By Ashley Lister

I don’t have a lot of time for snobbery when it comes to reading and writing. It’s a shallow demonstration of idealised values that only serve to make everyone miserable. Book snobbery is perhaps the worst example of this.

I worked with someone (many years ago) who dismissed my writing as ‘those sorts of books’. When I asked her what she meant by that, she gave me a patronising look and told me that what I wrote was of no value. I think, in the conversation that followed, the word ‘twat’ might have occurred once or twice. If I recall things correctly, it was an exchange that only served to make us both miserable. She was miserable because she thought I’d said ‘twat’ too often. I was miserable because I hadn’t said it enough.

Whilst I understand everyone is entitled to their opinion, I get frustrated when some people voice their opinions based on nothing more than hearsay and ignorance.
I’d heard this same individual (and many others, to be fair) voice similar opinions about the lack of worth in contemporary romance novels. I’m not trying to say that pulp contemporary romance is comparable to Shakespeare for its content. But I’m happy to admit I’ve read contemporary romances and cried at the Happy-Ever-After conclusion. I’ll be even more honest and admit there have been some Shakespeare stories which haven’t had that sort of impact on me. Am I supposed to embrace the facileness of book snobbery and claim that Shakespeare is always superior to modern writing? Or would it be better for me to be honest and admit that some of the supposedly literate stuff goes whistling over my thick head, whilst some of the less highbrow material hits me straight in the gut? If I do make such an admission, am I admitting to having a flawed sense of judgement?

I’ve heard lots of people dismiss the Fifty Shades series with this sort of book snobbery. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of the series. But I also have to admit those books touched a huge audience and they allowed BDSM erotica to be accessed by a mainstream audience. Maybe they didn’t work for me. But they scratched an itch that was felt by more than 50 million readers, so it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that they don’t have some worth. They’ve introduced readers to my favourite genre, and they’ve given BDSM fiction a veneer of respectability. Book snobbery in the face of such success would be hypocritical.

I’m not sure who’s meant to be impressed by book snobbery. If I disparage the genre you enjoy reading, does that prove my tastes are more sophisticated? If so: why would you care? Do the opinions of a book snob matter to anyone?

More importantly, if I was a book snob, why would I care what others are reading? Am I simply trying to impress everyone that my tastes are superior? Or, is it more likely that I have a shallow need to make myself feel important by pissing on the achievements and the enjoyments of others?

I’m not saying we have to love every book that’s out there. I’m not suggesting we have to embrace genres that cover subjects we don’t enjoy. I’m not even advocating that we sing the praises of authors who produce work we don’t like. But I would like to say – if you’re going to criticise a book, genre or author – make sure you’re criticising them for a valid reason: not simply to make yourself look clever by disparaging what others have done. That level of book snobbery only ever serves to make everyone miserable.