Thursday 8 September 2011

Literary Blog Hop, September 8-11

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is back! Yay! The trusty internetness tells me that I haven't participated since the start of July, so it's good to be back. Hosted as ever by the fab The Blue Bookcase, this week they ask:

Must all literary writing be difficult? Can you think of examples of literary writing that wasn't difficult?

I think the answer to this question depends on your definition of difficult, and your definition of literary. I would consider, for example, childrens books like His Dark Materials trilogy to be pretty literary (I'll fight you about that one, seriously) but in terms of language, it's not very difficult to read, although I suppose it is conceptually pretty complex.

In fact, maybe it's not difficulty that people are talking about when they talk about literary works at all, but rather complexity, which is a completely different thing- just because you have to pay a lot of attention and apply a lot of analysis to a book yourself, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just a sign of how complex the book is, or, in other words, how good it is. In terms of what I read, the books I find the most difficult to read are not necessarily the most complex (East of Eden, for example, is pretty complex, but it's so easy to just sail through-or at least that's what I find) but rather the ones that use the most 'clunky' language- Dickens is my ultimate nightmare, because he uses about 20 words to say what Steinbeck could achieve in about two. Difficulty for me, then, comes when someone rambles for no good reason, rather than when they use the sparsest amount of words to have the biggest impact, and nothing is superfluous to the story- a kind of complexity that doesn't at all have to be difficult.

If that made any sense then that's a bit of a miracle- I am a little bit rusty on attempting to talk intelligently about anything. I guess my point is though, that while a literary work is always complex, it doesn't, as an extension of this automatically have to be difficult. That's just my opinion- what do you have to say on the matter? Think 'literary' works are just awful, difficult pieces of trash? Let me know in the comments and I'll tell you why you're wrong...


  1. I actually kind of want to try East of Eden because it looks complex (in content at least) but it doesn't have the clunky language of someone like Dickens. I think there's a place for Dickens, but he's not my first choice.

  2. This is such a multi faceted question that is also very subjective so it would be hard for me to answer, but I think you did a good job!

  3. His Dark Materials trilogy is the perfect example of what I was trying to get at in my response (and I posted my review of the triolgy only the other day!).

    The challenge or difficulty in literary fiction is in the ideas and themes, not the prose which could be as easy to read as other types of fiction.

  4. One of my favorite Jane Austen quotes makes me laugh because it pokes fun at the verbosity of some authors: "I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible." The idea that a more skilled writer will write unintelligible sentences just doesn't fly with me. Allowing for differences in style, generally speaking I think that more skill should equal the ability to communicate your ideas in fewer words. Like your Dickens/Steinbeck comparison. :)

  5. I agree, a complex novel needn't be overly verbose. I recently read Madame Bovary and Flaubert employs very simple language to communicate complex ideas. So complexity doesn't have to be present in the style of the narrative to be present in a novel's themes and ideas that are brimming below the surface.