Friday, July 16, 2010

Literary Snob

When I was growing up, my father read The New Yorker, had season tickets to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and went out of his way to go to art films that were subtitled. When we were feeling brave, my sister and I would request to go to a Hollywood film at the normal movie theater, but my father would cringe at the mention of something so mainstream.

Instead, I was taken to museums on weekends and given quizzes, written in big, block Dad font, about what I had learned from the exhibits. I got subscriptions to Stone Soup while my friends read Seventeen. And I sang in a professional children's choir while my peers played in rock bands.

So now, to make up for it all, I read chick lit. And memoir. And mainstream novels. And ad copy. And the back of cereal boxes. And yes, The New Yorker. Sometimes. The humor parts.

I've been quite content since I left college.

But recently I went to a writing class that was filled with people like my father. It was filled with Dads.

During the class, I quoted Bill Bryson because we were discussing grabbing a reader's attention and I love the way his book, The Lost Continent, begins: "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to."

The Dads were offended that I would mention something so mainstream. Poor Bill Bryson. Where did he go wrong?

Then I said I liked how Augusten Burroughs writes in the present tense because it really brings you into the moment.

The Dads were not impressed. Augusten Burroughs? Please. Writing in the present is too affected; action always happens in the past.

Finally, someone else spoke up. "I've always liked Ayn Rand."

Ayn Rand? Now all the Dads turned their wrinkled noses from me to her.

"What?" she said. "What is wrong with Ayn Rand?"

"Nothing," I said. "If her books make you enjoy reading, that's great."

The Dads didn't agree.

What do you think?


  1. Wow, this was an interesting post to read. I sometimes think I'm snobby about what I read but I have to admit even though I have an MA in English and Teaching, I can't get into the theater. Some art films are ok, but I think I've subsumed my abhorrence for Hollywood into a grotesque obsession with Brit Coms. Yuck.

    Anyway, it's good that your father was so involved and took you to museums, etc rather than just dropping you off in front of the babysitter (aka the TV).

  2. Hi Kristin

    Thanks, glad you liked the post. Nothing wrong with a good Brit Com!

    I'm not complaining, I have a great dad. But sometimes his idea of culture threatened to make me completely stupid when it came to normal things people talked about.

    In an effort to become less socially awkward, perhaps I have gone a little too far in the commercial direction--I mean, at one point I was writing NASCAR commercials--talk about making my father proud (insert sarcasm here).

    But I believe we can learn things from all kinds of writing--so I consider it part of my well-rounded writing education.

  3. haha that's hilarious - Bill Bryson is my favourite writer! He's hilarious! I love that book opening too! I mean, so sue me for wanting to be entertained by a book - reading doesn't have to be just about expanding your mind and having ammo for a deep philosophical discussion. Sometimes you just want to be transported and laugh deeply from your gut and there's nothing wrong with that. Pretentious snobs piss me off lol

  4. Great post, Chantal. I have my moments of lit-snobbery, but they are usually saved for Nicholas Sparks and Stephanie Meyer. I love memoir that's done well, and I think Auguston Burroughs' latest was his best. You know you're in a class full of snobs when they turn their noses at Ayn Rand!

  5. I hate literary and cultural snobbery! Get over your selves! The sign of true word lovers and art lovers is appreciating work in all forms. Open your eyes!

    I went to Harvard and I read the New Yorker. I also read US Weekly, only want to watch "funny" movies, and read everything from Jennifer Weiner and Candace Bushnell to Joyce Carol Oates and Richard Russo.


    What kind of class was this by the way?

  6. I agree there's nothing wrong with reading for fun. As I've said before, most writers take themselves way too seriously. If you can't have fun with writing, then why do it? Definitely not for the pay!

    I guess I need to reform myself if I really want to fit in with this bunch. Next time I'll have a quote ready from Herodotus. Just in case.

  7. Funny is not easy. Bryson is funny. The Dads have no sense of humor. Too bad, because a sense of humor is also useful when it comes to Rand.

    Sorry about the Rand crack, but everyone has the book, the author, or the genre that just makes them stutter horrified objections: Stephanie Meyer, romance novels, SciFi.

    Writing has many purposes and pleasures. Not all of them can be accommodated by writing suitable for serious lit crit discussions.

    Here is my current favorite first line.

    "In this part you will learn these income tax basics...." (JK Lasser's Your Income Tax 2009)

  8. Augusten Burroughs? Next stop Amazon. I love Bryson too -- but now rarely read him because a very knowledgeable U.S. national park ranger friend of mine told me Bryson's book on (I think) the Appalachian Trail was full of factual errors. He told me this while I was in the middle of Bryson's "Short History of Nearly Everything." I stopped reading the book. I almost wish I didn't know he's not an accurate writer, because he's so much fun to read.

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