Thursday, May 16, 2013

Touchy, Touchy, Touchy

Snobs come in every variety

At Booktrust, Matt Haig started a cross-pond rhubarb with a post belittling literary snobs. Haig's article was less interesting than the responses. Dozens of people who wouldn't think twice about disparaging writers of popular fiction took umbrage that someone might criticize them. To prove elitism is not restricted to the U.K., Andrew E.M. Baumann in Georgia responded to Haig’s post with a 7,446 word diatribe of his own.

Personally, I define a book snob as someone who dismisses a work merely because it's popular. My definition would put Andrew E.M. Baumann in the snob camp because he wrote, “The demonstrated truth is that “popular” equals mediocre, or worse.” Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Ben Franklin, Owen Wister, and many others would disagree that popular equals mediocre. Raymond Chandler wrote, “It might reasonably be said that all art at some time and in some manner becomes mass entertainment, and that if it does not it dies and is forgotten.” Every book that is popular is not literature, but it’s snobbery to assume that anything popular is unworthy of admiration.

So what qualifies as literature? Again, Chandler’s definition. “When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over a ball.” That pretty much does it for me.

If this debate interests you, here are the links to the two referenced postings.

1 comment:

  1. I'm tempted to say, there are no mediocre books, only mediocre readers.