DJ Taylor—who calls himself a "snobographer"—has an enjoyable, lively styleby Lucinda Smyth / November 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Writing a book about snobbery is a dangerous task. It can lay the author open to the same charge, the reader’s eye prepped for pretension, or alternatively, to the question of qualification: “who are you to be writing a book about snobs?” Luckily, DJ Taylor, who calls himself a “snobographer,” approaches the topic with sufficient wit and self-awareness to avoid falling into either of these potholes.
Inspired by WM Thackeray’s The Book of Snobs (1848), Taylor’s The New Book of Snobs is an exploration of English pomposity and pretension, tracing the history of the modern snob back to the mid-19th-century middle class. Suffusing linguistic analysis with historical and literary criticism, Taylor considers the changing definition of the term up until the present day, along with its notable perpetrators and victims.
One of the joys of the book is Taylor’s lively style. Nobody, he tells us, is really exempt from the flexible “snob” label, from the Merseysider who “ostentatiously employs the stop fricative,” to the parents who, “glancing through their children’s university applications, murmur: ‘I think that used to be a polytechnic.’” Taylor’s point is that snobbery is not just a class issue. There are regional snobs, media snobs, film snobs, technology snobs… the list goes on.
The downside of this sweeping approach is that certain issues are glossed over (sexism; racism), and sometimes the book reads like a 20th-century relic. Although it is certainly “new,” it does not quite feel “modern.” Overall, however, Taylor deals with his subject with flair and sensitivity.