookselling.  Both are (or at least frame themselves) as small, scrappy upstarts facing off against corporate behemoths.  Both small breweries and indie bookstores promote themselves as local, unique, and a vehicle for creating choice in the market.  Whether the product is something intangible like customer service or as physical as beer, both argue that you get a higher-quality experience by going with the little guy.  And, let’s face it, beer geeks and book geeks can be equally obsessive about their passions.

When I was scrolling through the Beer Advocate forums today, I noticed a question that comes up every few weeks on the site – “are you a beer advocate or a beer snob?”  Meaning, do you celebrate good beer and try to share that appreciation with everyone, or do you scoff and turn your nose up at people who drink something you don’t deem worthy?  Are you happy when a beer you like is embraced by the general public, or are you upset that it’s becoming palatable to a mass market?  Essentially, do you want the world of beer to be inclusive or exclusive?

Substituting the word book for beer creates an interesting question for booksellers and book lovers – are you a book advocate or a book snob?

I’d like to think of myself as a book advocate.  Obviously, I have books that I love and want to drive people to buy, as well as books that I don’t like, either as a fault of the writing or the subject.  However, I try not to look down on people who like books I don’t, or assume my tastes are somehow more informed or “better”.  Taste in books, like taste in any other form of art, is subjective.  Personally, I find someone scoffing or mocking someone’s reading habits pompous  and pretentious.  Professionally, it’s undoubtedly dangerous to openly disparage someone’s choice of books – yet I’ve seen booksellers at chains and indies do just that.  On the other hand, I’m not sure if I’d be so excited to simply get whatever books people want into their hands if it wasn’t my vocation.

Is the right attitude towards books advocacy for reading, love for only the (in your opinion) best, truest and objectively great books, or somewhere in between?  And how does this change from bookseller to reader to recommender?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


12 responses to “Are You a Book Advocate or a Book Snob?

  1. I am a book advocate. Reading is wonderful whether it’s Dan Brown’s newest, a paranormal romance or classics by Melville or Austen. It’s entertaining mental exercise.

  2. It’s not about the love of The Book, imo, but the love of The Experience. If I get the rush from reading Patrick O’Brian and you get the rush from reading Dan Brown then, hey, we’re siblings, because we understand The Rush.

    Just as beer (and wine) are about the experience rather than the label, so are good books. Who cares about the provenance as long as the conversation is fabulous?

  3. Great point Josh, and Amen! Nicola.

    It’s so hard not to come off like a snob sometimes both in conversation at the bookstore or in written reviews. I’ve found myself unthinkingly referring to a “real” book versus the fluff I like to read sometimes, when what I mean is simply a book that gives one more to chew on. Not better necessarily, but broader in ambition, scope and interest.

    I constantly run into this when talking fantasy with other booksellers. I adore Jordan’s Wheel of Time and couldn’t get into Goodkind or Brooks. It’s not that they’re not page turners with many interesting characters; it’s more that I’m not really interested in immersing myself in another huge multi-volume saga and learning the minutia of that world. I’ve read enough of those authors to handsell with confidence, but have not been compelled to seek out more. However, I’ve had plenty of people try to explain why ________ (insert whichever multi-volume fantasy writer you feel like) is superior to Jordan and I should read their books instead. There’s just no way that conversation can ever come out as anything other than “Well, you have crap taste, but your heart’s in the right genre. I can redeem you if you accept _________ as you personal savior…”

    And, I hereby apologize to anyone whose taste I’ve accidentally belittled in the past…

  4. Being a book (or beer) snob is self-defeating. Sure, it provides us with the protective wall of self-importance that can hold us over during periods of existential crisis, but the long-term effects can be mightily poor. Like it or not, products created are responses to market demands. As long as people want “good” books (or beer), defined here as “book (or beer) I like)” then the market will continue to provide them. If I want to be happy with the universe of potential books to read (beer to drink) then I must resign myself to the fact that what I like to read (and drink) is also well-received by the hoi polloi.

    That doesn’t mean I’m not going to seek out rarities and more unpalatable fare and in those instances seem sometimes snobbish. It does however mean that, if I find something I think others will like, I will share it with them and encourage them to vote with their pocketbooks so that the rare (and almost certainly overpriced) thing I currently like will be produced more…and encourage other entrepreneurs to make more things like it.

  5. Let me elaborate, so I don’t look like a boob.

    When it comes to people reading crap like V.C. Andrews (or the writing of V.C. Andrews’ clones), I’m an outright snob. Novels on serial killers? Snob. Diet books. Definitely a snob.

    But a book like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, or BodyOpus from the late Daniel Duschane? I’ll tell everyone within earshot.

    But that’s what I mean by snob. I pretty much am.

  6. I’d like to say I’m a book advocate. Really, if people are reading and experiencing and exploring and loving books I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But I realized as I felt like a $2 hooker on Bourbon St after I read Twilight (i.e. I felt dirty!) that perhaps I do have some book snobbery that gets passed on. And that is partly because I was not only angry at myself for liking the book as I did (a fun & light read) but I was angry at the person who suggested I read it. I wondered what kind of person actually ADMITS to liking books like that and encouraging others.

    And then I sometimes have to step back and say “Huh, I think I just announced it to an entire blog’s audience. Whoops!” 🙂

  7. Pingback: Is I is, or is I ain’t a snob? « Zoe Whitten’s Blog

  8. I think it’s possible to be both. I think I am both.

    As a bookseller and a passionate bibliophile, I am a book advocate because my primary goal is to share and spread the love of reading, no matter what it takes. As with anything else, you have to meet people where they are. Anytime someone walks through the doors of my bookstore, I am glad they are here, and I want to help them find a book they’re going to love.

    So if it takes Stephenie Meyer or V.C. Andrews or James Patterson or (gasp!) Dan Brown to hook them, then okay. At least they’re reading.

    But once they’re hooked, I kick into book snob mode.
    Because honestly, some books really are better than others, and once you’re hooked on the gateway drugs, you’re just missing out if you don’t move on up to something with more substance, style, and depth. I know there are a lot of great books I’ve never read, and I’m sure there are bigger book snobs who might look down on some of my choices, and that’s fine. For me, reading is not just about the experience but about the fact that there’s always somewhere else to go from what you’re currently reading, which is why it’s OK to start with the, ahem, crap, if that’s what it takes.

    I would never openly disparage a customer’s reading choices, but I am always willing to point them to what I think of as the next step up from what they’re currently reading.

    As booksellers, we walk a fine line with this. In my personal life, I’m happy to be the book snob.

  9. You know, after reading rinkjustice’s comment I think I need to re-evaluate my answer. I thought the question was about how I react in regard to the stuff I like. Do I covet it, hold it close, and despair when delicious rarities are discovered by the unwashed masses? No. Or do I share it with as many people as I can in the hopes it gains popularity? Yes.


    Do I read horrible, mind fodder novels built for people who think “plots” are the reason to read? Or drink the thinnest, lightest beers designed for palates that desire “drinkabiliy” above all else? No.

    I do not think that “reading is reading” and is therefore always laudable. Many adults, despite a lifetime of reading haven’t moved beyond Brown, Patterson, and Rowling. Those people aren’t “reading” in the way I understand the term. So, yeah, I suppose I’m a little snobbish. On the other hand, people are people and they deserve respect and not derision. Firm readers of crap and I, we just don’t talk about books. Dogged drinkers of crap and I, we don’t really discuss beer.

    So, am I snob? Hard to say.

  10. Woah Jim! I know your post is over a year old but you cannot lump Rowling in with Patterson or Brown. You just can’t.

  11. The person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein

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