I did something a few weeks ago I don’t do anywhere near as often as I’d like to. I read a book.
Now, you would think that is something that would happen more often. After all, I am a writer. And everybody knows that one of the main prerequisites for being a writer is being a reader as well.
To be honest, I wish I was more of a reader. But for reasons I don’t want to go into in too much detail (at least not here – maybe I’ve just identified the topic for my next post), I’m actually doing very little reading at the moment. But, just for a couple of days, I discovered a small gap in my schedule, just sufficient to squeeze a book in.
I don’t want to name the book, or the writer. Needless to say, it’s a book by someone with a high literary profile (a Booker Prize winner no less), that generally received highly positive reviews from the literary press.
There were aspects of the book I didn’t mind (I finished it, which is more than I can say for a number of other books I’ve attempted in recent years – particularly ones of a literary bent), but overall I can’t say I loved it. My primary impression was that the writer was trying to be clever. Really clever. All through the book, they were showing off their cleverness, not just in the reams of information they reeled out, but also in the way that they did the reeling. Presumably, many readers are impressed by that. Me, not so much.
Not that I have a problem with books that are clever. Far from it. Cleverness is one of the top attributes in anything I read. It’s just that there seems, to me anyway, to be a point where the cleverness becomes so overwhelming it forces out everything else. And I like to think that stories should rely on more than a single element. Maybe some genuine emotion, whether romance or sadness or fear. Maybe a bit of action. Or, my personal favourite, maybe a bit of fun.
I think clever and fun is my favourite combination in a story. The fun leavens the cleverness, so it doesn’t get too pompous or show-offy. And the cleverness means the fun is something a little more than purely frivolous. That’s a combination I really enjoy reading (or watching). It’s even a combination I like to hear in the music I listen to. And it’s what I’m constantly striving for in the stories I write as well.
So by all means, don’t hide your cleverness. There’s no value in dumbing down. But don’t make cleverness a means in itself. Give me a bit of fun as well.
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