Literary Snobs: A Ranked Taxonomy


2013 is going out with a bang of literary snobbishness. The latest round comes via John Gallagher at The New Republic, railing against “Hollywood DFW” and the “terrible, terrible idea” of Jason Segel portraying the late David Foster Wallace in a film adaptation of David Lipsky’s Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. He just can’t imagine such a thing as Saint Wallace being portrayed on screen, especially by an actor mostly known for his comedic roles. How dare they get an funnyman to commit this act of literary sacrilege! Exposing people to Wallace’s work who might have otherwise never known about it? Seriously, just who do they think they are?

I’m being hyperbolic, too, of course. But the fact remains that there are David Foster Wallace fans out there bent on protecting his legacy the way the Knights of the Crusade were supposed to protect the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. All of which is to say: DFW snobs can snoot it out with best of them, but where do they rank among today’s greatest literary snobs?

10. People who only read books written by people they can tweet at

You know these types. They seem to only read books by authors to which they have some sort of social-media access, ignoring hundreds of years of great books, as well as contemporary authors who aren’t on Twitter. No Claire Messud, no Jonathan Lethem, no Nicole Krauss, no Martin Amis, and no dead Russians from the 19th century. If their name doesn’t have an @ symbol in front of it, they aren’t interested.

9. People who don’t read anything written after the 1800s

Oh my god, look at you with your tweed everything, and that smug look you would need surgery to have removed from your face. Please enlighten us with your thoughts on Turgenev yet again. It must be really great blocking out reality the way you do. Please share with us the secrets of how you accomplish such obliviousness to the present.

8. Ulysses snobs

We can’t really hate on Ulysses snobs, and the same goes for Moby-Dick fanatics. Have you ever partied on Bloomsday? That shit is like a very fun Prince song, except Irish, less purple, far less sexy, and somehow a little weirder. Just, you know, keep in mind that there’s more than one book in the world.

7. The “I’m not really interested in commercial fiction” type

You won’t read Gone Girl because it was one of your mom’s book club selections? You aren’t going to read Gary Shteyngart because he’s a bestseller now? You won’t read Colson Whitehead’s Zone One because you heard it had zombies in it, and that just seems childish? I guess this is all acceptable behavior if you’re 16 years old, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think you are.

6. David Foster Wallace diehards

I once attended a party where a girl told a few people that she was reading Wallace’s Infinite Jest as part of a summer reading club called “Infinite Summer.” Some guy, who probably enjoys the way he smells far too much, shot her a look of disgust the likes of which is usually saved for war criminals as they’re being tried for their atrocities, and said, “A masterpiece like Infinite Jest isn’t something you read for fun — for a book club.”

It remains one of the douchiest things I have ever witnessed, and that guy’s face will forever be the face of the David Foster Wallace snob in my mind. That girl who spent money to buy Wallace’s work for an online reading group did something horrible in his eyes, and that guy thought a dilettante like her had no right taking a holy book to the beach. Please.

5. Zadie Smith haters

You really hate Zadie Smith that much? I mean, it’s fine to not like an author. But you seriously feed the need to go out of your way to retweet everything she writes for publications you’ve been dreaming of getting a byline in with your own snarky comments every single time something new comes out? What did Zadie Smith ever do to you that she deserves so much hatred?

4. The “adults shouldn’t read YA novels” types

Real talk: I was once one of these jerks. I mean, I wasn’t militant about it, slapping copies of The Hunger Games out of the hands of people over 16; I was just snooty.

But now I’m here to tell all of you who haven’t seen the light that there is a lot of really good YA that won’t make you feel like Humbert Humbert because you find it enjoyable. Even so, if you give it a try and find out YA truly isn’t your thing, that’s fine as well. I just want you to respect the rights of perfectly normal, intelligent 30- and 40-year-olds to geek out over boy wizards.

3. Translation snobs

I get it: you only read translated works. Although you can’t actually read them in their native language, you only read books written by people you’d have to use hand signals and a guidebook to understand. You are so amazing! How proud you must be to possess the knowledge to pooh-pooh people because they don’t know the “good” translations from the “bad” ones.

2. New Yorkers

I’m a New Yorker, and I guess I’m a literary type, and I can tell you that, yes, we spend a lot of time around each other, drinking, saying weird stuff, bugging agents and editors, and griping about rent. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with all that, but I can understand why people in the other 49 states consider us insufferable.

1. Male writers who don’t get that there is a difference between postmodern/transgressive and creepy/misogynistic/dumb (and the people who defend them)

You guys are the worst of the worst. You are actually self-righteous and narcissistic enough to write stuff like this and believe it is not only acceptable but necessary. Congrats on being #1.