THE BEST VIEW: Am I a literary snob?

by Norma Best Boucher

“Hello. My name is Norma. I am an English major and a literary snob.”

If there were such groups as Literary Snobs Anonymous, I would stand before their podium addressing my captured audience saying those exact words to my fellow literary snobs. Then, when they finally gave me the proverbial shepherd’s hook to drag me from my pulpit, I would confess my deepest, darkest truth: “I also love mysteries.”

As a high school English teacher, I basically had to prod gently my students to get their insights about the books I had assigned for them to read.

Today I belong to a book club. Some months I like the book. Some months I don’t like the book. Every month, though, I enjoy animated discussions with the very intelligent, very diverse and very assertive women in the group. They all have their own opinions and express them clearly, coherently, and, sometimes, even eloquently.

In my own defense I must explain that I was at the mercy of English teachers throughout my high school and college years. All required reading books were from the classics. I loved the classics.

As a teacher I also introduced my students to the classics. Some students may say that I tortured them with the classics, but I always assured them that the book titles, the characters and even the quoted texts would remain with them throughout their lives. Like it or not.

In my own everyday life, I am constantly reminded of classic book characters and their quotes. Whenever I see a man rubbing his hands together, I am reminded of Uriah Heep, the antagonist in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.

Who can forget the revengeful phrase “One down” in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo, or the quote “All for one and one for all” in Dumas’ The Three Musketeers?

Can we forget the characters and lessons learned from Silas in Silas Marner, Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Jo March and her sisters in Little Women, or Jane Eyre and Cathy and Heathcliff from the two Bronte sisters? I think not.

Of course, there’s always Shakespeare’s famous quotes: “Take thee to a nunnery” from Hamlet to Ophelia, “Out damned spot” from Lady Macbeth, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” from Richard III, Hamlet’s Polonius’s “To thine own self be true,” and the unforgettable Julius Caesar’s dying recognition “Et Tu, Brute?”

I cannot be the only one who remembers and frankly relishes these great works of literature. Highfalutin they may be but unforgettable they remain, at least to me.

I knew a man for 50 years. We tolerated each other. I am sure that he never recognized one single word of wisdom I may have offered, and, to tell the truth, in those five decades I only gleaned one sentence of wisdom from him.

He was in his mid-70s at the time. Someone asked him to attend a function. He thought silently for a few moments and then literally thought out loud, “I don’t have that much time left to waste.”

I stored in my memory that tidbit of wisdom. Now, whenever I start reading a new book, I ask myself whether I am enjoying the book or whether by reading this particular book I am wasting precious time. Sometimes book and time decisions are made just like that.

My book tastes and time decisions may sometimes appear to be old-fashioned, but the modern day me is sitting right here right now writing this declaration or confession, if you will, wearing a newly-purchased tee shirt that reads, “That’s what I do. I read books, and I know things.”

Back to the original question, “Am I a literary snob?”

In Shakespeare’s words, “Egads!”

In my own words, “I hope so.”


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1 reply
  1. Lorraine Soo
    Lorraine Soo says:

    Dear Norma,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post.
    I am a literary snob, and proud of it. However, it was not always this way.
    I confess that growing up, I was not the best reader. But, by the fifth grade, I was cutting my teeth on Archie comics. They fueled my initial love of reading.
    In high school, I read the obligatory works of William Shakespeare (my favourites are “King Lear” and “Othello”), Lewis Carroll, and John Steinbeck. I even read Dostoesvky’s “The Idiot” in a weekend to impress my English teacher.
    When I was in university, I decided that I wanted to read the classics during my spare time. I conquered all of the Brontes. I was less successful with Jane Austen. At some point, I read a pile of novels by J.G. Ballard.
    My friend gave me some chick lit, which I read just to be nice. The books were mildly entertaining, but they did nothing in terms of challenging my grey matter. Having said that, I have read all of Dan Brown’s novels. Yes, that is right.
    But, alas, life got in the way, and my reading fell by the wayside. The good news is that I picked it back up again after COVID, and am now reading like a demon to make up for lost time: Twain, Woolf, Wharton, Poe, Orwell, West, Alcott, Alighieri, Asimov, Atwood, more Austen, Burnett, Collins, Conrad, Dickens, more Dostoevsky, Doyle, Eliot, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Camus, Proust, Kafka…
    Thank you for allowing me this rant,


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