OyChicago blog

A bookish confession

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06/12/2009

I admit it. I’m a snob. A literary snob, that is.

Growing up, books were everywhere. What little extra room was available in my parents’ apartment was occupied by floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with tomes as varied as The Secret Garden and an obscure pre-revolutionary edition of Little Women to the complete works of Lev Tolstoy and Shakespeare. The shelves at my grandparents’ place were similarly crowded.

Some kids might balk at books as birthday presents, but I relished them and was never short for requests. For my seventh, my grandparents gave me an “Adventure Library”, a set of historical adventure novels. The collection is one of my prized possessions, and I made sure that it made the trek from Moscow to the United States when we moved in 1996.

As a child I’d consume books, constantly looking for new titles. One memorable experience had me reading Nabokov’s Lolita at the tender age of 12. Guess how much I understood of that one? Having re-read it as a college student, I realized that I had skipped important parts of the book simply because I did not find the philosophical musings of the pedophilic Humbert Humbert interesting. But to an adult’s mind – while still disturbing – the parts I skipped are the heart of the book.

Despite entirely missing the point of a book because it was not age appropriate, I have not been prevented from continuously attempting to gobble up at least three books at a time. That has been true most of the time – with the exception of my time in graduate school when every spare moment was devoted to digesting academic jargon.

My fascination with literature of all kinds has so far proven a double-edged sword. I often judge people by whether they have read a certain book or not. There are Russian novels that I consider hallmarks of the culture and having read them indelibly marks a person as a member of the intellectual elite. See, that’s where the snobbishness comes in.

Admittedly, I haven’t read all 100 books on Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels” list or Time Magazine’s “100 Greatest Novels of All Time” collection. But at about three-quarters of the way through, I figure I’m pretty close.

P.S. If you need recommendations, I’ve been on a memoir kick, reading about Jews in Arab lands: André Aciman’s Out of Egypt and Lucette Lagnado’s The Man in the White Sharksin Suit: My Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. Both are intensely personal stories of growing up Jewish in Egypt and moving to the United States. There’s something fascinating about reading of another person’s journey to America.

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