As a teacher, aunt to five nephews, a mystery writer, and a Southerner, I can qualify as a minor expert as a recipient of derisive eye-rolling. You know, that gesture mastered by teen-aged girls, computer-savvy technoids, literary snobs, and other self-appointed holders of arcane knowledge.
Fiction writers who (1) write funny, entertaining books, (2) write in a genre, and/or (3) make money at their writing certainly receive their share of eye-rolls. I made my peace with not making the literary snobs happy (or any snobs, for that matter—but that’s another story). I happen to like mysteries, I like funny and entertaining books, and I like others who do, too.
The perils and pain of literary snobbery coalesced for me a couple of years ago as I traveled to an event with a woman who had been an English literature major many, many years ago.
“I don’t read mysteries, you know,” she said, as she chauffeured me to the out-of-town event. Can you hear the sniff in her voice?
“That’s okay,” I said. “You’ll live a long and happy life without mysteries.” I was just trying to make her feel okay about herself. I didn’t really believe that, but it’s what well-bred Southern women do—try to make others feel better about their poor life choices, like marrying the wrong man or only reading “serious” books.
That night during my talk, I asked the mostly female audience who had read Nancy Drew. Most of them raised their hands; their faces lit up, and they murmured and smiled with remembered pleasure. I noticed my hostess in the back of the room. Her hand was raised, but only to shoulder-height. She had a strange look on her face—befuddled and bemused and … I didn’t know what.
That night, as we drove home, she said, “You know, I read Nancy Drew when I was a girl. I used to go around the neighborhood looking for mysteries to solve.” She paused. Her voice became wistful: “How could I have forgotten that?”
She sounded so sad. How could she have forgotten that? That’s what snobs do to themselves—they make special rules about what’s important and, in doing that, limit their worlds … and their fun.
The rest of us can go around our neighborhoods looking for mysteries to solve AND read Anthony Trollope. [By the way, The Way We Now Live, selected by Time magazine last year as the #1 book to read, could have been written today … and is a wonderful read.] We can enjoy the symphony AND can eat fried chicken with our fingers. We can hike or fish or be proud of a nephew’s spitting-for-distance skills—or keep a lovely garden and out-do Martha herself in the kitchen. We can do things because we enjoy them, not just because someone else thinks those things are worth doing.
In short, we don’t have to worry about pretentious snobs. Because, fortunately for us, we haven’t forgotten! We can only feel sorry for those who have. Now, try not to roll your eyes.