Monday, 29 April 2013

Matt Haig and Snobby Readers

Last week, Matt Haig posted this blog post on Book Snobs. It's caused (and is still causing) a bit of a furore amongst readers, with some surprisingly intense comments left on both the blog piece itself and Matt's Facebook page.

Here's what the post was about: people who are book snobs can damage other people's willingness to read and can destroy their own and other people's enjoyment of books. At least, that's what I got from it. It's a funny and ever-so-slightly serious list of reasons why Book Snobs suck, including:

"If something is popular it can still be good. Just ask Shakespeare. Or the Beatles. Or peanut butter." 
"You don't have to be serious about something to be serious about something." 
"Snobs are suckers, because they have superficial prejudices." 
(I particularly like that last one.)

And one of the reasons I loved this blog post so much was because of the title of this blog: Let's Get Serious. It's called that because it's largely about more literary children's fiction (including Matt Haig, as it happens), because that's what I like. I also read more commercial fiction - including Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Maggie Stiefvater and Derek Landy. I grew up on Sweet Valley High and Enid Blyton and the Animorphs series - not exactly Carnegie fodder. But I LOVED them. I had a lot of fun reading them, and, more so than almost any other stories from my childhood, I have very fond memories of them.

A couple of years ago, I went to hear a (literary) YA author talk at a festival. It was AWFUL. The author spent the first ten minutes ranting about Stephanie Meyer, and they pretty much lost the hundred-strong audience in thirty seconds flat. Nobody likes someone who criticises others in their field for no apparent reason. The existence of Twilight doesn't affect the quality of any other book. Each book is its own thing, and each reader has their own tastes. I don't need to sit in a stuffy room listening to an author who was long a hero of mine disparage somebody else. I can't say exactly what Matt Haig means by the term 'snob' because it's a hard term to define, but I do know that looking down on (or up at) people because of what they read is just non-sensical.

I like the video shown above, by author Kate Harrison. in it, she says, "I want my books, even if they're just entertaining, to make a kind of a difference to people's lives. And probably I shouldn't apologise for entertaining people, because I think it's a really noble cause."

Well said.

Let's be honest: there's no reason AT ALL why Matt Haig's blog post should have caused so much upset. It's basically saying: let people read what they want to read. If they want to read Twilight, let them read it without making them feel bad about it. If they want to read Martin Amis, let them read Martin Amis. It's OK if you don't want to read either of those - it's OK if you prefer Jodi Piccoult or Terry Pratchett or Patrick Ness - just don't make other people feel bad for liking what you don't.



  1. I was a big reader of Mills & Boone and I love telling kids when I visit schools - you're allowed to be entertained by your reading. Love Kate Harrison's quote.

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  3. I was once in Waterstones where a mum was buying a book for a child of 5 or 6. It was clear he was a very able reader, but he kept drifting to the picture books because that's what appealed. His Mum kept telling him he couldn't have one because they were too babyish and he was too good a reader.

    In my job teacher, I often despair of families that don't put time into reading. But I have to say, despite the mother's good intentions to stretch and encourage her child, it was one of the saddest things I have ever seen.

    1. Yes - I've had that with a child in a school - they were being pushed to read for the sake of challenging themselves, and I gave them a copy of Mr Gum, because it's so much fun. You can really miss out on some great reading experiences if you only read what you think you 'should' read.

  4. I very rarely read serious, literary or even adult books, and it hasn't done me any harm, has it? Wibble.

    1. No harm at all, Nick. Ahem...

      I regularly protest against adult books, particularly adult literary fiction. It can be far too pretentious for my liking. To be honest, I only ever read it off the back of a recommendation.

  5. Like you, I was mystified by some of the response to Matt Haig's post. You have also put the anti-snobbery case very well.


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