Within a year of opening Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books, Jack and I had learned the difference between bibliophiles and book snobs.
Bibliophiles will read anything; these are the people who know the ingredients in cereal because they’ve read the box. You see them at airports, closing a book with a sigh and a smile, followed by panic as they realize boarding won’t start for another fifteen minutes. You watch as they get up and read the fine print on the emergency procedure posters.
Book snobs are seen in airports with the latest Hot Topic book: a presidential autobiography; a presidential hopeful’s autobiography; whatever Michael Pollan’s done now (not that there’s anything wrong with him). Book snobs read because they are supposed to have read something, or because they want bragging rights. They read the same things as Everyone Else, or the same concepts in different packages over and over, to prove they are right.
A few months ago I happened to be at a conference with a lot of medical professionals. One of the doctors said every American needed to be required to read the Constitution and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. These were, in his opinion, the foundational documents for the future of a country that must be led by “the best and the brightest, people like us.”
He mispronounced Rand’s first name. Also, the movie had just come out. I’ve come to believe that anyone who discovers an intellectual source of wisdom in a great classic right after the movie debuts might be compensating for something.
We’ve seen it often here at the shop: people looking for a specific book tell you why it’s what everyone must read. These snobs choose books the way they choose their wine, as if incorrectness were possible and could mar enjoyment. Hey, it’s WINE!
Other people come looking for a specific book and tell you why it interests them, and while they’re in they pick up half a dozen others. These bibliophiles choose books based on what they think they’d like, or what they want to know about, not to reinforce things they already know. These are interesting people to converse with. If some are not considered society’s “best and brightest,” well, I’ve never yet met a bibliophile who wasn’t a bright light in a dim world, always putting his or her best foot forward.
And they can tell you all the ingredients in breakfast cereal.