Reading Comprehension

My favorite book club recently banned “Grammar Nazis.” This is a good thing. I’m sure you’ve all heard this lovely term. Grammar Nazis are people who need to be (and demand that others be) grammatically correct all the time. Man, life is not grammatically correct. It’s okay to make mistakes. Not to mention, being a Grammar Nazi online is incredibly classist and ableist. But this upturn in book club etiquette got me thinking.

I’ve belonged to many book clubs in my life. And while some entertain a friendlier crowd than others, for some reason, every club has its own snob or multiples thereof.

Before we move on, I feel like I need to address that, yes, I realize this is such a first-world problem as to be silly. And if you wish to devote your time to something else, I get that. You can just stop reading here and move along. But if you’re on the same petty first-world page as me, you’re probably pretty annoyed by book snobs too.

In addition to the arduous duties required of the average Grammar Nazi, these book snobs (I call them book snobs, by the way) are all hyper-focused on defining what it means to be a real book.

According to the book snobs, real books are tangible. TANGIBLE, I tell you. Audiobooks and eBooks are off the table. They aren’t real. What does that even mean anyway? Are they imaginary? Do I only imagine that I’m reading on my Kindle or that I’m listening to the to-die-for-voice of Hugh Fraser reading Agatha Christie? Was it all a dream? Pretty good dream if I do say so.

I think this whole distinction between the real and the imaginary is pretty interesting if we’re getting all postmodern theoretical about it. But I don’t think that’s what they’re getting at. Which is a shame really, because that would be a great conversation.

And this is not to say that everyone should value printed books and eBooks the same way. Your preferences are your preferences. And you have a right to have them, obviously. Go you! But you don’t have a right to put down other people for having a different favorite reading preference.

So, it’s okay if you prefer holding a tangible book of paper and string and glue and ink. It’s a beautiful experience, turning the page. Believe me, I know.  But don’t be a snob about it.

Another book snobbish thing to do is genre-shaming.

I think a cozy mystery novel sounds nice. Like hot tea on a cold night. The book snob will say “god no, that’s not a real book.” And in my head, I hear them go on to say something along the lines of “I would never taint my cultivated reading palate with the likes of such filth.” Okay, yeah, so I have may made up that last bit, BUT… their actual comments aren’t far off.

On one snobbish encounter, I felt personally attacked that someone had the audacity to claim that Agatha Christie penned cozy mysteries (with all the rude connotations of a book snob behind it). If you think intricate murder mysteries written by the Queen of Crime are cozy, you might want to consider re-evaluating a few things. And what’s so wrong about a cozy mystery anyway? They’re well… cozy.

The list goes on. To the book snob, romance novels, manga, and graphic novels are all not books. That’s right. Not. Books. Maybe these book snobs have been reading too much George Orwell for their own good. Or maybe they stepped directly out of 1984 with their notebooks. Except of course, they could never be bothered to read such things. Cause, you know. Book snobs.

Oh, hey, while we’re at it, let’s talk reading goals!  Who doesn’t love some good goalsetting? What I find fascinating are the people who also keep minute details recorded on excel sheets alongside meticulously written diaries of the 10,541 books they’ve read so far this year and to top it off, they share these in our groups  to show off open a discussion.

These are the same people who forget what they’ve read. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a book club member say, “I got halfway through that book and realized I’d read it already!” I’d be able to afford more books.  Which I guess, is why they keep diaries full of plot notes for the 500 books they read last month.  I know I’ve said this before, but if you can get halfway through a book before you remember that you’ve already read it, maybe you’re working through your TBR pile a little TOO quickly.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but this one person just said yesterday that they’ve read 345 books so far this year (500+ pages each… apparently that distinction was important) and that she reads at least one book, and strives for two, every day, never fails. I mean, good on her, but who has that kind of time!?  And seriously, no wonder they might forget what books they’ve read. How can you retain the experience when you’re cranking them out like that?

On the other hand, sometimes members will lament that they’re not reading enough or they’re falling behind in their goals. For instance, this one poor woman said sadly “I’m not reading much these days… I’ve only gotten through 32 books in the last two months.”  That’s an average of four books a week, folks. Are we supposed to feel sorry for her? What kind of goals must she have to be sad over her current reading progress? Or, is it more accurate to think that she’s humble bragging? And if so, why? Nobody cares.

Like I said, it’s great to have goals.  But when you start sharing that record as a means of lording the accomplishment over others, you start venturing into snob territory.  We get it. You read. A lot.

I’ve got news for you, just because you read a lot and have very specific ideas of what exactly makes a book a book, you’re not better than other people. You’re not better. They’re not worse. We’re all just people who like to read.