Book Snobbery: Why I’m a Lousy Reviewer

A few years ago, around the time the first film of a certain vampire franchise was released, I came upon a rack of those books at the chain bookstore up the road from my apartment.

I don’t read a lot of YA, but my coworkers had been raving about Twilight and one of them read all night when I loaned her my copy of Bitten, and Twilight was on sale for something like six dollars, so I figured I’d give it a try.

The cashier carefully—no, reverently—scanned the book’s barcode and slid it into a plastic bag, like it was the Fabergé egg of trade paperbacks. “Oh, my God, I love this book!” she gushed. Then she looked at me with the dreamy eyes, one girl telling a secret to another. “Team Edward!”

I like enthusiastic bookstore employees. If a bookseller’s passionate, she could probably talk me into re-reading One Hundred Years of Solitude*. “Well, I kept hearing how good it is and I thought I’d see what the hype is all about…”

“You haven’t read any of them?” Her eyes widened in horror. It was the look of an ardent environmentalist who finds out her neighbor doesn’t recycle (for the record, I do).

“No, I usually prefer my vampires a little scarier.”

“If you buy all three today, you’ll save ten dollars.”

“I’m good for now, but thanks.”

“You’ll love Twilight!” she promised, and handed me the bag. “I’m sure I’ll see you back for the rest of the series!”

I made it about 200 pages in before I gave up. It wasn’t the writing or the bordering-on-abusive behavior that made me put it down—I didn’t get far enough into it to read the scenes that had some people up in arms—I was just bored. Nothing happened, unless you count the narrator’s inner monologue ranking boys in order of cuteness and tripping over her own feet. And all of that would have been forgivable, if something had actually happened. As I recall, nothing exploded, Bella didn’t kiss anyone, and no one even jumped out of a closet to scare a few years off her life. Hell, I stopped reading before Bella found out Edward is a vampire (did she even find that out in the first book?). So I set it aside and didn’t pick it up again.

I don’t have any complaints about the writing or characterization, and heaven knows I’ve read enough criticism about them. The thing is, if a book holds my attention and it’s been edited, I let a lot of things slide.

At this stage in my life, books are a source of entertainment.

Canadian publishing is almost exclusively geared to the non-fiction and literary fiction markets. Through high school and college, my assigned texts fit those categories. I did read a lot of fascinating stuff, but some of it was a chore. That mindset stuck with me to my mid-twenties before I realized that I wasn’t really enjoying reading anymore. I was a reluctant book snob; I couldn’t picture myself reading something for fun.

Obviously that’s changed—I read a lot of genre fiction now in addition to writing it, something I never would have pictured myself doing as recently as five years ago. Since I’ve made the switch to e-books and often lean towards niche markets (i.e. sci-fi romance), I end up reading books from small and self-publishers.

There’s dreck out there, certainly, but I can overlook a lot of that. If it keeps my attention, it’s a good book to me. Which is why I’m a crappy reviewer: “I liked it” isn’t really an acceptable review, and it’s why I stopped writing “What I read” blog entries a few months ago. It’s often difficult to put down why I liked a particular book.

And this brings me to my next point: I can’t stand book snobs.

We all know them. They snort derisively when they see you in the employee breakroom at work, a copy of James Patterson’s newest book or the latest Harlequin Intrigue in your hands. They rail against the presumed size of Stephen King’s advances or how undeserved E.L. James’s fame is, all because someone had the temerity to read a mass-market paperback in their presence.

It’s so obnoxious to intrude on someone else’s reading enjoyment. It doesn’t make the perpetrators look enlightened or educated; it’s just snotty and elitist. We all know that just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good. It goes the opposite way, too. Popular things aren’t always bad. So I didn’t care for Twilight—that doesn’t mean the people who did are simpletons, nor do I begrudge Stephanie Meyer the fortune it brought her. It’s okay if reading is a fun, escapist activity. Everyone’s tastes are different; it’s part of being human.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to re-read of one of my favorite historical romances.

*I know I’m going to literary hell for admitting that I didn’t like it.

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