Opinion | Confessions of a book snob

By Anna Fischer, Senior Staff Columnist

Acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step towards solving it. Hi, my name is Anna Jean Fischer, and I am a book snob.

And this is where you, dear reader, respond, “Hi, Anna” and listen to me tell my story. Welcome to BSA — Book Snobs Anonymous.

My mother likes to tell everyone that I began reading with ease at age three, which, considering that age five is the target age for reading, is probably a wee bit of an exaggeration. One thing is for sure, though — I’ve been around books from birth. My mother used to read a book a week, if not more, and instead of TV or games, I was encouraged to read.

My snobbery presented itself early. My younger brother, Thomas, was less drawn towards reading than I was in our childhood. As a seven-year-old older sister, I obviously concluded that my brother was an inferior ignorant swine who refused to read. So, I took the problem into my own hands. Every night, I read him a chapter of “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle — a great book by the way, I highly recommend — but he was often more interested in seeing how far he could launch his pillow with his feet than in listening to the story.

In middle school, I was introduced to online fanfiction. I devoured words voraciously, whether print or virtual, and spent many nights in my pre-teen years pulling all-nighters to read. Once my work-load increased in high school, my reading for pleasure took a sharp decrease, which is a common phenomenon. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t reading. 

I adored my high school literature classes and read every single book on the syllabus. I found myself particularly upset when I learned that people read the Sparknotes summary instead of the book, and felt the first glimmer of disgust of a marked book snob. Didn’t they know what they were missing out on?

When we were plunged into a global pandemic, I finally had time to read for myself. If you have been reading The Pitt News for a while, you may have seen my column last year, “I read 88 books last year… and here are the best 5.” My reading for this year hasn’t slowed down, either, but it’s certainly gotten more pretentious.

A quick glance at the book shelf that sits in front of me as I write, reveals such tomes as “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace, “Ulysses” by James Joyce, “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dosoyevsky and my current read, “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. All of these books are wonderful, complex novels, but they are certainly a level of high literature that not many people — especially people who aren’t fellow literature majors — are reading on the regular.

The first week of classes is fraught with icebreakers and introductions, particularly in small discussion-based classes. In one of my classes this week, the professor asked us to share what genre we liked to read and a book we read over the summer. I went first, sharing my love of classic literature and my summer read of “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas, just a brief 1200 page read. 

Almost every other person preferred contemporary romance, fantasy and horror, genres that never make it onto my TBR, or to be read list. At one point, the class was discussing the “spiciness” levels of books they’ve read, and I felt the pretentious book snob fire of hatred burning in the very depths of my soul.

In the moment, I felt disappointed in my peers for their literary choices, but as the day and week wore on, I began to feel far more disappointed in myself. Who am I to judge what people enjoy? Who died and made me the queen of reading preferences? 

My love of books turned me into an ugly, judgemental person full of pretentious disgust. Looking back on that class, I didn’t like the person I saw. And that’s okay. It’s good to acknowledge the ugly parts of yourself. This week, I’ve been doing a deep dive into my lifelong journey with books. In doing so, I focused on the childhood seeds of my book snobbery, but I’ve neglected to reflect on the beautiful parts of a childhood filled with reading.

I forgot how much relaxation and magical escapism supposedly more “simple” genres such as young adult books, dystopian novels and fan fiction used to bring me when I was younger. Most of those all-nighters were results of Wattpad romances that got my tiny tween heart fluttering. Is that what my peers are feeling when they’re reading contemporary romance? Am I the one missing out? Has my judgment deprived me of some amazingly heartrending pieces of literature?

Looking even further back, my brother refused to read when I pressured him to do so. As it turns out, he’s incredibly intelligent, but just doesn’t enjoy reading in the same way that I do. He’s starting his first year at the engineering school of the Colorado School of Mines, and is taking exclusively STEM classes on a full ride. When it comes to STEM, I’m the inferior ignorant swine out of the two of us. Reading does not determine a person’s value, even if it’s something that I love. In fact, without my pressure, my brother read FOUR books this summer.

I’ve acknowledged my book snobbery — this Anton Ego critic inside of me whom I despise. But, I’m taking steps to change. I recently read my first contemporary fantasy book in a very long time — “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” by Neil Gaiman. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

While my shortcomings reside in the realm of literature, I encourage everyone to look inside at the things that are ugly about themselves. Acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step toward solving that problem. Whether it’s being a music snob or a judgy sports fan, realizing that your passion can cause you to miss out on others’ experiences allows you to take the first step toward becoming a more accepting human being.

That being said, feel free to send me any — and I mean any — book recommendations, and I’ll add them to my TBR. Who knows, maybe your recommendation will make it into my Top 5 Books article this year. Keep an eye out.

Anna Fischer writes about female empowerment, literature and art. She’s really into bagels. Write to her at [email protected].