Friday, February 11, 2011

The Perils of Snobbery

There is an issue that has been bothering me lately, and so I thought I would get it off my chest.  It's the plague of what I call "book snobbery."  Everyone has their own preferences in terms of what they read, and those tendencies are not what I'm talking about.  Though I don't think it's a good idea to exclusively read books from one author, one genre, or because Oprah recommends them, if that's what floats your boat, then go for it.  What gets my goat is the concept of "high" and "low" art, and how people use these standards to inform which books they read. 

There are a few examples of this phenomenon, but the one that has struck me recently is the distinction made between graphic novels and cartoons.  For those not too familiar with the term "graphic novel," (and I had to look it up to be totally sure) it basically refers to a novel told in a comic book style.  The story is told in the same format as a novel, just with pictures rather than paragraphs.  I like to think of a comic as a chapter of a graphic novel, it takes you partway through the story arc and leaves you hanging until the next issue.  To me, this is really the only difference between the two genres.  The reason why they are two genres in the first place is the tendency of readers to categorize graphic novels as "high art" and comic books as "low art."  As an equal opportunity reader, this really grates on my nerves.  

When I was trying to figure out the difference between graphic novels and comic books, I ran across the Franco-Belgian concept of bande dessinee.  It makes much more sense to me and it takes away the categories created by North American readers.  In North America, terms like "funnies" are applied to the genre, and they imply that comics are good for a quick laugh or the consumption of children.  There is also the stereotype that people who read comic books are somewhat counterculture, living in their parent's basements and penning their zines.  For whatever reason these attitudes towards comics have never really taken root in Europe, and graphic novels and comics are on equal footing.  Rather than have two separate categories, they fall under the umbrella of bande dessinee.  One term for both genres. 

For me, I tend to read more graphic novels than comic books.  This isn't because I consider graphic novels to be "high art" or because I prefer to say that I'm reading a graphic novel rather than a comic, it's just that I like how they follow the same structure as a traditional novel.  When I read a book of any kind, I enjoy it when there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.  That's just a reading preference, and I don't consider it snobbishness.  I also like reading comic books, but I have found that I don't like being held in suspense until the next issue comes out.  Therefore, I prefer to read an anthology of comics where the story can be read continuously, and that is okay.  What bugs me is when people refuse to read books as a result of a close-minded prejudice.  I don't think a book should be dismissed because it is viewed as "low art" in certain circles.  People should be open to new reading experiences because fun and enlightenment can come in unexpected forms.     


1 comment:

  1. Well written Lindsey. I myself who have never read a graphic novel may pick one up. I was under the impression that graphic novels are more risque. You have piqued my curiosity thank you.