Gloom and solemnity are entirely out of place in even the most rigorous study of an art originally intended to make glad the heart of man.
-Ezra Pound, ABCs of Reading
When I first noticed that the people whom I asked “so, what are you reading lately?” often began their responses with the disclaimer “oh, nothing you’d be interested in,” I realized that I had a problem. I also realized that the problem was somewhat widespread among the literary.
In a way, readers are always in the company of the books they’ve read like a statement of predisposition. If we’re aware that a certain reader favors one sort of book we assume that we can predict what other sorts of books might attract or repel that reader.
It’s easy to prize our own literary habits over everyone else’s, and it’s easy to find fault in the choices of others by stacking books in highbrow piles and lowbrow piles. It’s pleasurable to think that no other readers are so submerged in the lives of books or so able to appreciate their worth as we are. This is the kind of self-indulgent, self-elevating thinking that is apt to bring on the condition of book snobbery.
The choices a reader makes have to do with the reader’s needs, and a reader’s needs are subject to fluctuations. This fact, observable in ourselves, should pause our evaluations of others. What might happen if we were to first seek deeper recognitions when encountering another reader? Would our connections over books be strengthened and elaborated if we were to consider and celebrate the reading desire before examining the reader’s choices? Should we be asking, “so, what have you felt like reading lately”?
Maybe the tendency to book snobbery has something to do with the individual nature of the act of reading itself. Whether or not a reader associates with a community of readers in some way, the reading act is one that happens alone and in a private space. A reader develops and hones a fine ability to exclude ambient activity at will. (A reader with children develops this talent to olympic proportions.) Because of this, the reader inhabits a willfully exclusive place. Maybe it isn’t too much of a leap from one expression of exclusivity to another.
In the isolation of the reading space the reader goes through extraordinary things. Complex neural systems are at play activating emotions, senses and integrations. In the upheaval of the moment it is difficult to imagine that someone else might have the capacity to empathize with or even comprehend our response. The reader is isolated in a kind of rapture. The sweetness and violence of this feeling is somewhere near the heart of the desire to read.
Exposing an experience that was meaningful to us to someone else is dangerous. Maybe book snobbery is a way of erecting barriers, of closing vulnerabilities. What might we discover if we allow these interior experiences to be an impetus to connect? What if we are more open to these connections when they are offered? How might our own literary lives be enriched, or our relationships in general?
To wit, a possible bookcover: