Five Types of Book Pretentiousness We Need to Stop

Book lovers, we’ve got to shelf the snobbery

Margery Bayne
Mar 4 · 6 min read
Photo by Vladimir Mokry on Unsplash

Every book lover, book nerd, bookworm, or whatever term you use to brand yourself and your obsession with the written words and the codex has some strong opinions on books. Which books are good, how they should be treated, how they should be arranged on shelves and many, many more. And it’s okay to have your preferences. It’s okay to have your opinions. But some opinions have gotten so loud on the shared space we call the internet that they have become pretentious and give cause for others to give the book lover community a hard side-eye.

So while I’m here to say it is okay to have your book preferences, there are some things we need to stop shouting from the social media mountain top. Here are the types of book pretentiousness we need to stop.

Physical book versus eBook

“It’s a matter of preference!” I shout. “They both have pros and cons!”

Of all items on this list, this is one where I will acknowledge some both-side-ism. Ebook people tend to be the technology pretentious people while physical book people tend to be book pretentious people. We are at war, apparently.

But I’m here to talk to the book pretentious people. And I get it. Our worship of the physical book started from a place of defensiveness. When the was the eBook boom began about a decade ago, we were awash with think pieces about how physical books had no place anymore, or how they would go extinct, and blah blah blah. So of course, we spoke up about their value as aesthetic objects, the pros of not needing to deal with battery life or technology wearing out. But we’ve gone past the defensiveness and into self-importance, acting like we are curators of a lost art of only the supremely intellect if we read (*pushes up glasses*) physical books.

Look — we are past the eBook boom. Sales have leveled out. Physical books are persisting. And the difference between eBooks and physical is preference.

“Real reading” versus audiobooks

I think most people are on the ‘audiobooks are awesome’ train these days. With the proliferation of their availability via a few taps on your smartphone, accessing them is easier than ever. You can listen in your car. You can listen when you workout. You can listen when you wash the dishes. (Remember when they were on CDs? Remember when they were on cassette tapes??)

However, every so often you still see the “listening to audiobooks is not real reading” snobbery pop up. For me, reading books is just getting the story (or information in terms of nonfiction) into my head via words, spoken or read. I just want to experience as many books as possible in my short time on this planet.

And audiobooks aren’t real reading? That kind of forgets the whole history of oral storytelling. Or how the earliest students just listened to and memorized lectures in Ancient Greece. And that the advent of the written word was heralded as this great downfall of civilization because people wouldn’t have to memorize stuff anymore.

It also forgets all the people that audiobooks aid in accessing books. Are you going to tell a visually impaired person that they aren’t actually reading because they’re using audiobooks? I don’t think so. (Unless you really are at that level of jerkitude.)

People aren’t being lazy when they are listening to audiobooks. Human beings are busier than ever. Not being able to sit down to read a book is not a matter of lack of discipline or smarts; it’s a lack of time. Audiobooks help people take back their time and engage with a good book.

Bookshelf organization

Even poet laureate Amanda Gorman, a person who was awesome enough to read a poem at the Presidential Inauguration and the Super Bowl (poetry! At the Super Bowl!) couldn’t avoid criticism for having a bookshelf arranged by color.

Look, bookshelves by color are not my preferred book organization method, but I’ll admit it looks nice and aesthetically pleasing. And having the books displayed pages out so they create a wall of beige looks a little too much like an Anthropology advert for my taste, but if that appeals to you, right on. Let no one stop you from your beige aesthetics as mystifying as it is to me.

Some are going to like to meticulously arrange their home libraries and others will rather go with organized chaos, and then everywhere on the sliding scale in between.

Libraries, bookstores, and any book spots that are meant as community places, where organization and findability should be key… organization and findability should be key. They should indeed not be organized by book color. However, someone wants to arrange the books in their own home? Why is there any sort of judgment value on that?

I don’t come into your house and criticize the arrangement of your spice rack or sock drawer. You don’t need to go into other people’s houses (even if you are only invited via picture) and criticize the arrangement of their books.

Dog-eared, writing in, highlighting, etc.

So do you dogear your books or are you not a monster?… Just kidding.

This the one type of pretentiousness that gets me riled up on an instinctual level, but here the truth is… It doesn’t matter if people dogear their own gosh-darn books. As much as the sight of dog-eared pages makes me cringe, it is not for me to judge.

Same with writing notes in the pages, highlighting, and other forms of so-called “book defacement.” If a person does that to their books, that is fine, because those are their property. And if dog-earing and writing in a book helps them engage more deeply with the text, then good for the dog-earers and highlighters.

Of course, I have strong feelings that if you are borrowing a book — from a library, from a friend — one should refrain from dogearing and other such things that could damage the book. Most people would agree with that. But that is respecting other people’s property, and thus a completely different thing. Don’t dogear other people’s books, people.

The hierarchy of genres

The smugness of reading one genre over another comes in many different flavors. Literary versus genre fiction. Adult fiction versus young adult fiction. Probably every little pocket of fans has its pretentiousness. And some genres, like romance, always seem to get shoved to the bottom.

But the whole reason different genres exist is because of the vast variety of reading tastes and interests of readers. And that’s a beautiful thing. As the father of library science S.R. Ranganathan, said, “Every reader his or her book” and “every book its reader.” Imagine living in a world where we all had to read the same books. Boring, right?

Additionally, people read for different reasons. Some might only like reading to learn new things, and others read for the pure popcorn joy of wish fulfillment. Both are equally valid, along with everything along that sliding scale. We have these differences to thank for the amazing variety of stories that are out there in the world for us to consume.

Wrapping it up

Look, I tend to prefer a lot of the more pretentious options. Physical books over eBooks and never, ever dog-earing a page. But I keep them in the perspective of “my preferences’’ with no intellectual or moral value attached. And I get that hyperbolic internet opinions are a thing, often for humorous effect (and that sweat, sweat engagement). But there is a difference between that slice of self-aware humor and pretentiousness. And being pretentious is not going to convert anyone into being the type of reader you think they should be; instead it just kind of makes you look like a jerk.

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Margery Bayne

Written by

Margery is a librarian by day and a writer by night; a published short story author and an aspiring novelist. Find more at margerybayne.com or @themargerybayne.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Margery Bayne

Written by

Margery is a librarian by day and a writer by night; a published short story author and an aspiring novelist. Find more at margerybayne.com or @themargerybayne.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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