The Real Reason Why You Pass Judgment on Other People's Taste in Books

Illustration for article titled The Real Reason Why You Pass Judgment on Other People's Taste in Books

Of course, your own taste in reading material is beyond reproach — but those Twilight fans, they're just stuffing their brains with garbage. And meanwhile, those literary snobs are judging you for liking military science fiction, without even having read any. If this is you or someone you know, then you ought to read Laura Miller's essay on literary judgments.


Writing in Salon, Miller explains why we judge other people's taste in literature — and also, why we're so sensitive when we feel as though other people are judging ours. It's because someone, at some point, made us feel guilty for liking the things we like, and we've internalized that. She explains:

Intellectual insecurity is, alas, a pervasive problem in the literary world. You can find it among fans of easy-to-read commercial fiction who insist (on very little evidence) that the higher-brow stuff is uniformly fraudulent and dull, and you can find it among those mandarin bibliophiles who dismiss whole genres (on equally thin evidence) out of hand. One of the favorite gambits of people secretly uncertain about their own taste is identifying some popular book of incontestably lower quality than their own favorites and then running all over the Internet posting extravagant takedowns of it and taunting its fans. Yeah, I'm not crazy about "Fifty Shades of Grey," either, but I'm not going to invest that much energy in proclaiming this sentiment to the world. To do so suggests you're less interested in championing good writing than you are in grabbing any chance to feel superior to somebody else.

[This happens because] a teacher, a parent, a romantic partner, a friend, a roommate, even a co-worker has made them feel ashamed over a book or genre of books they enjoy or admire. They were told to put away the comics or teased for de-stressing with a romance novel on coffee break. Or, conversely, they might dream of being included in some tony, brainy (and possibly entirely imaginary) community of letters while at the same time worrying that they won't make the grade. There are those whose fantasies of leading a "literary" life largely involve having their own superior discrimination and erudition admired by other superior minds. The result of all this baggage is a preposterous, resentful pecking order in which readers get way too much pleasure out of pissing on other readers' preferences and/or jumping, on the slightest pretext, to the conclusion that their own are being ridiculed.

The whole essay is well worth reading. []

Top image: Tom Gauld.



but how many people really go out of their way to disparage genres and works? i agree with the author that would really be a sign of some kind of psychological pathology but don't most of us just kind of dismiss stuff we don't like and move on?

amusingly, the author of the article does just that with her dismissal of "50 shades of grey" so that can't be it.

i think the majority of people i hang with simply exhibit the manifestations of taste (as in opinion and predilection, not as in authority).

neither do i or my compatriots get all that defensive about what we DO like. i prefer "comic book" to "graphic novel" any day. fuck respectability.

i think you have to run with a pretty neurotic group of insecure people such that this article would ring true.