It’s popular to bash Dan Brown. The author of Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, among others, is often criticized for a clumsy or lazy style of writing. I confess to having only read one of his books so I can’t claim to be a “fan” per se, but I admire Brown’s obvious ability to entertain and feel comfortable in his own skin as a writer. He regularly brushes off the criticism and keeps fans lining up for his latest books. Speaking of, today is the release date for Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, and all the same old criticisms are again being tossed his way.
I can’t help but think of William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), one of my favorite writers and author of the classic, Of Human Bondage. Maugham received, and continues to receive by some, much of the the same criticisms as Dan Brown hears today. What it comes down to is a simple, clear language that is meant to be understood as opposed to impressing the critics. The horror!
B.R. Myers stirred up the literary community in an article for The Atlantic in 2001 titled, ‘A Reader’s Manifesto: An attack on the growing pretentiousness of American literary prose.’ It was later expanded into an excellent book. It tackled this very question that pits writers like Maugham and Brown against those who are lauded by the critics, yet write in a style that is sometimes hard to decipher. Think Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo…you get the idea, those writers we’re all supposed to like, even if we sometimes read them and wince. The Myers article/book looks at all this and asks questions that dare to take on the literary establishment.
Meanwhile, millions continue to read Dan Brown and still read Somerset Maugham with great enjoyment, critics be damned.
Compare these thoughts from both, almost one hundred years apart:
” I wanted to write without any frills of language, in as bare and unaffected a manner as I could. I had so much to say that I could afford to waste no words. I wanted merely to set down the facts. I began with the impossible aim of using no adjectives at all. I thought that if you could find the exact term a qualifying epithet could be dispensed with. As I saw it in my mind’s eye my book would have the appearance of an immensely long telegram in which for economy’s sake you had left out every word that was not necessary to make the sense clear. On taking thought it seemed to me that I must aim at lucidity, simplicity and euphony. I have put these three qualities in the order of the importance I assigned to them.”
- William Somerset Maugham in The Summing Up
“It’s funny to me that there are critics who say, ‘Oh, it’s a lazy style’. I believe that the purpose of language is to convey an idea and I personally don’t like language getting in the way. I don’t want to read things where I’m just drowning in the prose…There are times when you read for the beauty of language, but there are also times when you read to be entertained or to get information. That’s how I try to write – as clearly as possible so you don’t have to read a sentence twice. All of that is intentional and there are various kinds of devices that I use – very intentionally and very carefully – to create that reading experience.”
- Dan Brown in London’s Sunday Times
It all sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? For better or worse, let the debate continue.
Meanwhile here comes Inferno, expected to be the biggest book of 2013. You can’t help but wonder if Somerset Maugham, having entertained millions with Of Human Bondage, The Razor’s Edge, Cakes and Ale - and so many more - must be smiling on the success of Dan Brown, and Brown’s millions of fans enjoying his books without a thought of literary this or literary that.
- Mike Swickey
And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul.
Isn’t it amusing how those of us in the developed nations of the world have become so comfortable with using big numbers? We think nothing of mentioning a million here, a billion there. Mere hundreds of thousands are no big deal. But then, when you consider that human beings live only some thirty thousand days, give or take a few hundred, numbers begin to take on an entirely different perspective—at least, with respect to time. Our lives don’t even amount to a million hours.
I rarely delve into politics at the Notebook. But there are always exceptions and I can’t think of a better one. I’ve been reading Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report since I was 12 years old. (I know - a total geek.) I’m now 53. I have just read, this past week, the finest piece of investigative journalism I can remember in my lifetime. Put simply, if this had been published in a major newspaper - it would walk away with the Pulitzer Prize. The fact that they opened up the Pulitzer to online publications and still disallow anything published in a printed magazine is a travesty - and this article shows why that is so.
If you can get your hands on the actual publication I highly encourage you to read it that way. There are many charts left out of the online version. The digital Time for iPad, etc., though, is page for page like the printed edition.
But, this article is so well written that the simple printed version from Time.com is absolutely devastating - even without all the charts. Like never before, the lid has been blown off of the entire racket of hospitals (profit and so-called ‘non-profit,’) Big Pharma, medical device makers, Big Insurance. the lie of “we lose money with Medicare” (the largest Medicare state, Florida, has hospitals expanding for Medicare patients and ceaseless advertising directed to Medicare patients. You don’t do that if they “cost you money.”), the list is long.
The biggest surprise? The industry-written law (they don’t want you to know that) referred to as, “ObamaCare” touches almost none of this. Their gravy train is protected.
Again, the printed or ‘digital’ copies on iPad and mobile devices would be the best experience in reading this outstanding piece of journalism. But, here is the link to Time.com - the entire article is VERY long, but every citizen owes it to themselves - and to their country - to read this. It is riveting and the time taken to read and digest this will fly by. It’s that well-written by Mr. Brill.
Do not be discouraged. Steven Brill turned on the lights and the roaches may very well scatter to, at first, defend their abominable practices. In the end, there seems to me, no way that Americans can accept the corrupt status quo after this magnificent piece of journalism that is destined to be talked about decades from now. Thank you, Steven Brill and Time Magazine, for the incredible guts it took to publish this when so many of your advertising pages are paid for by some of the very industries eviscerated in this piece.
- Mike Swickey
“Once a thing is known it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten. And, in a way that bends time, so long as it is remembered, it will indicate the future. It is wiser, in every circumstance, to forget, to cultivate the art of forgetting. To remember is to face the enemy. The truth lies in remembering.”
– Anita Brookner from the opening paragraph of her 1983 novel, Look At Me.
I love Anita Brookner - and she’s one smart lady.
I am, without question, a bibliomaniac. I am one who struggles with ebooks because, simply, they aren’t really books. Don’t get me wrong, I buy ebooks (too many) - but my love is with real, true-blue books, printed and bound with that feel and smell that only books have. I own thousands and can’t imagine not having my personal library. For me, it’s like air.
I’ve always liked this - from A Passion For Books:
We are among those for whom there is no such thing as too many books and, as a consequence, have become inured, of necessity, to that ridiculous question we all face from time to time from those who do not share our passion: “Have you read all these books?”
We are the people who can spend hours browsing through the shelves of a bookstore, completely oblivious not only to the passage of time, but to everything else around us.
We are the people for whom buying books is not a luxury but a necessity, those who can understand what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, “I cannot live without books,” and how Desiderius Erasmus could write, “When I have a little money I buy books. And if any is left, I buy food and clothing.”