The Downsides of Everyone Being a Critic

Not everyone is as lucky as those of us in Core. Very few can boast such an encompassing grasp of great works as we can; even less learn how to talk about these works, yet we, also, are able to hold a conversation with the best of them concerning Suicide, The Republic, any of the books we read in however many semesters of Core we take.

Yet we are the minority. Yes, more of the population than ever now attends university (rough estimate of 21.8 million students nation wide in 2013 an increase of over 6 million students since 2000), but many of these students will go their entire college careers without reading any Dante or without even knowing what the Daodejing is. All of which is perfectly fine, of course. For many of these students, the idea that every person should be “well-read” was never reinforced, and the books they read in high school seemed more a chore than a joy helping them educate and enlighten themselves. This applies even more to those who never went to college, although avid readers pop up everywhere, single-handedly keeping libraries and used book stores in business. Without a doubt, the literary world is not the hot topic entertainment source of one hundred, even fifty, years ago.
And as I said, this is ok. Despite many of our personal feelings on the increasingly small literary sphere, no one can be faulted for mass societal changes; no one can fight shows like Breaking Bad or Downton Abbey. Who would even want to? Some things need to be accepted. The real problem comes with the growing idea that being well-read is an elitist pursuit of the pretentious. I remember growing up, if you liked to read you were a bookworm or a nerd (although the title rarely mattered because the books you read provided such assurance of your later success)…

But now we have snobbish. As Laura Miller puts it in this wonderful article about the supposed elitism of the literary world:

Intellectual insecurity is, alas, a pervasive problem in the literary world. You can find it among fans of easy-to-read commercial fiction who insist (on very little evidence) that the higher-brow stuff is uniformly fraudulent and dull, and you can find it among those mandarin bibliophiles who dismiss whole genres (on equally thin evidence) out of hand. One of the favorite gambits of people secretly uncertain about their own taste is identifying some popular book of incontestably lower quality than their own favorites and then running all over the Internet posting extravagant takedowns of it and taunting its fans. Yeah, I’m not crazy about “Fifty Shades of Grey,” either, but I’m not going to invest that much energy in proclaiming this sentiment to the world. To do so suggests you’re less interested in championing good writing than you are in grabbing any chance to feel superior to somebody else.

So there it is, the new question. Is literature becoming more pretentious or are people simply less attuned to it? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and as always, have a wonderful weekend!

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