30 things to tell a book snob

30 things to tell a book snob
Posted 19 April 2013 by Matt Haig

It is World Book Night next week and World Book Night is a good thing, because it is fun and helps get books into the hands of people who wouldn't otherwise read them.


And people should read books. Books are good.


But many are intimidated. One of the reasons people are put off reading is snobbery. You know, the snobbery that says opera and lacrosse and Pinot Noir and jazz fusion and quails' eggs and literary fiction are for certain types of people and them alone?


There is something innately snobby about the world of books. There is the snobbery of literary over genre, of adult books over children's, of seriousness over comedy, of reality over fantasy, of Martin Amis over Stephen King. And it is unhealthy. If books ever die, snobbery would be standing over the corpse.


So here is my message to book snobs:


1. People should never be made to feel bad about what they are reading. People who feel bad about reading will stop reading.


2. Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading. Books as exclusive members clubs. Narrow genres. No inter-breeding. All that fascist nonsense that leads commercial writers to think it is okay to be lazy with words and for literary writers to think it is okay to be lazy with story.


3. If something is popular it can still be good. Just ask Shakespeare. Or the Beatles. Or peanut butter.


4. Get over the genre thing. The art world accepted that an artist could take from anywhere he or she wanted a long time ago. Roy Lichtenstein could turn comic strips into masterpieces back in 1961. Intelligence is not a question of subject but approach.


5. It is harder to be funny than to be serious. For instance, this is a serious sentence: 'After dinner, Alistair roamed the formal garden behind this unfamiliar house, wishing he had never betrayed Lorelei's trust.' That took me eight seconds to write. And yet I've been trying to write a funny sentence for three hours now, and I'm getting hungry.


6. Many of the greatest writers have been children's writers.


7. It is easy to say something to people who are exactly like you. A bigger challenge lies in locating that universal piece of all of us that wants to be wowed, and brought together by a great story. There isn't a human in the world who wouldn't enter the Sistine Chapel and not want to look up. Does that make Michelangelo a low-brow populist?


8. It does not matter about who the author is. The only thing a book should be judged on is the words inside.


9. Martin Amis once moaned on the radio that there were too many writers talking across the table to their readers rather than down to them. This was the point I went off Martin Amis.


10. You don't have to be serious about something to be serious about something.


11. You don't have to be realistic to be true.


12. You are one of 7,000,000,000 people in the world. You can never be above all of them. But you can be happy to belong.


13. The only people who fear people understanding what they are saying are people who have nothing really to say.


14. Books are not better for being misunderstood, any more than a building is better for having no door.


15. Shakespeare didn't go to university, and spelt his name six different ways. He also told jokes. (Bad ones, true, but you can't knock him for trying.)


16. Avoiding plot doesn't automatically make you clever. (See: Greene, Tolstoy, Shakespeare.)


17. Freedom is a process of knocking down walls. Tyranny is a process of building them.


18. There can be as much beauty in short (words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters) as long. Sparrows fly higher than peacocks.


19. Snobs are suckers, because they have superficial prejudices.


20. The book I am least proud of, that I didn't work hard enough on, was my most ostentatiously highbrow one.


21. Reading a certain book doesn't make you more intelligent any more than drinking absinthe makes you Van Gogh. It's how you read, as much as what you read.


22. Never make someone feel bad for not having read or not read something. Books are there to heal, not hurt.


23. Imagination is play. Snobbery is the opposite of play.


24. I used to be a snob. It made me unhappy.


25. Simple isn't always stupid. When I write a first draft it is complicated. There is mess. The second and third and fifteenth drafts try and get it to make sense, to trim away the frayed edges.


26. Stephen King was right. Books are 'portable magic'. And everyone loves magic.


27. Inclusion is harder than exclusion. Just ask a politician.


28. The brain can absorb many things. So can a novel.


29. For me, personally, the point of writing is to connect me to this world, to my fellow humans. We are all miles apart. We have no real means of connecting except via language. And the deepest form of language is storytelling.


30. The greatest stories appeal to our deepest selves, the parts of us snobbery can't reach, the parts that connect the child to the adult and the brain to the heart and reality to dreams. Stories, at their essence, are enemies of snobbery. And a book snob is the enemy of the book.



Find out what Book Trust's favourite new books for adults are

Find out what Book Trust's favourite new books for young adults are


Though it is true I enjoy your writing style, I don't agree with your main point of view about this one. I do delight in your website nevertheless.

29 October 2015

Well put. :)

1 September 2015


A decent honest article, and very true. First and foremost for a novel is entertainment. And by entertained, I mean moved, horrified, amused, enthralled or engaged. If it fails there, then what else does it have? To educate me? If I want that I'll go to the specifically Non-Fiction section thank you.

I love trashy horror for late night reading (Ray Garland-Live Girls). Then there's the heartwarming magic of Steinbeck's Cannery Row and the unexpected depth of Brian Moore's the Statement.

Contrast that with wading through the treacle of "worthy" literature such as Wolf Hall (abandoned), Elegance of the Hedgehog (abandoned) and The Secret Scripture (sorry I didn't abandon it).

Des Sullivan
20 May 2015

The defensive book snobs on here are cracking me up. They have further proven your many applicable points. Thanks for this article.

16 September 2014

Great list. Extremely good points. Opened my eyes on a few things I didn't realise I was doing.

Katya Drueth
22 July 2013

"The point of writing is to connect me to this world, to my fellow humans. We are all miles apart. We have no real means of connecting except via language. And the deepest form of language is storytelling."

That's snobbery right there. That's saying literature is a more "real" way of connecting than other art forms, like painting, music or cinema. But artists seem to always put their own art form at the top.
How many musicians have said the exact opposite ? That you can't really connect with people if you're restricted by words, that there are things that can't be expressed with language, etc..

And you can't even blame anyone because they're usually so passionate they're convinced they're right in putting one thing above an other.

6 July 2013

The author isn't saying that people who read literary fiction are snobs. He's saying that people should accept the fact that what Person A may consider crap, Person B may not. And who is Person A to judge/criticize/ridicule what Person B is reading?

So, it's perfectly fine to think one book is superior to another. But it's also fine to accept that others may not think that way, and it doesn't make them dumber than you.

Interestingly, some of the posts here have only reiterated the point the author was making.

I join the majority of those who agree that this post rocks.

Erin Kelly
14 June 2013

"People should never be made to feel bad about what they are reading. People who feel bad about reading will stop reading."

So true! My daughter loved books -- having them read to her and reading them herself -- from the time she could pick one up on her little toddler hands. By 6th grade her reading level was listed as 12+ meaning as high ad there scale went. Her English teacher had the nerve to tell her that she was reading books below her level for get outside reading credits -- she was reading fantasy books she loved and enjoyed. Since that year, my daughter, now in high school, barely touches a book unless its either an assignment or had been raved over by so many friends that she gives in to it, or if its a graphic novel. She lost her joy of reading and I will never forgive that teacher for this.

7 June 2013

#5 made me laugh out loud. Twice. First, because of what you wrote, and second because I realized it may have taken you three hours, but you succeeded. Phenomenal piece. I feel the same way about wine.

Katie @ Domestiphobia
6 June 2013

And you're not better then anyone else because you read books on paper instead of a screen. Let's keep the analog hipster snobs in record stores (and actually get rid of them there as well...)

Joe Bentley
6 June 2013

A fantastic article indeed!

I also realize that there are a couple of misunderstandings going around here.

No one is saying you can't like different books! Everyone will have our own judgment on what's quality or trash or just a plain enjoyable book, and that's a good thing, as it brings variety to the table.

What's snobbery is acting like your opinion on what's makes a good book is better than everybody else on the planet and whoever doesn't agree with you deserves to looked down the nose at.

Not constructive to encourage new readers into the fold at all.

And Matt is right. Even if books are being melted in a graveyard right before everyone's eyes. People would rather argue about who could have the last word than save the books, as a couple of verbose posters criticizing Matt's article on the basis that they are "righter" and nothing else, proves so.

1 June 2013

100% completely and totally agree! Thank you!

1 June 2013

i love reading. but i dont understand what the hell Matt Haig is trying to say here. not sure where that leaves me??

I've never encountered a book snob, not sure what they are, and am none the wiser for reading this.

i was expecting something to do with the death of print!

Harry Potter
20 May 2013

Point 1 is the most important and best. After that, to a greater or lesser extent, I'm not sure...
I really don't think I've ever met the snob you appear to be drawing. Maybe I just hang out with the wrong people.
Is it snobbery to say that book A is actually better than book B? That doesn't mean telling people they shouldn't read book B, or that they're stupid for doing so. It just means encouraging them to move on to book A and appreciate the difference. That's not snobby or patronising, it's sharing the wealth.
I'm a music broadcaster and the stuff I play is, I'll freely admit, quite wilfully obscure. That's not in an attempt to belittle anyone's more populist tastes; I've grown up with pop just like most people. And it's not to put across the idea that my taste is better. Just that there's so much more on offer.
Man should not live on peanut butter alone.

Good article though, and good discussion.

17 May 2013

“It might reasonably be said that all art at some time and in some manner becomes mass entertainment, and that if it does not it dies and is forgotten.” Raymond Chandler

My two-cents ... http://jamesdbest.blogspot.com/2013/05/touchy-touchy-touchy.html

James D. Best
16 May 2013

Alison Moodie says, "Some books are harder than others - and create a range of feelings in their readers distinct from other books that are more universally accessible..."

And some books are easy but create an amazing range of feelings.

In my heartfelt opinion, Martin Amis with all his pretentious complexities doesn't even come close to creating the range of feelings in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry exceedingly simple The Little Prince.

J. R. Tomlin
16 May 2013

Bravo, Matt. And I love how the snobs have made themselves known by coming out to attack it. Wear it like a badge of honor.

Larry Portzline
15 May 2013

I'm inclined to reject these 30 commandments and the defensive, frustrated crank who wrote them. I'm not even sure what he means by snob. It's not clear. I think he means, people who write books that are hard to read, and the audiences who pretend to enjoy them. Alas, he takes the chicken-hearted way out, and names no names, outside of Martin Amis. Otherwise, I have no idea which writers he thinks are pretentious, because he's too scared to tell me.

When people adopt this posture, they mean to sound as if they are striking a blow for individual liberty. Alas, Mr. Haig sounds like a pandering demagogue: reading is for everyone! Reading is for the people! Don't be intelligent! Be extremely average in your thinking! If you lose even one reader, then you're doing it wrong! The only unique voice is the one that everyone can understand! All others must be quashed!

Typical of this kind of pandering mentality is Haig's persecution complex. First, there's this:

"There is the snobbery of literary over genre, of adult books over children's, of seriousness over comedy, of reality over fantasy, of Martin Amis over Stephen King."

May I stop your harangue to ask who what the hell you're talking about? If I prefer literary over genre, does that make me a snob? If I think some books are superior to others? I don't know about other readers, but this is true for me: I am as blissfully INDIFFERENT to what other people read as they are to what I read. Do I care that other people read "Fifty Shades of Gray" and Harry Potter"? No. Should I? If I don't, why do you care that I read Martin Amis -- and while we're at it, why are you trying to deny my right to do so?

Then there's this:

"And it is unhealthy. If books ever die, snobbery would be standing over the corpse."

And this:

"People should never be made to feel bad about what they are reading. People who feel bad about reading will stop reading."

Both statements are completely untrue. It is not even imaginable that books will die because they got too pretentious. The mass of people will have and always will prefer the common denominator. That's just common sense.

And then we get this nonsense:

"Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading."

Ugh. You sound like Josef Goebbels complaining about the rise of degenerate art, or possibly some Stalinist minister of culture proclaiming that the only literature is socialist literature.

In other words -- your common man approach is authoritarian and oppressive. You encourage revolt. To you, Mr. Haig, I say I will continue to read and enjoy and respond and love or hate as is my wont any and all of of the very literature you despise. I'm not going to live in your kindergarden.

Rodney Welch
4 May 2013

Awful. One thing I don't want to read is anything this douchey hack has ever written.

Wallace Berger
4 May 2013

In my case I would say neither reviews nor sales figures. What is more important to me is that people love what I do and can find it in the maelstrom of noise that hits like a brick from all sides of facebook and twitter and blog and radio and tv and billboards. Quality. That's what is most important to me.

Jackie Morris
28 April 2013

In my case I would say neither reviews nor sales figures. What is more important to me is that people love what I do and can find it in the maelstrom of noise that hits like a brick from all sides of facebook and twitter and blog and radio and tv and billboards. Quality. That's what is most important to me.

Jackie Morris
28 April 2013

I like books. And reading.

Jackie Morris
28 April 2013

Great Post!

Spiros Kotsialos
28 April 2013

I love this! As a librarian and fiction buyer, I want everyone to feel that the library is a place where they can come and get whatever they want. i particularly am bugged by those who put down romance readers. They end up not talking to librarians because they don't want to be treated like they are stupid. What if you just want some escapist fun? Grrrrr at the snobs!

Alice Kober
28 April 2013

Wow. I must be a lazy, if wildly enthusiastic reader! What I got from Matt's post was"don't kill the joy of reading for your neighbor." Maybe someone who starts out reading Twilight will graduate to Interview with a Vampire--or not. The point is, READING ROCKS. And there is, in my opinion, an excess of unedited work out there, as well as a healthy dollop of overly self-important verbal masturbation. So what. Read what you like, like what you read. Trust the reader to find his or her true path--once you start reading, you have an endless advantage over your fellow peeps who don't. Ok, verbal vomit complete. Still love this post, Matt. Love, love, love. Thanks for writing outside the proverbial box!

Caffeinated Babe
27 April 2013

I hear ya about the snobbery. In certain venues, I will not hold back if I consider something utter crap. On the other hand, if that crap gets someone into reading (and I've seen this happen), who am I to argue with their tastes? Especially if they keep reading other things? I can think something like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey or The Da Vinci Code is stupid, un-entertaining, rotten, and even pernicious (though you won't really scare me unless you treat something like Mein Kampf like the Bible), but those books are still doorways to a lifetime of reading. And if somebody tells me that was their doorway, I will not mock because what's really important is that it got them reading. Lord knows I've read plenty of schlock in my time and had great fun doing it.

Now, if somebody wants to start telling me I can't be critical of those books because they're great literature...not so much. But that's a horse of a different color.

Paula R. Stiles
26 April 2013

Thank you for putting into words what I cannot. I'm really enjoying your time as Writer in Residence, I hope you are too.

Sheena Dempsey
26 April 2013

If I may, I wish to offer a literary elitist's response:

(Yes, you may laugh. Brevity is not one of my shortcomings.)

Andrew E.M. Baumann
24 April 2013

I read everything -- sci fi, fantasy, English literature, Barbara Kingsolver, nonfiction, young adult. I'm not into romance but I'm sure there's 'good' romance. I just don't like crap. Can't we dislike crap without being snobs?

If a 40 year old only reads Fifty Shades of Gray they will never know the beauty they are missing. That is a worse tragedy than being a snob.

When I see a movie, I want it to be good. Texas Chainsaw Massacre #34 just doesn't cut it--unless perhaps I've never seen anthing better. Discerning, and then choosing, noncrap over crap is a positive thing and I refuse to feel bad about it.

Martha Cook
24 April 2013

First comment that comes to mind is, "This person appears to have a chip on his shoulder about intelligence, class or something similar. Did someone tell him at some point that he wasn't very bright?".

Alison Moodie
24 April 2013

I must say that, as a school teacher, I believed implicitly what the author says in this piece. Now, I am not so sure . . .

The author doesn't seem so much to object to snobbery or pretentiousness - as to espouse a view of reading as all inclusive - which is just patently false and patronizing. Some books are harder than others - and create a range of feelings in their readers distinct from other books that are more universally accessible.

What if, for example, a book changes you in a way you can't easily describe to others, sets you apart, gives you uncomfortable thoughts? Do you just try to ignore those feelings because they separate you from this wonderful, inclusive, universal experience of reading?

And what are the consequences of driving those alienated thoughts underground to accept a polite fiction of equality? It seems to me that what this does is to marginalize responses to literature that are deeply felt, but perhaps socially awkward - when it is those awkward feelings that are often the most lucid, incisive, and imaginative.

Paul Hamilton
24 April 2013

You are absolutely right! I was delighted to Tweet about your blog and hope others will read it. Thank you. (I've sold more than 90 novels to commercial publishers and am self-published also, everything from romantic comedy to fantasy. So what you've said applies to me a hundredfold, nearly).

Jacqueline Diamond
23 April 2013

Reading all the comments. I think that the person saying that books like Fifty Shades and Breaking Dawn "offends her" is missing the entire point of this article.

Granted some books are better than others in caliber but who sets that caliber? Who decides what's better than something else in the world of reading and books? I can't understand a word of Shakespeare and I don't care to. I studied it in school and that was quite enough. I don't know ANYONE who reads Shakespeare for a relaxing pleasurable day of reading.

And we can say that books like Fifty Shades and Twilight series are utter crap. But EVERYONE I know read all of those. Even people I have never known to pick up a book and read for pleasure.

So can they be THAT bad if they are making people who don't regularly read for pleasure pick up an entire series of books and read every word?

Every book, every author, has it audience. Even the biggest piece of crap ever written will SPEAK to someone.

As was said in this wonderful article. We connect to others with our words.

And going on about how crap a book is when others seem to enjoy it so much. It what is the utter crap. No the books themselves. But the people making others feel guilty or stupid for enjoying what might be mindless reading. But it's still reading and enjoying for so many.

Reading fiction takes us outside ourselves for a little while. Reading allows us to "experience" something we might never actually experience but we experience it through the words the author has written.

I've never climbed a mountain in my life nor have I ever been to Africa. But when I read Anita Shreve's A Change in Altitude. I got to "experience" some of that.

As was said in the article. Stop being snobby and judging what others read.

People always say that when books like Fifty Shades and Twilight come out that it makes them mad because there are so many other more talented writers out there who are not being read and making money because of these books.

BUT, the people reading Twilight or Fifty Shades? Were never going to read those books you speak of. It's like saying that the habit of eating oranges is going to die because chocolate is so much better.

It makes no sense. People who are eating chocolate are not necessarily going to eat oranges. So one thing doesn't effect the other in any way.

Hope this makes sense....

23 April 2013

I'll remember these points the next time I'm accosted by hordes of book snobs *rolls eyes*

23 April 2013

Thank you for this! I have adored the fantasy genre ever since I discovered it when I was twelve. Actually, long before that, if you count fairy tales. I love how skilled use of a magical world can allow me to look at my own world from a different perspective. And it always makes me a little sad when people ask what I'm reading and then give me a "why are you reading that?!?!" look.

This post also reminds that I should probably shut up about the books I do not think as highly of. Especially if I haven't actually read them!

J.M. Fournier
23 April 2013

I agree with most of this. But if you're reading "Fifty Shades" of whatever, don't try to sell the rest of us on its literary value. It's crap. You may enjoy it, and you don't have to make excuses for liking it, but that doesn't mean it's well written.

23 April 2013

To The Geoff: Bad books? Bad to whom? Better books? Better to whom? Good books? Good to whom? You seem to forget that there are 6,999,999,999 more people on this planet than just you, sir.

Tom H.
23 April 2013

Also, no one should be made to feel bad for reading digitally. Words are words.

23 April 2013

Yes, yes and yes.

There is true skill in writing so that the writing itself is not noticeable, for being either amazingly good or tragically horrible.

Amazingly good writing makes us constantly stop to admire the writing. That's wonderful, but sometimes it actually interferes with the reading and does not make for reading that flows.

There is absolutely a place for the story well-written but more simply told, as the sheer entertainment that it is meant to be.

Writers shouldn't feel that it is beneath them to give readers what they want to read.

23 April 2013

You are my today's hero. Thank you!

23 April 2013

This was a wonderful read. I agree with everything here. I also agree with Desiree... I hate terrible books but I do not think I am a book snob. Thirty shades, breaking dawn...books this of this caliber offend me. I believe it offends me so much because there are so many great books and great authors that should be read and instead these subpar novels get read and those authors get rich and these fabulous authors struggle. That being said....I love reading and do feel it is magic. I am blessed to be able to read everyday. Thanks for this article, Aeroflot was very inspirational.

tarrie k.
23 April 2013

Thank you thank you thank you. Snobs suck. And if saying snobs suck makes me a snob-snob, so be it.

23 April 2013

Peanut Butter! That food was the best part of this article. Peanut Butter goes with so many things; so many people in different parts of the world appreciate it; the stuff is delicious, inexpensive, substantial and useful...And, for similar reasons, so are novels like Gone with the Wind :-)

Jathan Clark
23 April 2013

Simply brilliant. I want to take some of these sentiments and tattoo them on my heart.

Oh, and ignore the naysayers in the comments (one had a response to all thirty points? Seriously?). Sometimes, snobs don't recognize themselves . . . or want to become something better. ;-)

Ilana Waters
23 April 2013

Thank you for sharing -- I love this list! As a librarian, part of my job is to help people find whatever they would like to read. And as a writer, my job is to find ways to connect with readers so that my story will hopefully be what they want to read.

Christine Edison
23 April 2013

Thank you for your honest attempt at de-bricking some of the snobwalls surrounding books.

I make sentences for a living. Most of them end up in ads or brochures or on web sites. It's the sentences I make on my own time--the ones I write in novels to entertain my inner child--that are most dear to me.

Vicky Lorencen
23 April 2013

Oh, yes... still, I don't see why someone should read "50 shades of Grey".

Snob or not, no one should read it.

Hellen Desirée
22 April 2013

Jazz Fusion? Really?

Charley Cvercko
22 April 2013

This was a fun read and I agree to a lot of it. I also enjoyed Mal Parido's nuancing in the comments.

Stephanie Noel
22 April 2013

Love #2, #22 and #29 - less # 6 :-(

22 April 2013

Love Love LOVE this piece. Been editing my first book to the point that I was now hating it for existing, fearful of letting it simply be what it is. Thank you!

22 April 2013

Thank you! This could also be titled 30 Things to Tell a Writer because we all need to remember this stuff.

Tracy Rowan
22 April 2013

I love books I can quote. If I find a quote that I can share I love the book no matter the plot. But also I love books with good plots.

22 April 2013

Good stuff Matt. You do make THE best lists.

Ben Hatch
22 April 2013

Number 6 is why I still read 'kids books' many (though not all by a long chalk) make fabulous reading.

nice that your captcha for me says 'equal' :-)

Tattooed Mummy
22 April 2013

As the writer of 2 cozy mystery series I THANK YOU. There are a LOT of book snobs in the mystery world, both readers and writers. It's always bothered me and has sent me running from a couple major organized groups that are supposed to encourage and support ALL in the genre. (read: they DON'T)

Leann Sweeney
22 April 2013

As the founder of the largest "meeting and discussing" book club in the world, The Pulpwood Queens, I could not agree more. My book club began as i was invited to join the local book club but at the end of the meeting when i blurted out, "Thanks for inviting me to be a member", the hostesss pulled me out into the galley of her plantation home. "Kathy," she whispered, "I am so sorry you misunderstood us. We invited you as a guest, not a member. You see only eight fit around our table and unless someone dies or moves away, you see, we can only have eight members!". Thus, my Pulpwood Queens inclusive book club was born! 550+ chapters and yes, reading isn't just for snobs.You can check us out at www.beautyandthebook.com. I'm reading this out loud at my next book club meeting!

Kathy L. Patrick
22 April 2013

It takes a long, long time to become the writer you are. To ascribe pretention to some style of writing may say more about you than the sincerity with which that writing has been approached.

22 April 2013

LOVE #2!

Dina Santorelli
22 April 2013

So, be on the look-out for mysterious book facists? People are not reading though "reading is good" because of external or internal snobbery? If this were true, the NYT Best-seller list would not be full of dreck.... and to quote Shakespeare (and apparently only non-snobs will understand this) "There is nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so..."

Gertrude, Queen
22 April 2013

Thank you, you lifted my mood. Right now I feel so much better about everything.

Hey, and I might as well read something, because I haven't gotten into it for a while now - paradox - I felt too stressed out.

Petty Blue
22 April 2013


Katherine Louw
21 April 2013

The fact is some people like to be challenged, and some don't. I prefer to be challenged to feel and think in new ways by literature.
I find this post to be generally hypocritical and short sighted. My main point would be that, it reads as if a snob had written it. By segregating certain literary content or styles which you deem to be 'high brow', you create the same sense of prejudice as that which you claim to be against. See reason 19.
There are more examples of your blatant hypocrisy, but it's facile to point them out.

Johns Fancis
21 April 2013

Re: #4 – "comic strips" are not a genre. comics are an art form that encompasses many genres. there were already many comics masterpieces around before Lichtenstein came along. (Krazy Kat, Gasoline Alley, Little Nemo, Peanuts, etc.)

Scott Witmer
21 April 2013

LOVE this. Thank you.

21 April 2013

After dinner, Alistair roamed the formal garden behind this unfamiliar house, wondering if he could put off a tryst with his new love until after he could get the 'I'm a Man U man' tattoo removed from his bum.

Carmen Webster Buxton
21 April 2013

I'm not sure of the point. If you read a book, you do so in private - or do you sit amongst snobs when you read? Surely you can make up your own mind during the course of the reading as to whether this is good art or bad art. I think either you are reading for someone else's benefit or the only disapproval is coming from yourself. Hearing Martin Amis on the radio is different to reading his book. Readers should not be in the realm of status competitions.

21 April 2013

I wish my 1st year English tutor had read/ is reading this - especially 1,2,3 & 30! Thanks & Celebrations!

jane yorkston
20 April 2013

love this a lot. Spot on.

20 April 2013

I agree with Matt on the comment "I want intelligent books, but see snobbery as a barrier to true intelligence."

Snobbery as I see it takes the assumption of already having the intellectual high ground; i.e. "I already know lots therefore I know better than you."

Though even in genre fiction there are snobs - especially in science fiction - those who rattle on about 'High Concept' stuff where nothing actually happens. I'd rather have a book with plenty of action and fun that, when you've finished reading, you realise has expanded your mind a little rather than one that sets out with the premise "You are reading this to have your mind expanded."

David Britton
20 April 2013

This is precisely right. Or, precisely what I think. Same difference.

There is sloppy writing, and there is dreck, and there is awfulness. But that's not defined by genre, popularity, or intended audience. It is separate from all those things and can be quantified.

20 April 2013

I love this post. Everything I've ever thought and never said out loud on the subject. Just great stuff!~

Beverly Jackson
20 April 2013

If their thinking that their way is better than yours makes them snobs then what does your thinking that your way is better than theirs make you?

Joe Irony
20 April 2013

What would bloggers do without straw men, er people, dogs, whatever...

Victor Enns
20 April 2013

A note on self publishing - be aware that the vast, vast majority of self published books presented to bookshops are, to be blunt, utter tripe. Usually so full of speling mistakes and typso that you can spot several on each page, so the "snobbery" of bookshops in not adopting them is usually based on real failings rather than some subjective literary opinion. Many buyers simply won't touch them full stop, and I can't blame them, I took on maybe one self-published book a year while working as a (STEM) buyer for a national UK chain.

Requiring that a book make sense at the very least isn't really snobbery, and be aware that in self-publishing you may be lumping yourself in with the "other 99%" who really do need a proofreader and editor at the very least, you're making yourself a needle in a haystack instead of a needle in the suitcase of a travelling needle salesman.

This is one book which I'll happily point to as an example of "Oh good grief no!" being a justified reaction and not simple snobbery - it has over 155 Amazon reviews and retails at over $100: http://www.amazon.com/Control-Christian-Marriages-Priesthood-Children/dp/1425992609

The Geoff
19 April 2013

1. Yes, they should. Because some books are better than others. Some books are MUCH better than others. And HOW MUCH you read is far less important than WHAT you read. What' more, there are plenty of people out there whose closed-minded willful ignorance is so impenetrable that even when they DO read worthwhile books, nothing penetrates. Nothing changes. It doesn't matter if those people read or not, so I have no problem discouraging them.

2. No, it doesn't. Plenty of brilliant writers (and artists of all varieties) have been unrepentant snobs (Flannery O'Connor, for example) and never failed to produce high quality work.

3. True. But popularity should never be interpreted as a measure of quality.

4. I love genre work. If it's good.

5. Debatable. Depends on a writer's natural talent and skill set. Regardless, it's harder to deliver complex, insightful, challenging work than to play on cheap sentiment.

6. I love children's books. If they're good.

7. There's a difference between writing for people exactly like you and writing to challenge the thinking of people who are NOT like you.

8. True. But the author CAN be an indicator. And the fact is, there are millions of books out there that I will never get to. How many books by an author who, in the past, has not impressed me do I have to read before I'm allowed to move on to something that might and justifiably say I'm just not interested in that author's work...?

9. If you're going to stop reading Martin Amis because of something he says in an interview rather than what's between the covers of his books, than YOU'RE the snob...

10. No kidding!

11. Is that a fact?

12. I am neither above, nor happy to belong. But sometimes I DO have better taste than some other people. And when I'm right, I'm right.

13. I fear people NOT understanding what I'm saying. That doesn't mean I'm going to be untrue to my own means of personal expression or abridge the complexity of my ideas or speak a language that is not my own to make sure that I'm understood by the lowest common denominator.

14. Being misunderstood does not make a book better. Sometimes being harder to understand does, in much the same way that Einstein-ian physics is harder to understand than Newtonian physics because it is both more complex and more accurate. Not everything challenging is great. And not everything great is challenging. But it's reverse snobbery - and simply inaccurate - to suggest that something difficult to understand is worth less than something easy.

15. And...?

16. And adhering to a prescribed narrative formula doesn't make you worth reading (See: Dan Brown, Anne Rice, John Grisham). Your work should have the structure it needs to allow it its fullest expression. And there are many, many great and amazing plotless books (See: James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Henry Miller).

17. And creativity is NOT freedom. It is controlled, shaped, molded - the result of choice, not random recklessness. In truly great works, the walls are as important as the bridges.

18. I love brevity. If it's good. (And, to borrow a phrase, peacocks don't get sucked into jet engines.)

19. And people who lack discrimination are suckers because they'll accept ANYTHING.

20. So, what you're saying is, you're a lazy writer...?

21. See #1. At the end of the day, a deep thinker who can eloquently express his complex ideas could be a functional illiterate for all I care... But someone who opens themselves up to high quality - dare I say, highbrow - art might become a deeper thinker, capable of more eloquent expressions of more complex ideas...

22. Like I said, there's millions of great books out there that most of us will never get to. I judge people who HAVE read them, but with their minds closed. And, "books are there to HEAL, not HURT...?" Aside from being maudlin to the point of hilarity, that's an appallingly narrow definition of literary purpose.

23. My snobbery is ALWAYS playful.

24. Too bad for you. It makes me ecstatic.

25. No, stupid is stupid. And sometimes books (and people) are stupid. Get over it.

26. Stephen King has never been right about anything. And a great number of his books, in fact, are the exact opposite of magic.

27. Yes. In much the same way that including a tumor in your lungs makes it harder to live than excluding it does. Just ask a doctor.

28. And...?

29. Writing, to me, is exorcism and expression. So what...? And saying that, "the deepest form of language is storytelling," is entirely dependent on your definition of storytelling. From a certain perspective, Ikea instruction booklets tell the story of furniture assembly. Strange, that a man who writes to "stay connected with the world" and considers it a sin to be misunderstood would be so vague on this point...

30. And Hallmark card sentimentalism, as in statements like this last one, is the enemy of truth, depth, power and resonance. I am not an enemy of the book. I am enemy of BAD books. And after reading this article, I am an enemy of Matt Haig. I'll go back to reading my Martin Amis, now...

Mal Parido
19 April 2013

I work in communications. I spend half my working life chopping excess verbiage out of things colleagues have written. The other half goes on explaining to them that good writing is the kind you barely notice because your mind's eye is focused on what the writer is saying to you.

19 April 2013

"The art world accepted that an artist could take from anywhere he or she wanted a long time ago." I will keep repeating this and plugging my ears to the rule makers.

Cherry Odelberg
19 April 2013

A great post that encapsulates in thirty points every great argument I'll still fail to recall the next time I get into a debate. I may print this and carry it!

D Shakes
19 April 2013

Loved this, Matt, especially No. 8. :) (And I thought the peanut butter bit was funny.)

Claudine Gueh
19 April 2013

Well said, Matt. Reminds me of the woman at a party who asked: 'What do you write?' 'Quality women's fiction' 'Oh dear ...'

King's right - the magic is for everyone.

Kate Lord Brown
19 April 2013

Well put. I particularly loved the "Simple isn't always stupid". As Steve Jobs used to say, "Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple."

Mel Randles
19 April 2013

This would be interesting if Booktrust wasn't the most elitist organisation around...

i.e. No Self published authors are allowed to enter our exquisite awards because we don't consider them human, let alone real writers...

No one worthwhile
19 April 2013

I like all your points, but notice a little 21st Century snobbery slipping in on number 15! We may not always understand Shakespeare's jokes today, but this doesn't mean they're bad! They were of his time is all.

Katharine Kavanagh
19 April 2013

#22 does it for me. Books were my only solace as a child and they certainly healed me.

Annette Thomson
19 April 2013

Forgot to say I am not a book snob!

Yolanda Rueda
19 April 2013

Fantastic post; agree with everything you said.

Steven McKinnon
19 April 2013

You lost me at number 10, couldn't finish reading :) lol

Yolanda Rueda
19 April 2013

You lost me at number 10, couldn't finish reading :) lol

Yolanda Rueda
19 April 2013

I wholeheartedly delight in this - especially NUMBER SIX!

K.M. Lockwood
19 April 2013

Thanks Madeleine. I'd just say that sales figures are more important, primarily because they mean MORE READERS. I want intelligent books, but see snobbery as a barrier to true intelligence.

Matt Haig
19 April 2013

I just wrote a blog post about some of this and you just said it so much better. I love and hate you at the same time.

Lynn Fraser
19 April 2013

As an agent of commercial fiction, I love this. What's more important to a writer - reviews or sales figures?

Madeleine Milburn
19 April 2013

As an agent of commercial fiction, I love this. What's more important to a writer - reviews or sales figures?

Madeleine Milburn
19 April 2013

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