Sometimes I think that we, the reading public, can be real snobs when it comes to books. We tend to subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) judge people based on what they’re reading. So many of us, including myself, lambaste the popularist novels, decrying the works of Dan Brown and J K Rowling, or in the case of the Song of Ice and Fire, claiming we read it before it was “big”. It’s book-hipsterism and it makes me feel a little dirty.
In a bid to seem intelligent and refined, as if we have high and lofty standards for our book needs, we seem to tell out friends “well I’m reading a complex thriller filled with intrigue and deceit while the subtext explores the deeper meanings of the human soul and the inbuilt contradictions of our social nature.” Part of us likes it. It makes us feel superior. Although I must confess I am a bit of a judging, book snob, it at least tends not to stray further than “that book’s proper shit, you shouldn’t read it”, whenever someone starts reeling off a contrite, self-indulgent sentence that attempts to inflate our perceived social standing I am torn between a desire to punch the guilty party in the face or reply with “well I read a book about tits and explosions.”
I remember many years ago I was watching a programme on the telly covering “the best books of the year”. One of the Harry Potter books was beaten out of first place by a recent re-translation of Beowulf. Now I wont deny that Beowulf is a pretty good yarn of high adventure and all, but the result smacked quite strongly of intellectual snobbery. “Yes let’s put Beowulf first, it will make us seem really clever and cultured.” No, I’m sorry. It made you seem like pretentious twats.
For all our claims that we want books with staggeringly complex plots, that cover deep philosophical issues and contain big artistic devices, I don’t think we really want any of that. If we did would Dan Brown’s books have sold so many? They’re not complicated, hell they’re not even that well written! But good Bod are they readable. It’s trash, you know it’s trash. The plots sketchy, the character’s have simplistic motivations, but it doesn’t matter. It’s nice, it’s simple, you don’t need to think, you just lose yourself in the words.
In this type of vein, my book of choice for this week was Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost. It’s not deep or intellectual. It’s just fun. Plain and simply fun. It’s filled to the brim with puns that should be punishable by death and shameless parodies that should make you wince and so many pop culture references that the pages almost drip with them. But do you know what? I didn’t care. It was a good read, it was funny. It was a good and proper, old-fashioned yarn. It was about the British Empire in Space and all the terrible clichés and stereotypes that involved. It was glorious and I’m damn well going to buy the next two books.
Now and then we all need to get off our high horses, stop harping on about all that insipid, artsy, tripe we pretend to enjoy and sit down with a nice, simple book. We need to stop viewing reading as an elitist, intellectual exercise and rediscover the joy of reading.