Friday, September 6, 2019

Literary Snobbery: Why It's Toxic and How to Combat It

"Graphic novels don't count as reading."

"Indie authors aren't real authors."

"MG fiction is just for kids."

These kinds of phrases get thrown around a lot. And you know what? It really, really sucks. It's literary snobbery at its worst and leads to all sorts of problems. Let's talk about why it needs to stop (and how to get rid of it).

Literary Snobbery: Why It's Toxic and How to Combat It

Pitting one type of reading against another

This is seen in:

Physical books vs ebooks, classic literature vs modern literature .....

Why it's messed up: It causes unnecessary division and can annoy people into not trying a new genre or new reading style. After all, if somebody keeps telling you that classic lit is best and that your preferred genre is trash, is that going to make you want to give classic lit a try? Yeah. I thought not.

People generally have reasons for reading or not reading what they do. People may read ebooks because it helps with storage space, because it allows them to access books easily and more affordably, because it helps them learn new words (via the built-in dictionary most e-readers have), etc. On the other hand, people may choose physical books because the tactile nature helps them focus, or because it's easier for them to study with, or because they simply enjoy the way it smells. People may read classic literature because it tends to be clean, because they like the often elegant writing-style, etc. People may lean more towards modern literature because they prefer the more accessible writing-style, because the cultural/disability representation is better, etc.

There's no need to pit story types against each other. You can like what you like without bringing somebody else's preferred reading down. You can also encourage people to read fiction you think they may enjoy without trashing what it is they're currently reading.

How to combat it: Simply be encouraging and helpful rather than judging someone's preferred choice of reading. Ask people why they like what they like. You may learn something! And stock up on knowledge so that you can encourage your fellow readers to find the reading experience that works best for them.

For instance: Most libraries allow you to check-out ebooks via Overdrive. Your ebook-loving friend will love to hear about that. And your classic-lit-lovers may be interested in the Literature Network, a site that can help them find a ton of great classic literature to read.

Gif of Captain America saying "Internet. So helpful."

Saying something doesn't "count as reading" 

This is seen in: 

audiobooks, graphic novels, manga

Why it's messed up: Audiobooks and graphic novels are often more accessible to different groups of people and can help them connect with books, so to disparage this type of reading is to turn people away from books entirely.

For example: Audiobooks are hugely helpful for people with learning disabilities, those who are auditory learners, and for busy people who otherwise wouldn't have time to sit and read. Graphic novels are also helpful for people with learning disabilities (the images help bridge any reading gaps), are great for visual learners, teach skills such as inference, and garner an appreciation for art. Manga is a great introduction to non-western storytelling, and also expands brain functioning because you're essentially reading the story "backwards." 

How to combat it: Request that your local library stock graphic novels. Buy audiobooks or graphic novels for your friends/loved ones. Promote them online, publicly pump up your favorite audiobook narrators, and support local comic book stores. 

Dismissing genres or age categories as dumb

This is seen in: 

YA literature, Christian fiction, comedic fiction, indie publishing, KidLit, romance, popular fiction, etc

Why it's messed up: It generalizes and dismisses entire groups of books that are full of amazing, helpful gems. There is great value in making people laugh, so it's absurd to dismiss comedic fiction as   stupid. The YA age category is full of incredible, honest, creative stories, so why write the whole category off as "angsty" or "low-brow"? Sure, Christian fiction may be known for lack of creativity, but that is a massive generalization that passes over so many incredible stories. Indie authors are incredibly talented and serious about their craft, so it's hurtful to assume that we're all wannabe authors who can't make it in traditional publishing. And KidLit is full of amazing stories that all ages can enjoy, so it's nonsensical to behave as if fiction for children is somehow dumbed-down or less-than.

The lists go on. Stop generalizing. It's dumb.

How to combat it: Go read outside of your regular genres. Try some KidLit. Check out some indies. Read that best-seller. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't, but it's important not to dismiss genres or age categories because of generalized biases. When you see people disparaging an entire category of reading, recommend some of your newest, most favorite finds in said category. 

Shaming people for not reading X book

This is seen in:

Classic literature, popular fiction. It usually comes in the form of: *scandalized gasp* "You haven't read X???"

Why it's messed up: Not everyone can (or wants to) read every single book that is deemed a must-read, so it's hypocritical and annoying to look down on people for not having read something. After all, you probably haven't read That Certain Must-Read, have you? I thought not. Does that make you a bad reader? No. Maybe that book isn't your taste or you simply haven't gotten around to it yet. The same goes for literally every other reader, so maybe don't be judgmental when somebody reveals they haven't read That Novel.

How to combat it: I have a friend who has the perfect phrase for this: "Oh, then you have such a great read to look forward to!" It's not judgmental, it's doesn't shame anyone, it just lets the person know that you are excited to them to find a potential new good read. 

Does literary snobbery bother you? Why or why not? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Related articles:
9 Ways to Use Reading to Improve Your Writing
A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 2)

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  1. Very thoughtful article, Hannah! Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  2. So much YES to this. All of it. Not every book is for everybody, but that's why there are so many to choose from!


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