Daily Archives: September 8, 2009

Sunday’s post on Tuesday

Good Novels Don’t Have to Be Hard Work – WSJ.com:

There was a time when difficult literature was exciting. T.S. Eliot once famously read to a whole football stadium full of fans. And it’s still exciting—when Eliot does it. But in contemporary writers it has just become a drag. Which is probably why millions of adults are cheating on the literary novel with the young-adult novel…

They need something they’re not getting elsewhere.

All of this is changing. The revolution is under way. The novel is getting entertaining again. Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few, are busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction: fantasy, science fiction, detective fiction, romance.

I’ve been toying around with a theory of levels of entertainment in (mostly) reading materials. 1st level entertainment is the story. It’s the hook, the ease of reading, the likable characters. 1st level is the things that make a book accessible to nearly everyone. Second level entertainment basically equals complexity: complexity of language, complexity of plot, complexity of ideas being presented. To reap (more) enjoyment from second level, the reader has to put in some work.

If you think about them as axes, most novels and other stories have degrees of both of these levels. The average Ricard Laymon book has mostly 1st level attributes. His novels are fun reads; there might be a little twist of plot, but nothing that would lose most people. Ray Bradbury is pretty much 1st level in terms of plot with some 2nd level language thrown in. Many older “classic” works of fiction are so bogged down by archaic 2nd level language that they are very hard for modern audiences to appreciate. YA fiction, even when it presents a ‘complex’ plot and characters, is still going to be closer to 1st level, otherwise it would be an adult novel. Obviously, the sweet spot is to present a ripping-good plot that deals with interesting and complex ideas. I’ll be honest: with the Weordan novels, we’re shooting for that.

But then again, while it is tempting to simplify ideas down into easy categories (1st and 2nd level *eyeroll*), it is rarely a good idea:
Industry-Backed Label Calls Sugary Cereal a ‘Smart Choice’ – NYTimes.com:

“You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal,” Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. “So Froot Loops is a better choice.”

That’s just a horrible quote. Parents are not weighing Froot Loops versus doughnuts when looking at this green checkmark. They’re weighing Cereal A versus Cereal B.  And considering not all products are being rated, this boils down to a useless marketing tool.

Also, mostly unrelated but interesting:
Fairy tales have ancient origin – Telegraph