A few days before his latest book was published, I came across this newspaper article which made me laugh: Don’t make fun of renowned Dan Brown. I read The Da Vinci Code a number of years ago, when everyone was praising it as a ‘must read’, but found it glib and shallow. Sure, it was easy and entertaining enough but, in my view, the story had been told so much better in Foucault’s Pendulum. I was not impressed with the way Dan Browne wrote and felt that this journalist (Michael Deacon) captured why. I shared the newspaper article with my friends on Facebook and thought little more of it.
Then, a couple of days ago, I read this: 30 things to tell a book snob. It made me think about my attitude to books, what I read, why I read what I do, and how I judge others based on what they read. I have written many times about how I hate being judged and try not to judge others so this made me uncomfortable. I was concerned that I was being shown to be a book snob and I didn’t like the way this made me feel.
I love books. I love the excitement and anticipation of holding an unread book; of turning the pages for the first time before immersing myself into a new and exciting, unknown world; getting to know the characters as I learn about their lives and adventures, their trials and pleasures. For me, there are few more enjoyable ways to spend time than curled up on a comfy sofa with a good book.
When I reach the end of a work of fiction that I have enjoyed I feel a sense of loss. As I process the tale in my head and consider what I have just read, there is a feeling that people I knew well have moved away and I am unlikely to ever see them again. They have been a part of my life for a short time and now I must move on. I usually need a few days to get over a book. Their stories touch me and change my way of thinking, even if only slightly.
It is not just the words that I love but also the physical books. Shelves full of books make a room look so comforting and inviting. I look at pictures of rooms full of bookshelves such as this one book lovers staircase or this one book lovers room and I want to get to know the people who live in these houses. With all of those books read or to read I think the residents must be so interesting. I want to look through their books and discuss the ones that I have enjoyed, to share what I think of the stories and the authors.
I guess I think that if I read the same books as someone then we may have views and opinions in common; I am interested in what they enjoyed or disliked about a book that I would rate highly, or what they thought of a book that disappointed me. When I lend out a book I want to know what the reader thought of the gift that I shared with them. Perhaps I can gain further insight into a tale or a character from a new reader’s perceptions. I want to improve my mind through reading, to challenge my preconceptions through literary characters, to gain knowledge from research done by diligent authors, to enjoy reading a well written piece of literature.
Am I a book snob? I much prefer it when I see people reading even trash novels than not reading at all, but I do consider so many books that others seem to enjoy to be little more than mildly entertaining fluff. I rarely enjoy reading books by ‘best selling’ authors as I find them predictable and repetitive. Obviously there are plenty of people who choose to read these books and therefore, presumably, enjoy them.
I was annoyed when I discovered that some of these authors think up their plot lines and then get ghost writers to produce a manuscript written in the required style. There are so many talented writers out there with original ideas, yet the publishing houses prefer to churn out repetitious books by authors they know will sell. I can understand the economics but rail at the lost chances to improve the depth of our literary experience.
I always have a pile of books that I am eager to read if I could only find the time. It takes effort to stop myself buying more and more books, there are so many out there that sound interesting and worth investing in. I value recommendations from friends and love to receive books as a gift. I have no wish to own an ereader. I want to hold a book in my hands, to smell and feel it as I turn the pages.
I guess I do form views of others based on the books they read, in much the same way as I am influenced by the television programmes they watch, the films they enjoy, or the effort they put into how they look. These interests and preoccupations are a part of who they are and offer insights into their psyches. I am able to empathise more with someone who reads because books are such an important part of my life. I may not be able to understand how they can enjoy certain types of books, but will not condemn them for this. A variety of tastes and interests in any area of life is a good thing.
A story that I find shallow, weak and predictable may be the escape that someone needs from difficulties they face in their life. Just as I look for challenge and stimulation in my literature so others may seek rest and recuperation. Books provide a door to another world. Most readers will try many different types of books, enjoying some but not others. Whatever books they read and for whatever reason, if they derive pleasure from the experience then their book has served it’s purpose and is, therefore, a good one for them.