Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hornby on Reading

I have New York friends who ask me why I remain a fan of Nick Hornby's. It's partly because he expresses sentiments like this one, which I don't think many of my Yankee friends could bring themselves to endorse:
I am not particularly interested in language. Or rather, I am interested in what language can do for me, and I spend many hours each day trying to ensure that my prose is as simple as it can possibly be.

But I do not wish to produce prose that draws attention to itself, rather than the world it describes, and I certainly don't have the patience to read it.
Read the whole thing.

(Addendum: The New York friends aren't all adamantly opposed to Hornby, but there is a sense among them that he's not a serious critic -- I don't think he would claim to be -- and that he's often too flippant or unclear about what he says. For instance, one friend, and I think she's right, has already e-mailed me to say that his "not particularly interested in language" comment cited above is both technically inaccurate given what follows and dangerously soft-headed in the era of President Bush's unintentional but still formidable assault on language as a potent communicative tool. Unintentional in the sense that he's not anti-language so much as language-deficient himself. He might daydream about being T.S. Eliot, for all we know, the same way I might daydream about being Derek Jeter; doesn't make me a clutch hitter.)

(Via Normblog)


Blogger Jamal Alsaffar said...

John, you know about my shared admiration of Hornby so I must ask who that you know criticizes his writing style and on what bases? Let us hope it is not singularly due to his commercial success (gasp, what a crime). One would think "smart" Yankees could make a finer distinctiont than that. Hornby is indeed a wonderful writer. Any writer who can pen a book that requires one to literally tear him or herself away from it, is worthy of high praise.

And Hornby is right about makes a good read a good read (or as I am sure he would say "spot on."). I too think I am qualified, whatever that means, to speak on this topic with some authority. I have a degree in philosophy which required me to wade through the most heavy handed exhibitions of faux writing ever put to paper (and to be fair also took me on wonderful intellectual adventures when the writing was good). I have read Kant's critique of pure reason, Camus, Sartre, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Descartes--in short all the impressive sounding folks. I have a law degree as well and therefore have read even more impenetrable examples of fake intellectualism. I have also read the Da Vinci Code, and all the Harry Potter books. And I can say this without a hint of guilt--J.K. Rowling is a great writer. John Grisham, another notable commercial success? Not so much after the first one. I am confident in my assessment of what makes a good writer. I have the requisite letters after my name to get into the "we know better than you" room. Upon entering, of course, I would like to burn said room to the ground.

In the end, good writing is writing that makes you want to keep reading. Anyone who can accomplish that, regardless of genre, is ok in my book. Pun intended...

3:28 PM  

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