Being a kid was frustrating.
Specifically, I’m thinking of those tween years, you know, when you’re 11 or 12 and it just seems like it’s taking forever to grow up. And all you want to do is to grow up. To make decisions about what you’ll eat and what your room looks like and what you’ll wear and what you’ll do when you come home from school and if you can find somewhere less soul-destroying to be all day than in elementary school.
This was the year that I was still in a cheery little girl’s room, two painted peach walls, 2 wallpapered with a peach tulip pattern. I hated the colour peach (still do), but my parents told me it was staying, so it stayed. I plastered the walls around my bed with posters of the [original] 90210 cast, animals, and anything else I could rip out of Teen Beat or Tiger Beat or whatever crap was the cool teen magazine to read. I didn’t want to be a kid anymore. I wanted to be a grown-up, with imagined freedoms and infinite knowledge. I wanted to boundaries of my everyday life to be a little less confining.
I couldn’t do much about my room, or the parental rules, or even what I was learning in school. But I could choose what I read. And that was the year I became a literary snob.
I had no idea what literature meant. To be frank, I’m not sure the word was in my vernacular. But I knew I was sick of reading kid books. I was sick of reading about other kids who were stuck in my situation, where they did what their parents told them to (or didn’t, and suffered the consequences), ate what their parents fed them (or didn’t, and suffered the consequences), went to school when their parents sent them (or didn’t, and suffered the consequences), and so forth (suffer the consequences!).
I was going to only read ‘grown-up’ books. That was my 11-year-old stand.
As adults, we know that ‘grown-up’ books is an impossible genre to categorize. It basically means everything that’s not meant for children and young adults, though in recent years, ‘grown-ups’ seem to read YA fiction more voraciously than said YAs. But when I was in the infancy of my literary snobbery, ‘grown-up’ books meant books about grown-ups. Or semi-grown-ups.
And so I started reading like a fiend, trying to figure out what a grown-up book was. I dabbled in V.C. Andrews for a while. Thick glossy tomes with mature themes. My step-mom called them crap, but bless their souls, she and my father never censored what I read. In fact, I remember my father buying me, as a gift, the latest in the series I was enthralled with. I did my sixth grade book report on V.C. Andrews’ Secrets of the Morning, which to me, was a grown-up book. There were secrets. There was sex. The main character’s parents lived in another state. It was awesome.
I fell into Stephen King as my classmates also began to push their reading boundaries. The girl who sat directly across from me for a time in Grade 6 was doing her book report on Misery. Our desks abutted each other, and through the busy day of 11-year-old girls, the surface contents of our desks would meld, crossing boundaries, the whole thing turning into an entropic heap of books and papers. And one day, I picked up that copy of Misery that had drifted over to my desk.
I’d love to tell you that it was a Eureka! moment. A love-at-first-sight-where-have-you-been-all-my-life epiphany of a moment. But it was just some mental cataloguing: this is also a grown-up book. Cool.
As adults, we might look back on this literary snobbery in its infancy, and call it misguided. In fact, I often do, in my moments where I’m feeling a little bit off about genre fiction (which I’ve corrected for the most part, due largely to this splendid interview: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5653/the-art-of-fiction-no-189-stephen-king). The impulse to call something misguided has to come from somewhere. Literary snobbery does not exist in a vacuum.
I make no qualms about it. I am a snob when it comes to fiction. I expect a lot out of my books.
When I was a kid, rejecting kid books, was I already a lit snob? Probably not. But these stories didn’t grab me anymore. I just didn’t care, couldn’t care anymore. But why did I care about a girl who gets knocked up by her music teacher, or a writer who is bedridden and at the hands of his Biggest Fan?
One theory is that fiction is used to push the boundaries of our everyday realities. Most good fiction is nothing more than a relatable story that goes to some point beyond what actually occurs in our lives.
For example, I recently read King’s The Tommyknockers. Now, here’s a relatable story: you’re walking your dog in the woods and you trip. You don’t trip over a tree root, or a loose rock, or your own feet. No. You tripped over something. Some thing. But what is it?
At this point, we’re all in. It’s pretty easy to imagine going for a walk in the woods with one’s dog. Relatable.
But luckily for us, we don’t have to go through what ensues in this book. We get to use this piece of fiction as a way to explore what could happen, to push the boundaries of our own lives. The way the author treats the events in his/her stories determines the type of fiction; the way we select types of fiction determines how far we get to push said boundaries.
But how and why does this tie into literary snobbishness? Or me as a baby LS?
Perhaps a literary snob is just someone who expects their fiction to push boundaries in a certain way. I realise that ‘a certain way’ can mean so many things, which is why fiction is so subjective. Mostly, when we think about the LS, we think of someone who loftily claims they never read genre fiction, that they only read classics — could it be that this person is expecting their fiction to push their boundaries in terms of critical thinking? Or you know, a total poseur (it happens).
But let’s face it. When I was 11 years old, I wasn’t into critical thinking. The boundaries I was looking to push were the typically taboo: sex and violence. Baby literary snobbery at its best.
Books This Post:
- Secrets of the Morning, V.C. Andrews.
- Misery, The Tommyknockers, Stephen King.