In a moment of good parenting, I was watching What Not to Wear with my daughter. For those of you who don’t subject yourselves to such things, it’s a television programme where two clothes horses toss away your scummy, unflattering rags and dress you “appropriately”. In theory, this show is a good idea: I like it when my daughter puts together an outfit for me so that I don’t have to think about it myself. It’s not that I’m against looking socially acceptable, I just don’t have the self-control to put the effort into it. (I’d rather read a book, thanks.) In practice, though, it seems to me that they turn out women with the same look each time. In the seemingly-millions of episodes these people have produced, no one is ever sent to buy 40 different salwar kameezes; no one is told that they look best in long flannel nightgowns.
I know a few people who look awesome in a long flannel nightgown.
After I was finished being a good parent, I came up with a cunning plan: I am going to put in a proposal to TLC for a show called What Not to Read. I’ll travel to the victim’s house (none of this polluting the air with unnecessary air travel), toss out all the garbage on their bookshelves, and give them $5000 to go buy good books.
Not everyone bought into my wit. Apparently, this cunning plan of mine has exposed a nasty side of me: book snobbery. A cousin of mine subtly posted Matt Haig’s 30 Things to Tell a Book Snob on Facebook. I was slightly put out that an inferior form of writing (aren’t you also frustrated by these lists that are popping up as “news”?) was being used to criticise me, but then I read the article. I have to agree with just about everything the man says–especially number 6. We can agree to disagree about whether Shakespeare is to be defined as “good”.
So then I had this dilemma. All week, I’ve flipped back and forth. Am I a book snob? If so, is that good or bad?
A few days ago, I was reading chicklit because my brain was not up to anything more demanding than the most basic sociology. Daniel Deronda is on my Kobo (yes, it’s chicklit; it’s just old chicklit) and Something Borrowed (borrowed from my daughter) was beside my bed. I got a swat across the face from Something Borrowed, in a scene where the narrator is imagining a couple splitting up:
Next scene: Darcy amid cardboard boxes packing her CDs… At least Dex would get all the Springsteen albums, even Greetings From Asbury Park, which someone had given Darcy as a gift. Most of the books would stay, too, as Darcy brought few books into the union. Just a few glossy coffee table numbers (Giffin, 139).
Ooooh, I’m a book snob. Why would you get into a relationship with someone who only had a few coffee table books? …Not that I’m adverse to coffee table books. I just don’t see what you’d talk about with a person like that.
If I’m to take Mr. Haig’s authority on the matter, though, I’m not a book snob. I don’t demand that books be long or serious or realistic. I believe illustrations make books better. I have my preferred genres, but I don’t think other genres are beneath me. The only snobbery that I admit to, and am proud of, is my insistence that the writing be good.
I’m a writing style snob.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m expecting perfect grammar. As long as the author is deliberately messing with the grammar, I’m amused. I love it when someone makes up words, gets exceedingly creative with punctuation, or copies a verbal style perfectly. A writer should have such command of their language as to leave me in no doubt that they intended to write the things they wrote.
There should also be a story in the book, or information that has some effect on the reader’s life. The books that Chapters-Indigo is currently displaying have no story, no relevant information, and no good writing style. Many of the books that Scholastic is selling through the schools come with trinkets and other forms of bribery: a sure sign that the book isn’t being purchased for its contents. My proposed What Not to Read show would work off two premises:
- garbage in; garbage out
- there’s true pleasure in reading if what’s being read is truly pleasurable
Just as “a few glossy coffee table numbers” people are boring, so are people who only read one kind of book–regardless of the genre. I think bookstores, educators and parents are the ones that are responsible for making sure that everyone has a variety of reading material available to them, and making sure that the contents of that material uphold some standard or other.
Sadly, another outcome of my What Not to Read proclamation is that it has come to light that I still haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey. It’s not something that interests me, but the world is so divided (you’re a snob if you don’t read it; you’re a traitor to the world of writing and sexual freedom if you do read it) that I clearly have no option but to read the thing and decide for myself.
I’m pretty sure it won’t kill me.