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Literature [Jul. 17th, 2004|07:16 am]
[Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

Way back while you were all still sleeping, I wrote the first requested slash fiction, a Holmes and Watson pairing (that you won't be able to read unless you have donated). One of the things that the requester said she wanted most of all was a sense of the language, that cool, formal style in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, and which I think I did a reasonable job of capturing.

A lot of the reason I could do so is that I have read a fair sampling of that literature. I understand the voice, and the vocabulary.

I worry that people are no longer learning to appreciate the joy of a meaty read.

Don't get me wrong; I am a great fan of the Harry Potter books and other books of adventure and tales of excitement of recent vintage. But there is nothing challenging in the vocabulary of these books, nothing that draws attention to the power and beauty of the very words themselves. J.K. Rowling is a ripping storyteller and a clumsy wordsmith, relying on a plethora of adverbs to substitute for description. I cannot recall a single turn of phrase that I reread simply for the beauty of the words themselves. The books are long, and they are dense, but they are, nonetheless, easy reads.

And I fear that in making reading as accessible an entertainment as television, we risk raising children who will not voluntarily take on challenging reads.

This is not a matter of simply preferring "dead white guy literature." The broader ones expanse of vocabulary and ideas, the more one can think about. There is a direct corellation between vocabulary and intelligence, and it's not innate.

Language is poetry, and music, and imagery. It is not simply a tool for getting a story line from point A to point B. Authors of an earlier time digressed into philosophy, or moral lessons, and their readers followed. They played games with the words. We need more of that.

[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2004-07-17 11:42 am (UTC)
Can you give a couple of examples of books that you think have done this particularly well?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-07-17 11:49 am (UTC)
Anything by Jane Austin, particularly Pride and Prejudice.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

All of Shakespeare

Middlemarch by George Elliot

In recent times, Ivan Doig's Montana trilogy - start with Dancing at the Rascal Fair, because it is chronologically first, then English Creek, then Ride With Me, Mariah Montana. Rascal Fair is best.

Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, for the first third. Then she gets busy telling the story and there is a marked loss of the voice - still a good book, and a fascinating look at how the loss of great language use changes the storytelling.

Laurens Van der Post's A Story Like the Wind, a beautiful book in which almost nothing happens, and its sequel, A Far Off Place, which is all action, are also an excellent contrasts of language use.
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[User Picture]From: tevriel
2004-07-17 11:51 am (UTC)
Dammit, I was working! Working! Not sleeping!

... I require implicit validation of the incredibly bad day I had at work today. *g*
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-07-17 11:52 am (UTC)
Very true. I was neglecting my international audience.

I'm sorry you had a bad day.
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[User Picture]From: chaosdancer
2004-07-17 12:51 pm (UTC)
You're right about Rowling...love her to bits, but the times she uses the *wrong* word really bug me. ("Repressively" when she means "dismissively," for one.) I often think of what Mark Twain said when I read her - "The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug."
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-07-17 01:22 pm (UTC)
"The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug."

I love this. Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: kalieris
2004-07-17 02:37 pm (UTC)
I have noticed in myself the reluctance to take on a challenging read. Even though I used to love doing that, I've gotten a bit lazy over time. So I found myself one of those "Classical Lit" reading lists, and am embarking on a quest to read all 165 books on it over the next year. I can read one "mental snack" a week while doing this (rather than the 5 or 6 I used to).

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-07-17 02:39 pm (UTC)
A good goal. I'd love to see the list!
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[User Picture]From: thejunebug
2004-07-17 05:31 pm (UTC)
What if you donated a couple days ago and still can't see the slash? *mournful* Sherlock Holmes slash!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-07-17 05:40 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't have an association between your real name and your lj name. I've added you, but please let me know which donation to hang you on!
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From: flense
2004-07-18 12:16 am (UTC)
Would Howard Zinn and/or Noam Chomsky count? They're well educated, but I would assume they'd try to make their writing less challenging to read, so as to spread the word more effieciently.

As for Harry Potter - well, I now know why those books are thicker than they need to be.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-07-18 12:18 am (UTC)
I was thinking more of the language of fiction. I find Chomsky tedious and irritating.
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[User Picture]From: batshua
2004-07-18 05:50 am (UTC)
For a second there, I read that as a slash pairing.


I love Noam Chomsky, but only as a linguist and I never wish to see him be a sexual linguist. (I'm assuming Howard Zinn is male and thus Mr. Chomsky can't be a cunning linguist.)
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[User Picture]From: ysabel
2004-07-18 03:17 pm (UTC)
Actually, I'm enjoying the hell out of reading Steven Brust's The Paths Of The Dead, The Lord Of Castle Black and (I hope soon) Sethra Lavode in part because of the completely ridiculous style in which it's written...
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-07-19 04:30 am (UTC)
Ooo, may have to look into those.
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