Bibliophiles versus Book Snobs

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.

Robo-Owen’s Guide to Reverse Culture Shock

We are pleased to present here the first of Andrew-the-shopsitter’s guest blogs post-shopsitting. He promises to send them now and again, and we look forward to them. For those unfamiliar with the term, Robo-Owen is a wee anamatronic kitten presented to Ali and Andrew on their departure.

It’s now been a few weeks since I left Big Stone Gap. And while I didn’t feel as if I had experienced any culture shock following my arrival in September, I must admit some reverse effects upon setting foot in New York again. My ability to maneuver in crowds is only now returning, after a number of shoulder bashes on busy avenues. I am very wary of cops, and have somehow convinced myself that there are a number of New York street laws I’ve somehow forgotten and am unconsciously violating. My ability to pick good pizza slices has atrophied.

There have also been positive side effects. I find myself itching to replicate some of the regular activities from the bookstore (although I don’t see many of my friends having the requisite skills for Needlework Night). I seek out company in ways I didn’t before… in small town ways. Instead of waiting to catch up at a party I’ve dropped in on friends to chat and drink tea. I cooked some recipes I learned at my family’s Thanksgiving. And I find myself back in the habit of reading.

There is a suspicious lack of animals in my apartment. Sure, there are the mice, roaches, and centipedes, but they’re not good company like cats and dogs. Speaking of, I introduced my brother’s cat Baxter to Robo-Owen. They seem to get along, but judge for yourself.


Robo-Owen is a poor doppelgänger for the possibly-evil, possibly-dumb real thing. For one, he never interferes with my cooking. But now my food-defense instincts are so strong and ingrained I’d be ready if he somehow reprogrammed himself for human food. He also doesn’t have claws, so my skin is no longer a tapestry of angry red lines. This makes him a disappointing sparring partner. Sometimes I’ll try and goad him, but unlike the real thing Robo-Owen is unflappable. Robo-Owen never falls asleep on my stomach or leaps into my arms. All in all he’s good company, and even has a mechanical purr, but he’s no replacement for the real deal Owen Meany.

Just like Robo-Owen is no real cat, I’m no longer a real shopsitter. But old habits die hard, so I may just start loitering around my local used bookstore until they kick me out for aggressive re-alphabetizing. Whatever my future away from Big Stone Gap may hold, I know that book and bookstore culture will remain a part of my life. So I look forward to sharing more of my own experiences with the book life in the near future.

Happy Holidays to all of you and to all of my friends in Big Stone Gap!