Liking David Foster Wallace Does Not Make You Smart

| Friday, March 29, 2013

Today's Tune: Please Don't Go

I am RANTY today.

So I have A LOT OF FEELINGS about people who use their love of very particular kinds of literature to sort of “one up” people who like other kinds of fiction. Who dictate that if you like Book A instead of Book B, you are a plebeian sheep with a grade-school education. Or something.

A little background about myself, if you will allow me.

I have an English degree with a Creative Writing emphasis. My degree doesn’t mean much, but I did what I really enjoyed. Except for the part where I could never get into any of the fiction classes, so I did poetry and non-fiction (autobiography, in particular) instead.

And oh my gracious, that autobiography class, you guys. Talk about an exercise in navel-gazing. Anyway.

My point is that I read all of the Good Stuff. Ye Olde British Literature, Romantic Poets, Shakespeare, Everything Old White Dudes Wrote Ever, Super Special Lady Fiction, Postmodern Indecipherable Bonkers Lit, Kurt Vonnegut Is Awesome, the whole shebang. I read (and even enjoyed) everything from Beowulf to Joyce. If you want to talk about how fractured language reflects schizophrenia in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy or gender fluidity and how it relates to Irish Catholic sexuality in the Circe chapter of Ulysses, I will stand toe-to-toe with you.

But here is the thing: it does not make me Smarter Than You.

And frankly, I cannot abide by people who sneer down their noses at what other people read and act like their intelligence is superior because they read something they’ve arbitrarily decided is “real” literature.
Because you know what? I also read science fiction. And fantasy. And contemporary. And humor, and graphic novels, and non-fiction.

AND SO MANY YA NOVELS. BECAUSE I LOVE THEM.

I know this is a difficult concept to grasp, but people can have more than one interest. People can like completely mundane things and also be incredibly intelligent in a multitude of ways.They can acknowledge that something can be different and not to some preset standard, yet valuable all the same.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve never read something that I put down because the writing, characterization, world-building, or general structure just didn’t function to my standards. I absolutely have. But here’s the thing about my standards: they are mine. Acting as though everything to come out of a category is pure gold is folly, but so is hand-waving it all away as useless fodder for the brainless.

Whether you only read super high-brow literary Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction or you read pulp fiction genre fluff or you read everything, it has nothing to do with your value or your intelligence.

A wise person once said: you know who cares about what other people read? ASSHOLES.

I’ve read all the literature you’ve read. I like it. I STILL READ AND WRITE AND LOVE KIDLIT. Because it is valuable, because it is “real” literature, because it speaks to me on a variety of levels. Do not presume you are superior because you’ve taken some English courses and can have Deep Discussions About Literature. One of the concepts I currently have on my plotting backburner is a YA novel loosely based on Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I used to write highly literary (and published) poetry about being abducted by aliens. I also write short stories about making out with hot Italian boys in the rain. I CONTAIN MULTITUDES. DO NOT FRONT TO ME.

Here is my point: if you feel the need to shit on other people because of what they do or don’t read, it says more about your insecurities than theirs. If you need to prove your intelligence by regurgitating the same tired lines people have been repeating for centuries, you are showing your ass.

Like what you like. Read what you read. Do not presume it makes you a genius among fools.

Sneering at teenagers and their fiction does not make you brilliant. It makes you Every English Snob With A Gin-and-Tonic. Enjoy.

12 comments:

{ K Kenig } at: March 29, 2013 at 9:19 AM said...

LOVE THIS POST. It's so very true. I'll admit that right after college, when I was working with journalists who had been around for decades longer than me and who seemed to be snobby about what they read, that I talked about stuff I had just read in school as if I were currently reading it. I came to hate book snobs.

When I read now it is mostly for fun, which means it might be Stephen King, or it might be YA stuff, or it might be a ridiculously dense Flannery O'Connor that I love. At any rate, life is too short to read what other people think you should (or to read books you're not totally in to).

<3

{ Alison Rose } at: March 29, 2013 at 9:58 AM said...

I love this so very much :) I am one of those you'd call a voracious reader - I read a metric fuckton of stuff, a lot of which is very Serious and Real. Big heavy non-fiction books about politics, history, sociology, science, etc...those good old Classics that make me want to live in a castle or at least hang out in one while reading...etc etc. But I ALSO love YA and humorous essay collections and other such things, and they all have value to me!

The *only* thing I get critical about is people who don't read at all, because what? How? Read classics, read graphic novels, read something... :)

{ Andrew Leon } at: March 29, 2013 at 11:27 AM said...

Um... wow... now I want to know what set you off and if you laid into whoever it was or just saved it all for here.

By the way, many (many) studies have shown that "smarter" people are more eclectic in their reading tastes, meaning that the more intelligent a person is the more likely s/he will appreciate both, say, comic books and Shakespeare. The person who likes Shakespeare but belittles comics is more likely to be insecure about his/her intelligence.

Just sayin'.

{ prerna pickett } at: March 29, 2013 at 11:46 AM said...

thank you for this post. I love everything about it.

{ Old Kitty } at: March 29, 2013 at 2:08 PM said...

I guess the equivalent are peeps who sneer at those adults who dare read AND enjoy the Harry Potter books or even the EL James trilogy! LOL!

Have a great Easter weekend!

Take care
x

{ Krispy } at: March 29, 2013 at 2:15 PM said...

There are so many gems in this. The only thing I can add to this is a slow clap. So here it is: *claps*

{ JeffO } at: March 29, 2013 at 6:40 PM said...

Rock on.

{ House of Walcott } at: March 30, 2013 at 7:01 AM said...

"I CONTAIN MULTITUDES. DO NOT FRONT TO ME." I think I love you. I went through two graduate writing programs. We were only allowed to workshop (and thus consider worthy) literary mainstream fiction. We were also covertly indoctrinated with the belief that we would never ever be as good as the "masters" and that it is BASE and ridiculous to ever consider that you could make a living from your fiction writing. I have just come to the conclusion, four years after graduating, that I don't want to write literary nonfiction. I want to write scifi/fantasy. I have fully realized that I have so much trouble completing writing projects because I'm not excited about what I write and that I need to write the type of stories that I want to read. Now all though I read all types of fiction, if I was a reader I wouldn't read my literary mainstream fiction. So thank you, S.E. Thank you!

{ molly @ wrapped up in books } at: March 30, 2013 at 2:25 PM said...

I love this! I'm actually reading Infinite Jest right now, and not just because I want to look cool. I'm balancing it out with some super fun urban fantasy and as always, tons of YA. I HATE when others judge people based on what they enjoy to read. I read EVERYTHING, and I like it for different reasons.

{ Jessica Love } at: March 30, 2013 at 9:04 PM said...

This is my favorite thing on the internet.

{ Stephanie Ingrid Sarah Kristan } at: April 1, 2013 at 12:52 PM said...

DIT. TO.

*slow clap*

{ severalfourmany } at: April 4, 2013 at 11:29 AM said...

Nice post. I get it that what you read doesn't make a person better or more intelligent or morally superior, etc. And I see that KidLit "is valuable, because it is “real” literature, because it speaks to me on a variety of levels." I was hoping that someday you tell us more about what makes it valuable, why it is "real" literature and how it speaks to you on a variety of levels.

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