I’m a pretty open-minded person about most things, but when it comes to books and grammar, I have always been a shameless snob. I once refused to babysit for a family because the father spoke with improper grammar when he called to offer me the job.
I am the worst kind of snob because I myself don’t always speak with proper grammar myself. I grew up in the rural south and I still sometimes say “used ta could” and “might should.” I sometimes slip and pronounce ambulance just like it’s spelled and very slowly. Commas have always baffled me, despite years of attempting to learn their proper usage. (All the new rules don’t help either. Oxford comma haters I’m talking to you.)
When it comes to books, I’m even worse. The lengths and varieties of my snobbery are innumerable. I’m a long-time lover of literature, particularly from the Victorian period. After my eighth-grade English teacher told me we only read books written by and about white men because “little girls read whatever you tell them to and little boys will only read books about little boys,” I read almost only books written by women. I’m a lover of all three of the Brontës, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Carson McCullers, and, after I got to college and realized not reading any books by men was hurting me, Jack Kerouac, Charles Dickens, Ken Kesey, Thomas Wolfe, Henry James, Walt Whitman, and on and on. I could list all of the great books I’ve read and tell you about my favorite books, but this blog post is about my snobbery, so I’m going to admit that, while I loved all of those authors and sneered at anyone who read romance or genre fiction, I devoured every Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine book could find. Those books kept me up late at night, and it was those books I read between classes instead of talking to my friends. I also loved fantasy, particularly Ann McCaffrey, but here my snobbery acquired a new twist, because I didn’t consider fantasy genre fiction.
Even through college and well into adult-hood, I maintained this snobbery. Then a year ago, at the age of 36, I had an experience which made me realize my own hypocrisy. I read a romance novel and I (gasp) liked it. Not only did I like it, but I loved it. I read the book because I was about to attend a workshop taught by the author. I felt a bit guilty about actually enjoying the book, but I brushed it off as a fluke. I was tired that day and surely most romance novels were awful. That author, Virginia Kantra, said something I’d never before considered. She said that the romance novel is a feminist work because it teaches women what they should expect from a man in a relationship. I agree with her argument and would go on to say that the best romance novels also teach women that it’s okay to stand up for themselves, to assert themselves, and to enjoy sex, all of which are important in any healthy relationship and are values too many women aren’t learning in their homes or anywhere else.
Shortly after reading and enjoying my first romance, I read in a book on craft that romance is the hardest genre to write. I accepted that argument without really considering it too deeply, until I tried to write a romantic scene in my own book and realized I had no idea what I was doing. This bumbling ineptitude of course gave me the excuse I needed to read more romances. As a result, I have fallen in love with love stories. I enjoy reading romance novels. There, I said it. I’ve learned a lot from them about pacing, about craft, and about characterization. I may sometimes still be a bit embarrassed about what I’m reading, but I’d like to believe my days of book snobbery are behind me. My new philosophy is that it doesn’t matter what you read, if you enjoy it and it makes your day easier, it’s a good use of your time.