In response to Alexis's entry, "Are You Listening, Oprah?" LSJ commented:
I think some of the best written books in the world are for children, not adults.
I honestly can't agree more... except to add that some of the best pure storytelling can be found in children's and young adult's books.
Unfortunately, as we get older, I think it's pounded into our heads that our themes must be bigger and the language must be loftier, and the simple act of telling a good, strong story in an engaging way becomes forgotten entirely. Or is considered too simplistic a goal for a work of capital-L "Literature."
I would argue that a lot of the "bigger" themes in adult literature really aren't as profound as the authors and many critics would like us to believe. Burying a trite theme beneath acres of tangled, overly self-conscious prose doesn't actually make the theme more meaningful, does it?
When I look at the first paragraphs that Dave has posted on this very blog, I find myself thinking, No WONDER the Harry Potter books are so popular among adults!
I don't mean to pick on the authors of these two books — the same holds true for any number of titles that fill the New York Times Book Review each week. It's come to the point that I feel like much adult literature is actually an endurance test: Do you dare admit defeat?
The ever-colorful Pipi comments:
shouldn't we all just dispense with our faux-intelligence, come off the increasingly high hobby horse of self-deception, and admit once and for all, that there are indeed books of such grandiose stature and sweeping depth that in fact, some of us CANNOT READ?
I question that assertion. Yes, okay, I admit — Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum absolutely defeated me. I've read warranties that made more sense. There's a guy who outsmarted me.
But the vast majority of tomes that aspire to "grandiose stature and sweeping depth" are unreadable to me not because they're too deep and complex, but because they're written in a dense style that fails to interest or engage me. When you can see the flopsweat hit the page because the author is trying SO, SO HARD to amaze and astound us with his/her linguistic skills and poetic eloquence, I have to ask myself, To what end?
Does this really make the thin, not-as-profound-as-the-author-hopes story any more enjoyable?
Certainly not for me. If that renders me a philistine, then I embrace the title. I'll even make a sash to wear around so everyone knows that I'm just not dazzled by fifteen pages of self-consciously "clever" footnotes.
I would pit the opening paragraphs of Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman, Robert Cormier, or any number of popular kids' and YA authors against these opening paragraphs any day. I'll wager that I get to that next paragraph — indeed, the next page; and likely, all the ones following — far more often.
Reading isn't a popularity contest, nor should it become one. But I wonder how many of today's authors are interested in communicating a good story to a riveted audience... and how many just have their eyes on those literary prizes that have so little to do with how enjoyable a book actually is.
Books mentioned in this post