Wonderful Books, Awful Books
Now that ‘Invisible Ink’ is finally wending its way toward us in a definitive form (publishers being met, deals being studied etc) I find myself with a dilemma. The weekly column, which ran for almost ten years in the Independent on Sunday, perfectly suits expansion into a longform format, but I’d like to sift the wheat from the chaff and lose some of the less interesting authors I included at the time for the sake of deadlines, editorial requests and so on.
One of the sections that I first thought should go was on the subject of ‘Authors That Deserve To Be Forgotten’. I know how hard it is to get published in the first place so I’m the last person to diss a weak effort. I did knock Stephen King’s ‘Dreamcatcher’, mainly because its hugely expensive marketing campaign bullied every columnist in the UK to cover it irregardless of merits – I think I described it as a long literary hamburger marred by television-derived cliches – but I also said nice things about King himself, whom I have never met but greatly admire for a variety of reasons.
So, should you cover books you don’t like as well as the ones you do? Reading is so subjective. Well, part of the fun of ‘Invisible Ink’ was to name and shame a few of the books that became huge hits even though we now look back and ask ourselves, ‘What on earth were we thinking?’ Brigid Brophy famously wrote a book entitled ’50 Works of English Literature We could Do Without’, but sharing actual titles usually gets you into trouble with readers.
I have that problem with Terry Pratchett – I simply don’t get him. I’ve tried, God knows, but for me nothing about his Dumbledore-ish work, from his lifeless prose to his secondhand ideas, takes flight. His vociferous fans would obviously disagree and have every right to. Perhaps I should have read him when I was ten.
The problem is that I detest flat sentences. I’m not sure I can ever forgive Stephen King for saying that no writer ever needs a Thesaurus – good language makes the slightest plot endurable. Having just reread ‘Titus Groan’ for the third time, I’m of the opinion that Mervyn Peake could write ten pages about a dry stone wall and make it thrilling, which is why I love reading Pulitzer Prize entries. The Pulitzer winners are prose stylists, unlike the Booker winners, who generally follow the current line of fashion.
The upshot is – there will be a section on bad writing in the new ‘Invisible Ink’. More news shortly.