I 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.