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Literary snobbery . . .

I found young adult author Melissa Marr’s response to a question posed to her at the Café very interesting. Paula Chase Hyman asked her:
“Because you come from a literary background, as a lit instructor/prof, I'm curious - where do you believe literary snobbery stems from?"

Melissa gave a very articulate and thoughtful response including this:"Literature is what speaks to the soul. If one readers' soul seeks Chaucer and another seeks Tupac, so be it. My soul is moody. I like both.”

She also posed that the way we tend to value one type of “text” over another is akin to basic sociology principles and how we define ourselves by our social groups. "It's not so different than cliques in high school: each exclusionary group is defining their way/music/art/clothes/stance as the superior choice."

This is interesting stuff. I know that on more than one occasion I have felt the need to “defend” YA literature–or my turf–but it is usually when a condescending remark has been made regarding it at a cocktail party where the offender is a member of another gang–er, I mean, has another reading interest. (You know the kind of remark: “When are you going to grow up and write an adult book?”)

But conversely, I wonder, when someone makes a disparaging remark about one genre, are they only trying to justify or elevate another that they belong to or want to belong to? And of course, even in the world of YA there is “genre turf,” endless subgroups of “texts” that are ready to rumble. Well, not really. All YA authors are nice. (Defending my subgroup of course.)

Is there one type of literature that is really “better” than another? Or is the one that “speaks to the soul” at one particular moment in time, the best one of all?

I am not asking this in a philosophical or idealistic way. I am asking it sincerely. Literature is word upon word, spun together to create an effect. Sometimes the effect is laughter, sometimes it is recognition, sometimes it is revelation, or maybe it is one of those other trace elements that fortify the soul. Can one spinning nourish better than any other?

What are your thoughts on literary snobbery–or the turf wars?


I don't believe one genre is more important than another. I think they're all needed as much as all the different types of people personalities in the world are needed. If everything was all the same life would be very boring don't you think?
Yes, very boring. But have you ever found yourself defending what you write? or read?

The thing that bothers me about literary snobbery, is that the offender believes that their knowledge of literature is the bottom line in determining the quality of any one work.

I refuse to respond to attempts to shame me, such as those "when are you going to write for adults" comments, which somehow imply that young adult novels are just a warm-up to real writing. These comments are usually made by people who read very little, if they read at all. I'm proud to be a young adult author. I'm proud of everything I publish.

I've also been in discussions about the definition of literature, where middle aged males (and even some women)REFUSED to accept that women and minority authors have ever been marginalized, that our view of what is "literary" is informed by a certain socio-economic group. We've certainly made strides, but we do have far to go. Look at the somewhat dismissive categories of "women's fiction" or "chick lit". You don't see male writers categorized as "men's fiction". Why AREN'T men reading women's fiction? Why is it even CALLED women's fiction?

I read tons of ya, but I also read great adult stuff. One isn't better than the other, it's just different. And I think because I value what my daughter reads, she feels free to explore all genres in her reading choices. Reading and talking about books is a way that my daughter and I have been able to connect and deepen our relationship.

great questions, Marlene. I'd like to know why there seems to be more "labeling" with books about women.
All the time. And yes that part about literary snobbery bothers me as well.
The one that bothers me is when people say "Oh, I never read fiction", in a context that considers all of fiction reading to be a waste of time. But those are people that I mostly feel sorry for, because they are really missing out.

But I do like the idea of genre fans as members of cliques. I know that I love talking books with people who know about and enjoy the same books, because we have a common interest. But even I sometimes feel like a bit of a snob when I walk right by another genre's section in the bookstore. I'm sure there are great things there, but I prefer my mystery and my childrens' and YA books, and so I rarely even stop in on the other genres.

Thanks for some interesting discussion!
yes, I think the whole analogy of "literary cliques" to secure our place in a social group is fascinating. And it would explain a lot!
Hi, I know I don't know you and you don't know me, but hi. I'm Cate...I stumbled upon this via a google search, and it's an interesting question...

I guess that I feel that 'literature' is a very high title. I consider true literature to be excellently written work that expresses ideas of permanent, universal, and lasting interest. When I think of it I think of The Brothers Karamazov, The Sun Also Rises, etc, and I think that those books are examples of the mastery to which other books aspire.

That said, I think that, looked at in terms of most books under the lable of "YA fiction", YA books can't really be considered 'literature' because the ideas that they express are not usually universal and that the way they express their ideas is not in the highest level. (I'm not knocking YA, by the way, I love it, and I think that even books that aren't literature are certainly worthwhile. On many days, particularly those when I want to sit back and relax, I'm certainly more likely to pick up "Scribbler of Dreams" than "Brothers Karamazov"). In the same vein, I would not consider Rosalind Miles' "I, Elizabeth" or Joanne Harris' "Holy Fools" to be literature for the same reasons, although they are both adult books. I think that determining whether or not something is considered 'literature' is determined less by what genre it is in (read: Dracula) than whether it, as a separate, single entity, fulfills the criteria for 'literature.' And I think that most often, it is adult books that fulfill those criteria because of the nature of what they are often about.

My $.02, anyway.