I don’t like book snobbery. I don’t like it when people think they’re better than others due to a combination of their education and personal tastes leading them to like books labelled “literary” instead of “genre”. Some prejudices may dissipate in time – Naomi Alderman’s incredible sci-fi novel recently won the Baileys Prize, fantasy series Game of Thrones is mainstream and you only need look at the raft of amazing films and TV series that are currently popular to know how rich the storytelling is in graphic novels. So maybe the snobs will stop telling people what to read, but how to read appears to be another issue.
Really, it’s the same issue in a different hipster outfit. Books aren’t sacred objects. You can dog-ear pages, crack spines, scribble notes, spill your dinner on the cover or read in the bath and let the pages get crinkled and this doesn’t mean you love or appreciate books any less. The magic of reading doesn’t reside in the book - it lives inside you. I asked Simon, a smart bookworm friend of mine, where he stood on things like folding over pages to keep your place in a book and he said the most beautiful thing. “Every book is a museum of fossilised sound.” I loved that because I hear every book I read, and fossilised highlights just how robust it is, how lasting an effect books can have. Glyn Maxwell talks about how you feel good poetry throughout your whole body. It doesn’t really matter if you read it in a pristine first edition, on a kindle, or in a battered paperback, what matters is what you hear and feel as a result of reading.
And OK, yes I know this is petty, but it’s important to me because book snobbery puts people off reading. I’m not sure that those people who claim to love literature and then look down on others for reading different things or treating their books differently do really love it. Perhaps they love feeling cleverer than other people. Perhaps they like their smart bookshelves more than piles of crumpled titles scattered around a house because they look better. But if they cared about literature they wouldn’t care what and how other people read because all readers keep literature alive.
It also matters because if you get too precious about books then kids won’t read them. They have to be able to read what they want, without being afraid of getting shouted at for reading the wrong thing, or not looking after their book. In short, they have to be a part of their lives and you have to let kids love books in the same way they wear down the fur on a favourite teddy bear. I recently took my niece and nephew to see the musical of Matilda and they were genuinely shocked when Mr Wormwood destroyed her beloved books. This despite the fact their own books get folded in their bags, splattered with milk from reading over breakfast or rumpled in bed. That’s because letting books get worn is not the same as disrespecting them.
Listen, if you like keeping your books pristine, then be my guest. You do you, honey. Personally, I don’t care what state my books are in as long as I can read the words inside them. I have a copy of The Crow Road that has literally travelled all round the world after I lent it to a friend when he went travelling and it really looks like its seen some shit. I love that book. I love that my friend, not a big reader, took it with him everywhere he went and read the whole thing. I don’t care that it’s now battered, I care that another person read a beautiful story. If it falls apart, I’ll get another copy or I’ll download it on kindle, I’ll get the exact same story whatever form it’s in.
There’s too much judgement in the world as it is, so really, is folding down the pages of books the hill you’re choosing to die on? Let people live and honey, let me READ.