Friday, November 19, 2010

Intellectual Snobbery

I'm a voracious reader, but not particularly discerning. I consume books of all types: trashy, high-brow, best-sellers and basically whatever I can get my paws on. I just like to read. Quality is a secondary concern. Often I find popular books highly entertaining, if not particularly enlightening, hence my love of authors like Sophie Kinsella. So regardless of my collection fancy Russian literature, I do not consider myself a snob.

A few months ago, while perusing the library at the Peace Corps office in Pretoria, I heard another volunteer state that she did not read popular books. Mentally, I instantly catgorized her under "snob". Well, maybe she is and maybe she isn't, but I should apologize because I definitely am.

Long, long ago I stumbled across a Newsweek that reviewed two very popular books in America: Julie Powell's Julie and Julia and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. Finally, I have read them both. In my humble opinion, they were terrible. I had trouble getting through them. Powell and Gilbert are not masters of the written word. Their stories were fundamentally interesting, but their narratives wandered. Their voices came off as whiny and unsympathetic. It's tough to be a W.A.S.P. in America these days. We (Gilbert and Powell) deserve more. We're destined for greatness! Life as it is is just so unsatisfying. That was the message I got. Also, according to Gilbert, if I'm not happily married at 34 I should just roll into a ball and pray for divine intervention because 34 is just so terribly OLD! She, at the time of writing, was not even part of More magazine's target demographic! (If you don't get that reference, good, you're not a forty year old woman looking for fashion tips and insipiring stories of reinvention.) Ugh. Ridiculous books, but at least we got two decent movies out of them.

We have yet to get a decent film out of Alexander McCall's Ladies' Detective Agency series, but I have also been consistently underwhelmed by those books. I recommend them if you're interested in seTswana culture, but if you just want a good mystery, look elsewhere.

Looking back on books that I have enjoyed I find more evidence of my snobbery. I absolutely loved Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. I think that's my favorite book ever, all 900 pages of it. Other members of my personal hit parade are historical biographies and non-fiction. I'm a nerd. And a snob. I'm a nerb. Or a snerd.

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