Are You a Literary Snob? 6 Signs to Watch For

A literary snob, like a driver on a road with no sight distance, has a narrow view. (Photo by Cindy Fazzi. Makena, Maui, July 2014.)

The literary snob, like a driver on a road with no sight distance, has a narrow view. (Photo by Cindy Fazzi. Makena, Maui, July 2014.)

Is reading literature a form of snobbery? Literature has always been associated with the upper class because traditionally only rich people have access to it. They are also more likely to have the education necessary to appreciate literature. But in this day and age of global communication, when you don’t have to be able to read or understand a single word of French to appreciate Proust, is it still snobbish to read “Remembrance of Things Past?”

When my daughter turned 12, I began a personal tradition of giving her books I love, as opposed to books that she’s asked for. My choices have included Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View.” It occurred to me that maybe I was subconsciously imposing literature on her. If I didn’t buy her those books, she would read only a staple of popular YA and zombie books.

I respect her choices. I gave her a copy of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” because I consider it the quintessential YA book. Although “The Catcher in the Rye” has all the elements of a YA book, it’s considered primarily as a literary novel maybe because it was written by J.D. Salinger. A form of snobbery?

Literary Exposure v. Literary Snobbery

I’m pleased that my daughter has enjoyed all the literary novels I’ve given her so far. When she told me she has read Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, but considered only the first book as worthy of reading, I was glad that she had an informed opinion.

I, myself, haven’t read “Twilight,” so I didn’t have any opinion on that. I have a great respect for Meyer and other YA authors who are responsible for the success of the genre. But I don’t read YA just like I don’t eat sushi. I simply don’t have the taste for it.

What I want to do is to help my daughter cultivate the right attitude about reading so she will be able to choose the “right” book for herself and form intelligent opinions not just about books, but in general. Exposing her to literature is what I’m aiming for. The rest is up to her.

Attitude Makes All the Difference

This brings me right back to my original question: What is literary snobbery? Is cultivating a taste for “good” books snobbish? How do you define a “good” book?

Ultimately, literary snobbery has a lot to do with attitude. Reading James Joyce’s “Ulysses” because you truly enjoy a challenge is one thing. Reading it so you can brag about it and celebrate Bloomsday with the cool literary types is another thing.

6 Signs of a Literary Snob

Below are some of the signs of literary snobbery I’ve seen.

  1. Reads only literary fiction; absolutely no commercial genres for this reader.
  2. Refuses to read self-published books.
  3. Refuses to read any best seller, even if it’s literary.
  4. Doesn’t like to read feel-good books or happy endings. The more depressing a book, the better for this reader.
  5. Doesn’t like to read “easy” books. The more incomprehensible, the better.
  6. Won’t read a novel published after a certain decade or period (e.g., nothing after the 1960s or after 19th century, etc.)

Perhaps most of us are guilty of some of these things to some extent at one point in our lives. I know I am. Today I’m just happy to read whatever I can while I’m waiting to get my allergy shot at the doctor’s office or before I drop dead of exhaustion at night.

If you want to read more about literary snobbery, check out this taxonomy on Flavorwire.

"Flower in Maui Pond" photo by Nina Fazzi

The literary snob likes to stand out. (Photo by Nina Fazzi. Waimea, Maui, July 2014.)

Leave a comment


  1. You are right. I am guilty of one: I have never considered reading a self-published book (apart from the one my friend published “Fragments of utopia – Hanzil”) I should definitely catch up on those self-published writers :D.

  2. I, myself, have yet to read a self-published book! So many books, so little time. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Interesting post! With so many choices in the book world today, I think some people resort to “snobby” behavior because it’s easy and comfortable. They’re risk-averse, and they’re probably also insecure and want to read what they think others will respect. It’s too bad. They’re missing out on some really great books.

  4. Hi A.M.B. I think literary snobbery is a phase most people go through, especially in college or grad school; there’s a lot of pressure to impress professors, classmates, etc. But I agree that they’re missing out on some really good (and fun) books. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Shery Alexander Heinis

     /  January 14, 2015

    Whew! I’m relieved to find out I’m not a literary snob after reading this, although I do like literary novels (Almost all the books you provided to your daughter are some of my favourites). I agree, literary exposure is what’s important. I like to try out different genres, even though they may not be “my thing.”

  6. Ha ha – I’ll read virtually anything – just not science fiction!

  7. Interesting post for any book lovers!
    When I self-published a novel and put literary fiction as one of its tags my daughter asked me what this really meant, which produced lots of interesting discussion.
    I think nowadays I divide books into those I want to read and those I don’t, and also try to include lots of living authors who are still putting food on the table! I have read some Proust (and found his sentences truly mind-expanding) and enjoy Jane Austen. But I also let myself enjoy TV and radio adaptations – life’s too short to read it all!
    Proust and Austen actually wrote incredibly socially snobby works that are about at times fairly trivial concerns of the privileged of those societies – but are nevertheless classic works. For any Austen fans Longbourn by Jo Baker by is a great read that gives the servants story.
    By the way Ursula le Guin writes very literary science fiction if that’s not an oxymoron!

    • You’ve read Proust? Congratulations! I’ll have to check out “Longbourn” and Ursula Le Guin’s books. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. Hope you don’t mind – have linked to this in my recent post – Are you an adaptation snob?

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