Why We Need Book Snobs

My uncle owns the Dickson Street Bookshop. It's something of a local treasure. (Locals, are we agreed?) He specializes in used, rare, and out-of-print books, specifically literature, poetry, and Irish Studies. He loves books.
photo from their Facebook site
No, really. He loves books. This is but a teensy fraction of the store.

He is a book snob. (Don't worry. He avoids the internet. Also, he would agree with me.) I have actually been at his house looking through one of his books in his personal library, which is pretty staggering on its own, only to have him take the book out of my hands and say, "No. Read this." Now, he doesn't do this to his customers. Hmm...actually that might not be true. He doesn't do it to new customers. But he has strong opinions and he's not afraid to share them.

It doesn't mean that he won't stock pop fiction or pulp fiction or stuff that rolls his eyes. That stuff sells and he sells it. And this isn't a post to bash any genre. My book is YA sci-fi. It's light and fluffy and whimsical. I can tell you right now that it won't be my uncle's cuppa, personally. And he'll turn books away. Not for reasons of  his own taste but for reasons of a glutted market or something he just doesn't think will sell.

Lately, I've read a lot of posts accusing agents and publishers of being nothing more than "gatekeepers" and "tastemakers," as if these were slurs flung from the very gates of Hell. Most of these have been in the traditional vs. self-publishing debate. Now, I am in no way, shape, or form saying that everything traditionally published is wonderful or that everything self-published is not. This isn't really about that at all.

But I will say this. I cringe at the day when indie bookstores and libraries are obsolete. Do you know what my uncle (and his staff) would recommend you read? James Joyce. Iain Pears. Oscar Wilde. Osamu Dazai. Xaviera Hollander. Max Brooks.- (These last few are just from their status updates.)

Do you know what Amazon recommends that I read? An amalgamation of books that are statistically similar to titles I've searched for. They don't care if it's good or bad. No, seriously. They. Don't. Care. I'm not bashing Amazon. I hope my titles will sell well there, and I buy from Amazon. But if I really want to shop for a book, I go to a bookstore or library and ask the tastemakers what they recommend, see what they're actually investing their money in and stocking. I'm not a lemming who will read whatever book someone places in my hand, but come on! There's value in that.

I cringe at the day when editors aren't able to fall hard for a manuscript and buy it because they love it and they think others will love it. I think there's value in the gatekeepers. Do I think that current models will have to change and change fast to avoid obsolescence? Heck, yes! But I shudder inside when I read angry, gleeful posts about "The Big 6" falling.

Yes, customers will make out like bandits. When books are valued at 99 cents, that will happen. And, yes, a tiny percentage of authors may make out like bandits. The same small percentage that make out like bandits with traditional publishers. But I don't think society will benefit from the destruction of tastemakers. Sometimes, I think society needs a crotchety old uncle telling us what to read.

5 comments:

  1. I loved this little piece. I always tell people "you are snob of something" - books, coffee, musicals, history, etc.
    When I worked at Barnes & Noble, I loved the part of my job where I had a chance to recommend something. Customers were grateful and they came back later to ask for more advice.
    I will be sad when all I have to rely on is a star rating and pithy, grammatically poor reviews on a website. :/

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    1. Exactly! It reminds me of that scene in You've Got Mail when Meg Ryan is sitting and crying in the "big, bad Fox Books" (wow...that was only 15 years ago) and recommends a book to the customer.

      If you believe Amazon reviews then EVERY. SINGLE. BOOK. is stellar. Or it's wretched. Good Reads seems to remain sheltered (at least thus far) from the brunt of the most useless reviews.

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  2. Oh I agree about the bookstores! My local bookstores has some glorified post-it notes on the shelves with notes from different staff members recommending books. I've gotten to the point where I know which staff member I agree with and which staff member, if they recommend it, I will probably NOT like it ahaha and that is just fine too. :)

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    1. Never underestimate the power of a post-it. :)

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