BRAIN SNOBS – Marilyn Armstrong

It isn’t just culture that divides us into classes. What we watch on television, see in the movies, and read also puts us into a category, often unfairly by people who don’t “get” why we like what we like.


I read a post about how dreadful — yet gripping — romance novels can be. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that anyone who reads them is probably not too bright. While it’s true that romance novels are the potato chips of the literary world (bet you can’t eat just one) that’s not the point.

double dip in bookcase

As a former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I assure you that research showed readers of romance novels are better educated than most readers.

They read romance novels because they are pulp. Those readers aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down, and forget. If life gets in the way, they can just never finish the story — without regret.

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I read each 3-book volume, every month. Three romances: 2 modern manuscripts with a Gothic novel sandwiched in between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would prefer people to read, many people (including me!) don’t necessarily want to read “good” books. I void “good” books. I don’t want to go where that book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it. Don’t enjoy the subject matter. Don’t need to be further depressed by the ugly realities of life or history.

Good books can be too intense, too serious, or for too educational for this moment in time. Too close to reality. I read to be entertained. I’m not seeking enlightenment through literature. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment through literature. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

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The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many. Enough genres, themes, and styles for everyone. An infinity of literature. No matter what your taste — low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.


I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too.

Snobs suck the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s okay with me. I love reading about vampires and witches. I’d be more than a hypocrite to act as if your taste is inferior to mine.

old favorite books

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for anything serious — except maybe a conversation. Tastes change over time. Life has been a very serious business for too many years. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I want to escape, Reality will still be there when I get back.

Finally, my favorite professor at the university I attended — a man I believe was profound and wise — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was much truth in those books. I believe for him, there was.

Categories: Arts, Books, Culture, Entertainment, Literature, Marilyn Armstrong, Television

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13 replies

  1. I’m such a ferocious reader that nothing is ‘safe’ from me. I’d read the telephone directory if they’d still exist and nothing else there to read…. But, how come, I’ve never indulged in reading about vampires and witches….. isn’t that ‘funny’ too?! Having just (nearly) completed an international move, where I had to get rid of some 600+ books I’ve loved, read and wanted to keep for just about forever, I was fascinated at all the books I had read and in some cases, entirely forgotten what they were about. I still have some 800+ I ‘needed’ to keep, some favourite authors, some books just too beautiful or mind-blowing to dispose of – later on I’ll cull my approx 60 cookery books in 3 languages & my 30+ garden and flower books – but I won’t be told by anybody that what I read is inferiour, bad, of ‘low’ taste…. if I like it, bestseller or restseller, it’s a GOOD book!


  2. I am not a huge fan of romances but I read them sometimes. Sometimes you feel like a snack, not a full meal and that’s the way I feel about some books. Sometimes I just want to be entertained or read something light before going to sleep.
    A few months ago I was reading “The Last Librarian” a rather grim book about the future. I put it aside because I didn’t need the stress of reading it and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and finish it. I like all kinds of books, it depends on what I am in the mood for at the time.

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  3. Thank you so much! I have always looked at romance novels that way. I read them (or read) them because they were light-hearted, they always (usually) ended on a positive note, they were humourous, they were based on truth (example the job involved had to be accurately portrayed) and the older gothic novels told a truth about history. So, they were a read and set down novel. I love that. Sometimes that’s exactly what I want. That’s what many people want, and the morecomplicated and involved your life, the nicer the escapism is.


  4. There’s a rich assortment of reading out there. I read for various reasons. Sometimes it’s pure escape, curiosity, enlightenment as well. Life is short and you can’t do it all, however, you can read about others who have done it and get a pretty good idea about what life is all about.

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  5. “I read to be entertained.” Thank you for that, Marilyn. I worked with someone who was always about ‘#1 on the best seller list.’ That didn’t really matter to me. I’d much rather go to the thrift store and flip through something that catches my attention. That’s what I’m gonna read. Heck, I love to read cookbooks in bed–quick read, some good recipes and color photos. What more do I need before I turn off the light?!


    • I watch TV and movies for the same reason. If it isn’t entertaining, I don’t want to see it. Garry and I have about a 10 minute “trial” for a movie — especially an older one we seem to have missed. If we missed it, there’s probably something wrong with it — like no plot, bad acting, etc. If at the end of ten minutes it isn’t doing anything for either of us, off it goes.

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