Ah, yes I love the character development in that book

Ah, yes I love the character development in that book

You know how you always end up having conversations with random friends about books that neither of you have read? Bwog’s own cadre of wannabe intellectuals (Britt Fossum and Maddie Stearn) know that feel. They have dreamt up an imaginary conversation that could easily happen in real life. Warning: contains judgement, sass, and a bit of hypocrisy. We’ve all been the book snob in a conversation.

I’m sitting outside Butler, or in a booth at 1020, or waiting at the 116th subway stop. I really don’t want to be disturbed. My head in a book, or I’m having a deep debate with a friend, or I’m aimlessly staring into space with my headphones in.

But then someone disturbs me. Tries to strike up a conversation. They choose what should be a relatively inoffensive topic of conversation: books. It starts with them asking me what I’m reading, have just finished reading, or plan to read next and it ends with me being extremely pissed off.

I’m stuck trying to make uncomfortable and weirdly aggressive small talk. It’s impossible to actually talk about books in an environment like Columbia where everything turns into a competition. It isn’t enough to read things, you have to read the right kind of books and more than that, you need to hold the perfect somewhat unpopular opinion on those books. In fact, you don’t even have to have read the books you talk about, as long as you’ve read the wikipedia summary and have 3-4 scripted analogies to make. But I’m done bullshitting about books. I’m done. Here’s how I’m going to do it.

I’m relatively well-read, at least I consider myself a book lover. The interloper, an acquaintance of mine but by no means a friend, studies creative writing and thinks my bookshelf could use a massive overhaul (heavy on the male modernists). He’s like that “Guy in Your MFA” twitter come to life (whoever runs that twitter must go here judging by how well it applies to approximately 80% of non-engineer Columbia guys).

Me: “I’m reading a sort of literary genre fiction book,” probably by Philip K. Dick or Vonnegut.

Book Snob: “Ah I’ve never read that. I don’t usually read, you know, science fiction.”

Me: “Uh-huh.” At least he didn’t start talking about Haruki Murakami

Book Snob: “Well, unless you count Murakami as science fiction. I mean I’ve always thought of his books as more magical realism, but some people would say they’re science fiction.”

Me, already sick of this conversation: “I wasted too many years trying to tell myself I liked his stuff but it’s all so boring and repetitive. Like he’s just written the same book 10 times and thought no one would notice.”

Book Snob: Hurt expression. Long pause. “Well it’s probably just the translation. I think many people can’t see past the slight awkwardness inherent in a switch from one language to another. I mean, I can feel the artistry even if it’s not immediately obvious and I don’t think most people really can.”

Me: How am I supposed to respond to this without taking a cheap shot at all the weird shit in those books? Like the ear thing? I try again,
“Well there has to have been some book you just couldn’t bear to finish. I think it’s a sign of, you know, maturity to be able to recognize when a book just isn’t worth the effort. ”

Book snob: “Well I refused to keep reading Infinite Jest after I realized that I was only finishing it to prove myself. I’ve got better things to do with my time. His essays were enjoyable enough for me.”

Me: The only David Foster Wallace essay you’ve probably read was the one assigned in UWriting. I retort,
“I once had a run-in with a self-proclaimed luddite who had a bumper sticker on his laptop that said ‘Read Infinite Jest.’ He also owned two typewriters.” I don’t hold back a snort.

Book snob: Nervous Laughter.

Me: “You know I think it might’ve been you? It’s only half covering up an old ‘coexist’ sticker and a mustache sticker on the apple logo.”

Book snob, clutching his messenger bag protectively: “So what? I personalized my computer. Plus, the mustache is supposed to be Nietzsche’s.”

Me: What, so you can tell your laptop apart from all the other “personalized” Macs at Joe’s? I don’t say anything but give Book Snob a highly skeptical look.

Book snob: Trying desperately to gain the upper hand, “Maybe you just have a thing against male authors? It seems like it’s gotten really popular nowadays to dismiss books on that basis. You might like The Goldfinch then? Personally I think it’s highly overrated. I prefer The Secret History. It’s not as well known so you may not have heard of it.”

Me: The only thing worse than patronising midwestern misogyny is dismissive hipster misogyny. I bite back, “You know what? I liked The Goldfinch better than The Secret History. They’re both boring and overwrought but somehow the second one was half as long and twice as boring!”

Book snob: “Maybe you just didn’t get the references? Maybe…”

Me: “And I’ve never finished a single book by Virginia Woolf. Not even the ones I was assigned in class,” I decide to take another shot, “And I haven’t even tried to read anything by your holy trinity of Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway and the like.” Ok, so maybe he didn’t mention these guys but I’m on a roll. Plus he just reeks of Hemingway.

Book snob: “Well you’re missing out.” He’s regaining some confidence I think.

Me: “No more than you are.” I hold out a $10 bill. “I bet this money that you haven’t even read anything more than the SparkNotes for Dubliners!”

Book snob: Doesn’t take my money and looks around nervously.

Me: “One time, I lost my copy of Joseph Brodsky’s essay collection Less than One on a plane and made sure people knew it by tweeting about it. Really I was just glad I didn’t lose the book I was actually reading and deeply engrossed in, The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Book snob: “I’ve never heard of it,” he’s definitely backing away now.

Me: “That’s because its a fantasy novel.” And it was probably the best book I’ve read this year.

I get up to leave, but not before the Book Snob tries to get in one last dig.

Book Snob: “Well, I bet you can’t read ANYTHING by Tolstoy in the original Russian!”

Me, turning to look back one last time: “It’s not like you can either.”

Good books via shutterstock