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Lev Raphael Headshot

Don't Be a Book Snob!

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Among my twenty-one books are seven academic mysteries I had tremendous fun researching and writing, and that fun has never been spoiled by hearing someone say, "Oh, I don't read mysteries! There's nothing to them!"

Why don't I get annoyed? Because I've also published memoirs, literary fiction, historical fiction, psychology, a travelogue, self-help, biography and even a Jane Austen mash-up. I read more widely than that, and never know what genre might interest me next as a writer or reader.

But over the thirty+ years of my publishing career, I've learned that book snobs come in all shapes and sizes. And their snobbery often seems more about them than the genre they've picked for their disdain.

I've been on a mystery readers' and writers' listserv for about fifteen years and way too often a predictable thread emerges. Somebody complains about being sneered at for reading mysteries by somebody else off-list who thinks they're silly or trashy or mindless or "escape reading."

The list starts to bubble over in a very sad way: some of the "victims" quickly turn victimizer and start trashing "Literature" or "literary fiction." What's that? Well, as defined by a best-selling mystery author at a conference I attended years ago: books where not very much happens to people who aren't very interesting. Wasn't he insightful? He certainly knew his audience--people roared their approval. Snobbery clearly works both ways.

What happens next on the list is that more people chime in with complaints about Proust or just about anyone they think is highfalutin and boring. That expands inexorably to Modern or Contemporary Fiction, however it's defined, which is usually whatever book that person doesn't like. Or disliked in high school. Or was told was brilliant but they hated. Or anything dubbed "classic." And the authors and their fans are of course elitist.

The contempt these mystery readers feel directed at them gets recycled as they express withering disdain for books they don't like written and read by people they have to denigrate. That's not an argument or even a defense, it's insecurity.

Sometimes they'll point to all the crime writers on the bestseller list and sneer that literary novels only sell a few copies and are usually written for the author's friends. Or they'll make outsized claims and say something like Anne Perry is a better writer than George Eliot. I've had dinner with Anne Perry and I doubt even she would make that claim.

I've reviewed on-line, on-air and in print since the early 90s. There's plenty of lousy writing in every genre, and I avoid reviewing books that are duds. My feeling is, if you don't like a certain kind of book, don't read it. But trashing a whole genre only makes you sound look like a snob or someone with a chip on your shoulder. Isn't it more fun to just read what you love and not waste your time dissing books you don't like, and the people who do?