Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Hieroglyph of Fear

In her Dec. 14 column in Salon, "Why We Love Bad Writing," book critic Laura Miller quotes C.S. Lewis's "An Experiment in Criticism" to explain why so many readers might actually prefer the cliches that run through the work of genre writers like Steig Larsson and Dan Brown. "'My blood ran cold' is a hieroglyph of fear," Lewis explained, a kind of hieroglyph that does not require the reader to pay words the "kind and degree of attention" that a more literary turn of phrase would.

I stayed up half the night to finish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I had to work to NOT pay attention to Larsson`s language, which caused much eye-rolling in the opening chapters (at things like the list of computer specs, which in a few years time, will be the equivalent of reading that Lisbeth plugged in her Commodore 64 and turned on her dot-matrix printer). I have no interest in reading the rest of the trilogy: in the end, the flaws in Larsson`s style detracted too much from my enjoyment of his excellent ability to unspool a plot -- in much the same way that the millefeuille-style of a beautifully poetic writer like Anne Michaels detracts from my abiliy to enjoy her storyline.

The problem, as Miller shows, is when critics try to turn these personal preferences into literary laws and then sneer at the hapless law-breakers enjoying their Larsson or their Michaels.

No comments:

Post a Comment