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Too Much Writing

Laura Miller wrote a wonderful piece,

For some, it’s like a loss of virginity; you never forget the book that defeated your na?ve faith in the contract between an author and his or her reader, the promise that your time and effort, even your irritation, will be fairly repaid. (In my case, it was ”A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”; I had had about enough of Master Dedalus, thank you very much.) For anyone who reads books professionally, that faith dissipated long, long ago, and even the perversely principled stick-to-itiveness that makes a person gut out a book that reminds her of a badly chosen spouse has become a distant memory. Even critics who start out as hungry readers, devouring fat volumes in single, 10-hour sittings, learn to nibble, sampling a chapter at a time from each of the dozens of new books that arrive in the mail every week. It’s a warped, unnatural way to read, dictated by uncommon circumstances. ”I now finish no book I start,” says David Gates, a novelist and critic, ”unless I’m reviewing it. Or if it’s wonderful fiction, but I haven’t seen a wonderful novel for a long time.”

Daniel Green responds, praising risky excessiveness in writing:

Whenever I hear or read someone urging writers to be “clear,” to “communicate,” to avoid “trickery,” I can only take it as an exhortation to be good. Not to offend official sensibilities or imply that many readers are too timid in their willingness to take risks. In the name of literary decency not to engage in “too much writing.” Perhaps in the long run these stylistic gatekeepers can be persuaded that literary form and style have nothing to do with morality, but most of them probably don’t really much like literature, anyway, if “literature” is more than just an opportunity to assert your own virtue.

I agree, but one element that needs to be accounted for. Given competing demands for my time and attention, maximalist prose is unlikely to catch many readers. Right now there are lots of videos, games and sitcoms to keep a literate person happy. If I’m going to read a long indulgent piece of prose, I better be wowwed. Smaller forms and simpler writing styles have a better chance of connecting with an audience (especially in this age of international audiences, where English may not be a person’s first language). One reason for the popularity of a fiction project like thingsmygirlfriendhavearguedabout is that it is so easy to approach and requires so little preparation or suspension of disbelief. That’s one reason, by the way, for weblog’s popularity.

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