I’m a little shocked this still needs to be said, because it’s just about the only lesson I remember from every writing class I ever took. And I’m really shocked that a blog post about omitting needless words and writing clearly is so repetitive and fractured. But just so we’re clear: be concise.
Holy crap. Did we forget that great writers sweat over sentence structure and word choice? Read some Hemingway or Steinbeck whydontcha!
Update: I have a modern, blogging example of this: Jorn Barger’s blogging and writing are so concise as to be nearly uncompressible.
Update 2: It further occurs to me that there’s a term for uncompressible, unskimable text that distills only the essence of meaning: poetry.
Here’s an interesting argument that reading Harry Potter isn’t “real” reading–for adults, and it also debunks the “gateway” metaphor for kids–but simply participation in one more carefully-choreographed, highly-mediated event. I guess the good news is that culturally we appear to have some tolerance ceiling for carefully-choreographed, highly-mediated experiences. Maybe.
Getting past the idea of Harry Potter and his rabid fans being the philistines at the hedgerow of serious literature, this article also touches on the idea of the death of criticism and the ascendancy of the review. The difference is that a review is essentially a piece of marketing material, most often in favor of the piece, only occasionally against (in the context of defusing an over-hyped “project”). Criticism by contrast is comparative, attempting to get at the meaning of a work’s broad relation to other works and cultural memes.
The broader issue here is whether reading is purely escapist entertainment (book reviews perform the function of TV Guide), or whether it has deeper personal importance and meaning (the critical approach). This is an important distinction because in the former case reading is essentially trivial: like most mass media today, a base, simplistic reflection of populism and mediocrity (and what is Harry Potter, a book or movie consumed by millions of people over the same weekend, if not a mass medium?). In the latter case, if reading has personal meaning and importance, then the prevalence and condition of critical, thoughtful readers becomes a culturally vital issue. Harper’s has an extended article on this topic that I highly recommend.
Now that the mourning is over, definitely time to move on to the self-congratulation. If you don’t want to read that piece of trash, I’ll summarize: “MSNBC: we’re so full of hot air we can toot our own horn while maintaining our 24×7 efforts to blow smoke up your ass.” It’s also worth noting that MSN redesigned their homepage at the last minute with a larger main image to “convey the magnitude” of the story, which is I’m pretty sure the ultimate Internet-era expression of “if it bleeds, it leads.” The example image they use is a bunch of people walking across a lawn, which I’ll admit has a lot more impact when you add 20 pixels of width.
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to read blog posts sequentially without using an RSS feed? Look at any blog–boingboing.net, any Wired blog, even this blog. Read the entire first page. Then try to read the next posting. None of them end with a “next” link (my blog used to, before I started using blogger). They end with “archives” or nothing. And if you click “archives,” you don’t get the next item you haven’t read; you get a repeat of the posts you’ve already read. So basically if you fall behind by a few days (or in some cases a few hours) you’re screwed. What up with that?
Penguin’s massively collaborative novel experiment–A Million Penguins–seems to be off to a rocky start. It’s a wiki, so it could easily self-improve at any moment, but I wouldn’t count on it. Right now it’s execrable. I mean truly ghastly.
“Big Tony,” a voice said, “There’s a call for you.”
Big Tony carefully put down his cards and looked at the bartender, slightly raising his left eyebrow. “For you? But everyone knows not to call me here?”
“They’re calling your mobile – how would they know where you at?”
“Of course,” said Tony, nodding meaningfully as he took the cell phone out of his pocket. He might be “mean and dumb as a man can come” but he was also a little slow.
“Hello” said the voice on the phone, “Is that Huge Tony?”
“No, this is Big Tony.”
“Sorry – wrong Tony.”
I know, rather than complain I could simply edit it. In fact, just snipping it out like this makes it sound slightly funny–like maybe it’s trying to be a little madcap and ironic. It’s not.
Start editing this? Might as well piss in the ocean on a rainy day.