This is the comment I posted on Robert’s article (make sure you read all of it, it’s good–plus my response will make more sense that way!):
A book to me is bad if the author deliberately obscures what he/she means, and it’s only the “chosen few” (i.e. lit majors and professors) who truly “understand” the book. Examples: James Joyce, William Faulkner, etc. Writing to obscure one’s meaning doesn’t make any sense to me, unless you’re really a pompous ass and only want the few people who are “intelligent” enough to understand your book. I don’t know if Joyce and Faulkner were actually pompous asses, but from what I’ve read of each of them, they sure seem like it. And it always seems that the critics who “enjoy” these books are those who want to say “Look at me! I understand Joyce! Look how smart I am!” Reading isn’t like that for me. Reading is pleasure. Reading is personal. Reading isn’t supposed to be about how smart or how dumb I am–or how smart or dumb anyone else is–for being able to understand or not being able to understand a certain book.
Most writing I appreciate is usually just a story, no more, no less. At the beginning of high school English classes, when we first began to look at stories more deeply and analyze them through the symbolism they were supposedly chock full of, I thought it was cool, and in some cases I truly did end up with a deeper understanding of the book. Other times, it felt like we were digging for something that simply wasn’t there. But the worst times were when everything we were looking for was pretty clearly there, as though the author was beating us over the head with it, saying “look what I can do!”
I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t like books that seem like they have something to prove. They don’t. Books are books. If they get published and people read them, you have succeeded. Success should not be not making high schoolers hate your writing forevermore because it only makes sense to the enlightened few.
What do you think?by