The Literary Snobbery Fad

RANT ONE

Have you read the Vandal? You should. Check him out here. I came across a post on the blog several days back from a guest blogger. I thought she was fantastic. She spoke truth in volumes. It was all about her journey towards discovering that there was no need to read what was considered ‘literary’ but what she needed to do was read what she liked. I completely related to her. When I was six or seven my standard for literary books were books without photos in them. That is why I tossed aside my Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew so that I could try my hand at reading ‘proper books’ without kiddie drawings. My mum recalls me taking forever trying to get through a chapter of Sidney Sheldon. I’ve never asked her if I actually made it through. I don’t think I’ve ever passed by the kiddie section in our Public Library to be honest. I used to pounce on unsuspecting people in the adult section to take out books that I was too young to borrow. It was an amazing day when I turned thirteen.

Except by then, I realized that there was a better standard for judging ‘literary books’. The Classics were books that intellectual persons read and well the Sweet Valley High books that I was so enarmoured with were total tosh. So I stared reading them. I put down the SVH books and the Enid Blyton books and I read the classics. It just so happened that I loved a bunch of them; Pride and Prejudice is still my favourite book of all time. Wuthering Heights is still my favourite romance of all time. I loved Shakespeare’s plays. I loved Charles Dickens. I loved Jane Eyre and the Caribbean equivalent of that particular novel Wild Sargasso Sea. It was an amazing thing that my cousin with whom I lived at the time was a Literature major so those books were at my disposal. Hell, I even read the Divine Comedy (this took me at least three years but I figured, it was good to be able say that I’ve read it so I tinkered on). But guess what? As much as I liked reading the Classics, I LOVED reading romance novels. I am not talking about Chick-lit mind you. I am talking about genuine traditional romances a la Harlequin, Silhouette and Mills and Boons. If I wanted to forget about my life and my worries those are the things I reached for. Then I discovered Sophie Kinsella, Marion Keyes and a bunch of other Chick-Lit authors and suddenly my Harlequins were challenged. But I hated admitting it to myself or others that I loved reading these types of books. If I’d take a book out with me, it would be a Classic or if I must, must read a non-classic in public it would be more to the tune of John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon or Patricia Cornwell. Somehow, a thriller seemed a lot more amenable to my rep than sappy romance novels. I wasn’t even seventeen yet, talk about identity crisis! Then suddenly it occurred to me that reading was to transport me where I wanted to be and I wanted to be smack dab in the middle of a Harlequin novel or some fun, flirty Bridget Jones Diary-esque Chick-lit. That, I realized, did not make me the wrong type of reader because there is no such thing as the right type of reader. There is also definitely no such thing as the wrong type of book. The right type of book is any book that allows you to suspend reality for a while and be engrossed in it.

If my battle with the appropriateness of reading material was hard, hell had no fury on the battle that raged within me about what I should write! I figured if I were to be taken seriously I needed to write about dark serious matters like illness, poverty, rape and child abuse. I still have a bunch of unfinished manuscripts sitting on my laptop on those very same subject matter. There is one particular book Still I Rise that was the default book for when someone finds out that I write and they asked me what I write about. I figured it sounded cool to rattle off about the absurdities of the legal system and their perception of rape victims than to say quite plainly, quite confidently that I write about psychics, demons, fairies, ghosts, doppelgängers and Tristles (a  creature I made up myself). I’m now twenty one and over that (for the most part). When persons ask me what I write I tell them urban fantasy, when they press I go right into that list. In my experience though, people are never as impressed with urban fantasy as they are with the sad tale of rape and the legal system. I am really happy that I am at the point now where I just don’t care. I will write about what I want to write about and I will read what makes me happy. Life’s too short for anything but.

Needless to say I was extremely happy when I read the guest blog. But then, one particular nasty, vile person posing as an Anonymous poster left this comment:

People who don’t like classics, don’t know how to read. If you understand the social, historical, and personal context of a work, the beauty (and enjoyment) is unmissable. Romance and YA? Give me a break.

Guess what? I read romance and I love it, I write YA and I love it and I’m pretty sure I know how to read thank you very much. I pity him that he has to look down on other’s reading choices so that he can experience a bit of self validation. How sad! You know what they say about opening your mouth and removing all doubt that you are a fool… shame that Mr./Ms. Anonymous didn’t abide by that Classic rule.

RANT TWO

Now this one has been brewing for a while to be honest. However, I was directed to a news article in the Guardian from Derek’s Twitter page (he’s the Vandal) and let’s say I was pushed over the ledge. There was no longer an option of putting it off, I needed to write this. The tile of the piece was Now Anyone Can ‘Write’ A Book… First Find Some Words. The author seems to want to shed light on the fact that there has been a spamming problem in the Kindle store. Got to love spammers don’t you? They always valiantly try to ruin a good thing. The comments section however became riddled with posts concerning the fact that Traditionally published authors are the only proper, true writers out there opposed to Self-Published Authors. One person made a comment thus:

I am a traditionally published author, and I was shocked when I was told by my agents that 99% of submissions they receive come from people ‘who can’t write.’
Presumably that 99% all thought their work was suitable for publication or else they wouldn’t have sent it in. I am amazed by the level of people’s self-belief – I would certainly never have had the confidence in my own writing had I not been told by agents and publishers that I was there.

They then went on to predict:

Presumably many of this 99% will now be tempted to put this material onto the market without any quality control

99% of the writers who submit cannot write? I find this to be total and utter (please excuse my language) bullshit. It doesn’t help that the poster seemed a bit self-satisfied with him or herself having been picked up by the first agent he queried to and being sold forthwith. However, I find it insane (I stand to be corrected… well no really) to suggest that 99 percent of the work sent in to agents are crap. They might end up in the slush pile but I am pretty sure they are various reasons. It doesn’t always mean that their work is crap. JK Rowling ended up in the slush pile several times. She took her “crappy” writing all the way to the bank. 99% of the work in the Kindle store aren’t posted from  writers who cannot write. I know this – I have been making it a bit of a habit to read self-published books on Kindle because I find it complete and total utter rubbish that people think you must be published traditionally to be able to write. But guess what? I haven’t run across a hoard of horrible writers in the roughly hundred books I’ve bought via Amazon and now Smashwords: I’ve come across people like J.L Bryan, Ania Ahlborn, Derek Haines, Meg Jenson, Addison Moore (and a lot more persons I can’t put down now) suffice to say, these people are as far away from being unable to write as can be. To be honest I was tempted to ask the poster for the name of his book so that I could come to my conclusion about it. Because, make no bones about it, it is definitely sometimes the luck of the draw and nothing to do with talent. But deep down inside I believe these n ay-sayers know this.

It comes right back down to the lesson I learned with my reading, sometimes you just have to listen to your gut. Very often that is the only thing that matters.

END OF RANTS

Tschüss

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18 thoughts on “The Literary Snobbery Fad

  1. I couldn’t have put this better myself Rilzy. I don’t want to trivialise the debate, but I get the feeling there a few literary snobs out there who really feel that someone has been playing with their Teddy Bear. Childish, puerile and vindictive in many cases.

    I have been tempted, but have resisted, in shoving my 8,000+ ebooks downloaded in June up their collective snobby bottoms! Not trying to blow my own trumpet here, but as you say, most of these ladies or gentlemen don’t seem to be to fast in owning up to the titles of their books.

    And while they are throwing their collective little tantrums, us Indies just get on with writing and selling books to our increasingly satisfied readership.

  2. I agree Cheryl. I’m an English teacher and bad writing grates on me. But the free book route is not where the good writers are. Admittedly I have one free book available on Kindle and Smashwords, but it is certainly not a classic piece of literature. It was never meant to be as it was designed purely for promotion. But my other 7 books are all paid. Most at $3.99. Even at that price I think it cheapens the work that went into them, but that’s the market.

    But downloading 70 free books at a time! Why? Did you sample every one first? Would you do that in a bookstore? Just grab 70 books then complain some were not what you expected? I can’t accept that your method was a reliable way to sample some great new authors. Of course you got crud.

    So I will, in all fairness, rant on. But I don’t do diatribe. Rational debate is more my style. Sorry.

    1. Kobo has free books to download. I had a two hour lay over and nothing else to do. If the covers were interesting I added it to my eReader library.

      I have found several that were very good, and posted them to my Facebook Writers page and encouraged them to download as well. I have over 1500 friends.

      I also have about 500 Twitter followers, and if the writer is good, I Tweet it.

      Even though the barrel is full of apples, maybe only a handful may be bad.

      Some of the Free Books are also by well known and often reknown authors.

      http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Relentless/book-tmxuBgWctkOZUZYbEsPKlA/page1.html

      But until I read, who knows, I may run across and help promote the next George R.R. Martin.

  3. I will definitely write on Ms. Corbin. There is no doubt whatsoever where that is concerned. I stand by the point. I buy my self-published books in the same manner I buy my traditionally published books. I buy between three – five books per week and when I am shopping, I utilize the User Review Section. I am yet to come up short. I have walked away disappointed twice out of the over hundred books I have bought and that was when I ignored the two star rating and carried on with the purchase. Similarly there have been many times I’ve put down traditionally published books half way through. I maintain that there are good and bad books in each category of books. I believe to automatically assume that all self-published books (and I’m not only talking about e-books here) are written by authors who cannot write is absurd. If this classifies, in your opinion, as a diatribe then so be it, I’ll claim it.
    Thanks for the comment, I appreciate each bit of feedback that comes my way whether or not I am in agreement with it.

    Rilzy

    1. Noun 1. diatribe – thunderous verbal attack
      fulmination
      denouncement, denunciation – a public act of denouncing

      I read to your post as a verbal attack on literary snobs. Hence your rant was taken as a verbal attack on those who harshly criticize.

      I do understand, and I encourage other writers, by reading the good stuff and the bad stuff. As I download a free book, I also will also purchase two others.

      I often start my English and my Lit classes with the statement, “Everyone has a story to tell”, but continue on, “In order for your story to have meaning, it has to come from a voice that asks your readers to hear me.”

      I love to sing, I sing all the time. I sing in my car, the shower, in other’s people’s cars and am often asked to stop.

      Just because I open my mouth to vocalize words to music that I am obviously tone deaf to capture the tune, does not mean I am ready to hook up the autotune and hit the studio. I refuse to sound like Biz Markie’s little sister.

      Writing must come from a place that is clear.

      Your message, the setting, the characters, and of course your voice.

      It takes practice to understand how Sophia sat at the table and came to life.

      It took understanding the character to really appreciate Minnie putting Poo in that woman’s chocolate Pie.

      It took setting to visualize Neo following the White rabbit on Trinity’s back which led him into the Matrix.

      Kids understoon the message that we are all hero’s deep down Like Harry Potter.

      Practice makes a good writer.

      But criticism makes you a great writer.

      1. I completely agree that writing is something that should be honed just as any other talent. It is the first lesson I learnt in my first creative writing class. I do not dispute that there are persons who just write a first draft, maybe check it for spelling errors (or maybe not) then upload it via the Internet without regards for rewrites and revisions. Talent is just raw material, nothing more and nothing less. I maintain that the traditional publishing world is at times a game of luck. Your manuscript might be something one literary agent would foam at the mouth if she could get her hands on it but you send it off to every agent but that one. The reading world is on the cusps of a revolution (dramatic sounding I know, but it is something I genuinely believe) where Indie publishing is concerned. There are persons who might choose to self-publish because they want the independence or because they write super fast and can’t be bothered with the wait. Of course, there are also persons who self publish because they did not get their break in the traditional publishing world. This might say a multitude of things but it does not always suggest that the writer is talentless.

        I believe that if you are going to self-publish, you need to treat it as seriously as if you were going down the traditional route. Thus, it is necessary to work alongside an editor and have a bevy of beta-readers to tell you candidly what works, what doesn’t work and what will never ever work in your book (even if it happens to be the concepts in itself).

        Criticism does aid in helping you to the other level of great writing (great anything to be honest) but I will venture to add that it is constructive criticism that achieves this. Many times the criticism that I come across, specially on the Internet, is anything but.

        Also to be honest, the connotation that I have usually experienced with the use of the word “diatribe” is a speech or piece of writing that is bitter and abusive and not solely an attack or denouncement of something. This is the reason I was taken aback at my blog post being described as a diatribe as I didn’t see it as being bitter or abusive.

        Although, perhaps it doesn’t matter at all. Once I’ve posted something anywhere it is no longer my own but open to the interpretation of others.

  4. Hi there Cheryl. Checked out your website just now.. Don’t you speak about ‘nurturing dreams’? Well guess what? These people you’re commenting on..these people are living their dream! Writing their hearts out and trying to survive in a market that seems determined to destroy their independence. You oughta show them respect.. What right do you have to diss them? As for the 70 books. With what right do you comment on free stuff? Also, those 70 writers are also people with dreams who are trying to improve..what right do you have to judge them? They are the ones trying to be better as people like you try to crush their dreams and tell them that they are not good enough.. Guess what? You’re wrong. You’re just another one of those people who’re trying to showoff..they have a term you guys..H.A.T.E.R.S. Yeah.

    1. Wow, Pri, I am sorry if I offended you. However, my PhD in literature gives me every write to comment.

      And the books are free, hence ends the comments. My first 8 books were self-published, but I charged for them, even though, I only asked $5. I had confidence in my work which meant I had the courage to ask others to support and nurture my dream. I did not ask a great investment in my craft, by a $5 encouragement incentive to be better.

      You mistook my statement on my website which states:
      “Are you putting in quality materials for mental growth and your physical well being? Are you surrounding yourself with those who nurture your dreams and you theirs?”

      I manage a Facebook page with over 1500 writers, that I nuture, encourage, and often PURCHASE their work in support.

      I attend at least 6 Book Festivals per year and often buy new authors and give the works to my developing student writers or donate to our on campus library.

      When I find a FREE book that is well written, I post it on my Writer’s Facebook page and encourage my followers/friends to also download the the work; this often results in at least 200 download of that FREE book.

      Which in essence means that I am in fact nurturing good writers.

      “You, can not celebrate my glory, when you don’t know my story.” – Paula White

      What are you doing to help or nurture someone else?

  5. I’ve been following this thread with great interest and am now convinced that English literature is as topical, provocative and healthy today as it was when Chaucer decided to pen in English and upset the establishment. And I would bet that Chaucer had to his own book promotion, so what’s new in the world?

    Without taking sides on some of the more fiery comments, I do have to say that no matter where you come from in this debate, it is reassuring to know that books (in any form) are being written and read more than at any time in our history. With the abundance of multimedia that is available in today’s world, this is quite remarkable.

    As to the ‘literary snob’ label, I think this has always been, and is simply a matter of reading choice. Should I be labeled a ‘music snob’ just because I like classical music? Or decried if I prefer Jimi Hendrix?

    In the end, writers write to be read, but have little or no control over who reads them and what the reaction will be. As an author, I write what I want to write because I believe I have a good story to tell and perhaps a message I would like to transmit. But if someone dislikes what I write, I shan’t be labelling them as snobs. It is just that I am not their cup of tea.

    But of course, I love a good review. Especially from snobs!

  6. Derek, it is not the appreciation of certain types of literature, in my opinion, that makes a literary snob. It is let’s say because I am terribly fond of perhaps Classic literature then as a consequence I make the assumption that all traditional Harlequin-esque Romance novels are a piece of crap. Generally snobs don’t stop there but they then attempt to tear down persons who adore romance novels. It is something I’ve seen over and over again special regard to Indie publishing. I keep telling persons, I don’t know how I will eventually publish (or when) but I don’t think that if I somehow succeed traditionally it means that I am better writer than if I decide to go down the Indie Publishing route. I, must admit, that sometimes (well most of the times) when I see these sort of comments about self-published authors being a waste of space in the literary world, I want to join the revolution :D. Are there bad self published books out there? Most definitely. I’ve been lucky enough to have walked away disappointed five times (there is still one book I bought three days ago that I can’t even get through). Maybe that says something about my literary palate? Could. But I don’t think so. However, there have also been published books that I’ve read and put down half way through. To denounce all self published authors as “crap” or persons who couldn’t get published so they resorted to self-publishing (specifically e-publishing) as a last resort in my opinion reeks of snobbery. You know the comments that spurred me to write this particular blog post. The straw that broke the camel’s back, if you have it. It was a combination of the response to your guest blogger to the effect that persons who do not enjoy classical literature have no taste and then the lovely debate on the Guardians webpage.
    I feel like I’m rambling now. So in sum, to me it is not snobbery for a person to say that they’d prefer if the books they read are vetted by the traditional publishing world (opposed to User Comments) but the problem of ‘snobbery’ arises when you take that preference and suggest that all self-published authors are delusional and have no gift for writing.

  7. I wouldn’t have believed when I first read Tamara Epps’ submission for her original post ( http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/2011/06/on-being-literary/ ) that it would be so widely read. It has been referenced on many blogs and started a number of conversations. There were also a couple of posts by other guest bloggers at around the same time that touched on the ‘snob’ angle as well.

    With all that has been said about this, it comes down to, as you say, personal taste and preference in literature. For some there are only the ‘classics’, while for others variety is king. Then there are those who bought Barbara Cartland books for years and years. Literature is about reading, and reading for pleasure, not under duress.

    It’s just a matter of taste, but I would add that snobbery for me is real when it involves deriding someone for their particular taste.

  8. “Literature is about reading, and reading for pleasure, not under duress.”
    This is very true.
    Also, I think maybe what helped to propel Tamara’s post to such popularity in the blogosphere might have been that one thoughtless, dare I say snobbish, post by Mr. / Ms. Anonymous.
    Her post was something I believe many persons could relate to one way or the other and then to see Anonymous’ post I think some persons (at least I did) thought, ‘Yup and this is why I for so long thought I had to read certain things.’
    At any rate, I am quite happy I came across that post. It has become one of those things which will forever leave an imprint. In about ten years I predict I still will reference it when I discuss why you read what interests you. Of course now I get to steal that amazing quote you’ve given me. 😀

    1. Damnation! I forgot to put © before my quote! So steal away 🙂

      And I had forgotten about our Anonymous friend. Yes, he or she really got things moving. I recall one commenter asked why I hadn’t deleted the comment. My reply was that it was a wonderful lightening rod.

  9. Wow, thank you Rilzy for writing this post. I’m so glad (and kind of amazed) that my post has received such an amazing reception. To be honest I wasn’t really sure what I was going to write but in the end just decided to write something with truth. And it seems that truth has touched many people. Of course, you all know my opinion in the ‘snob’ debate and as for self-publishing, I have read both good and bad books that are both self-published and traditionally published. By ‘bad’ here I mean that I, as a writer, am ashamed of the abuse of language and the clear inability to put all their effort into their work. For me, that is what makes a writer a writer – it’s the work that comes after the raw talent that truly shows what someone is made of. (And Rilzy, I totally agree that the more people criticize self-published writers, the more I want to do it to prove them wrong!)

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