So, today I was posting in a Goodreads group about W. Somerset Maugham. I found an article in the New York Times reviewing a biography of Maugham, that apparently includes bits about how he entertained 16 year old male hookers in his many parties, and how he was just generally an icky sort of fellow. I said in the group that this information makes me sorta not want to read his books because the whole time I'll be thinking "if this guy was such a jackass, why do I care what he has to say about the world?" This question ignited a whirlwind of you're-so-judgmental-how-dare-you-not-read-a-classic-die-die.
So I've spent the morning thinking about bookish snobbery. Is it "wrong" to not read a novel because you don't like the author as a person? One poster in the group claimed that not reading an author because of his personal life is prejudice, and that there is no room for such a reader in serious literary conversation. Isn't this tantamount to saying that people who exclude authors from their reading lists because of their morality are somehow un-intellectual? Are morality and intellectual thought mutually exclusive? Is there no room for personal morality in reading choices?
I am of the opinion that people can and should read whatever they bloody well please for whatever reason makes them feel warm and fuzzy. You want to read chick-lit because you like reading for escapism and the classics give you brain-ouchies? Great, go for it! You like reading the classics because you like the sermonizing? Whatever, sure, that's awesome! You want to read Mein Kampf because you're a complete psychopath? Uh..I don't know about that one, but sure, that's fine too.
You know what else? I'll even let you participate in "literary conversation." Because what is a literary conversation if we are not allowed to bring our thoughts and beliefs to it? If we all read what we were "supposed to" instead of making our own choices, wouldn't that make for a bloody boring "literary conversation?" The opinion of every reader is relevant. There is no real "books you must read before you die" list that the intellectual pompous asses have handed down to the poor, moral masses with their inability to think through their own belief systems. And if I decide to not read an author because his personal choices make his worldview unattractive to me, why is that bad? Are authors AUTOMATICALLY authorities that should have the right to speak in to your life simply because some professors somewhere like him? What kind of thought-control is that?
Bookish snobbery is the worst kind of snobbery because it masquerades as freeing, non-judgmental intellectual conversation. Death to it, I say.
Ok, now scroll back up to the second paragraph and tell me what you think about those questions.