“It’s lonely at the top.  But it’s comforting to look down upon everyone at the bottom.”  So proclaims the Despair.com demotivational poster with a lone bald eagle soaring over the clouds.  Hilarious, illustrative, perfect for the point.  Lord, please save me from elitists and snobs.  Especially book snobs.  I am fully aware it’s a hazard of my major: English and Classics just OPEN me up for rubbing elbows with book snobs.  Not to mention the close relationship those departments have with Journalism and Media majors.  It just can’t be helped.  But dear heavens, they try my patience in so many ways.

I am an English major with a Classics minor whose main concentration is in children’s and young adult literature.  Many of these books are pooh-poohed by my peers.  Even those who are open to the younger literatures as a genuine and truly wonderful art form have taken issue with–big surprise–Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.  Please, don’t get me started on the flaws of that series.  I don’t have enough space, and I won’t be nearly as clever (or brutally honest) as Dan Bergstein if I were to try, nor can I express my sorrow at the people who lose themselves in a make-believe world when life is so beautiful as eloquently as Laura Warrell.  However, please don’t get me started on the triumphs.  I don’t have enough space, and no one will listen.  I have yet to see someone concisely express their love of the series without a) turning into a squealing fan-girl and losing credibility or b) just refusing to give reasons at all.  Is Twilight great writing?  Hardly.  Is Twilight valuable within the book writing and young adult literature industry?  Absolutely.

I could take up the mantle, but this blog is not about Twilight.  Similar things happened with Harry Potter (though not to the same extent) and there is still rampant criticism about Captain Underpants.  All these books–great, good, bad, and downright ugly–serve vital purposes within the growth of the young readers of today.  I know this.  I’ve seen it in action.  So, with that in mind, I am writing a blog about what DOES bother me most: the critics.  The book snobs who take it upon themselves to attempt a conversion of every fan of  Book X, Y, or Z they meet by trying to snipe their love or hate for the books with clever words or arguments the victims are ill-prepared to meet.  ‘Bombard them while you can, and they might see it your way,’ seems to be the war cry.  I’ve seen it happen since I was in fifth grade.  I have been guilty of this myself before I realized what I was doing.  It’s horrible.

As an English major, I had to take a class called Literary Criticism.  Lit Crit, as it was not so fondly known, was terrible.  I spent an entire semester studying a single text from the point of view of all the major forms of criticism.  Talk about the largest bunch of snobs collected in one text-book.  I learned a lot, and two of the criticisms formed the basis for my senior thesis the following semester.  The most important thing I learned, however, was the difference between pop criticism and true criticism.  I will not point out forms of criticism that began as pop criticism, mostly because there is a reason that each survived and are healthily within the tradition of literary criticism today, even if the roots are questionable.  I will, however, point out why I truly believe pop criticism is wrong.

Pop criticism (what I believe makes up most of the criticism of Ms. Meyer’s Twilight and the Captain Underpants series) lacks work ethic.  Inherently, it sounds credible, but lacks the work behind true criticism–you have to read the damn book!  Hearing the reviews of others and formulating your opinion on just those views is possibly the most ridiculous and damaging thing you can do.  Worse yet is forming an opinion based solely on the movie.  Books are not always better, but it is better to form your opinion of them from the source material, not someone else’s interpretation of it.  This is damaging to you, and to those you tout your parroted opinion to.  As you give yours, they form theirs.  A chain of misinformation is introduced.  Also, if you’re found out as an opinion parrot instead of an originator, it gives you a reputation for being close-minded, judgemental, and unreasonable.

If you do not wish to read the book because of reviews that you have read–this is fine.  I don’t recommend it.  It surprises me how often book reviews, or even summaries put out by the publishers, describe the plot lines so very badly.  I’ve had a lot of books surprise me, including the Harry Potter series.  They were so badly advertised in the States that had I not had a teacher force the first book on me, I would NEVER had read them.  They now are some of my favorite books.  Regardless, what you read is your choice and while I will ever recommend giving a book a chance, I will never constantly force my opinion of a book on you.

Steven King lodged his opinion of the Twilight Saga–and I have to bristle at his opinion.  It shows all the markers of pop criticism (lack of specifics, generalities that can apply to the movies and books, no back up) AND he’s talking from a glass house.  Stephen King is fantastically successful . . . because he writes intensely similar books.  I won’t say he’s as bad as Dan Brown or John Grisham (who basically write one plot over and over again), he’s certainly a better writer than them, but he has a handful of plots he likes to repeat.  He achieves moments of brilliance in many of his books, but I have also read his books and found them lacking–much like Ms. Meyer’s.  I appreciate and don’t appreciate many things about both authors.  On the flip-side, Dan Bergstein blogs about each chapter of the Twilight books after he has read them and made notes while reading.  His opinions are formulated directly from the books themselves (and they are hilariously honest).  These blogs never come fast enough, because he takes his time to really truly delve into why he does not like the books.  Some things he dislikes, I enjoy.  Some things I dislike, he also dislikes.  It’s wonderful to see the differences, because he is not attacking the readers, or even the writer.  He is attacking the content.

That is the true nature of criticism: it must be content based–both the content of the work you are criticizing and your own criticism.  It is not to rant and rail about someone you think is a bad writer and attempt to defame them.  It is not an attempt to draw lovers of perceived “inferior” books away from that love, nor is it to convince the naysayers of their incorrect position.  Criticism is expressing yourself, appropriately and without malice or well-intentioned pushing towards any person.  Criticism is who you are at heart.

That’s why it’s so fascinating.  And that’s why pop criticism is so damaging: you’re hiding yourself behind the heart of someone else.

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