Monday, May 06, 2013

Monday Forum - Gatsby, Brideshead Revisited and more!

Over at his place, Neil Whitfield was inspired in Gatsby revisited. This led our collective regular commenter kvd to a somewhat different view that spread over into a comment at my place on Sunday Essay - why I write. Now before buying into the discussion, I actually have to read the book! However, it started me thinking in a broader way,

Do you remember the TV series Brideshead Revisited? Now some of my friends actually cringed at the dialogue, but I liked the slow tempo. So taste is very much in the eye (and ear) of the beholder. I could do a Gatsby version of my early morning walks, but it wouldn't quite fit.

So now I am posing a very open question. What writing do you most hate. What writing do you most like? And in both cases, why!


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since:

1. avoid plagiarism.
2. avoid any author who initialises his or her name.

I will think more on your own questions, but in the meantime leave you with a flowchart which might assist in your own time-poor selection process:

ps avoid books which include the word 'mordant'. But if used by a reviewer, the book might have promise.

Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, I love mordant! More later!

Evan said...

I'm afraid that is difficult.

In fiction Simenon, Vonnegut and John Fowles are all remarkably good and very different.

In non-fiction Ellul and Paul Goodman are both superb. In non-fiction I look for the sense that the person is genuinely engaging with the topic. Not pfaffing about with words, definitions, showing off their erudition and so on.

Jim Belshaw said...

Nice flow chart, kvd, by the way!

Jim Belshaw said...

Why do you like those books, Evan? Don't (blush!) actually know Ellul or Goodman. Like you last sentence!

Evan said...

Simenon manages to conjour a whole world in simple sentences and small vocabulary.

Vonnegut, in Jailbird, wrote a scene set in an elevator where you knew when reading it that something was being communicated but you didn't know what. And he managed similar remarkable things in other books.

John Fowles is either tricksy or extraordinary depending on your taste. In The Collector he did it in 3 parts. The first part tells the story of a British clerk who kidnaps a women from his point of view. The second part is from her point of view - that of an art student. The language is far more vivid and alive than the first part. The third part in his voice again is almost unbearable to read - it is so dull, ordinary and tawdry, limited and lifeless. And yet you read on.

Ellul was a French social critic. He wrote the single best description of our culture in my view The Technological Society. And he became a very good writer, even in translation his prose sings (in the original I'm told it's just extraordinary). Reading him I have the sense of his engagement and dealing with something vital and real. He wrote a lot so it isn't all equally good. Like the greats he always has something to say.

Goodman was semi-famous in the US for a little while in the 60's (he got seriously disillusioned with the youth). His writing is in touch with the topic and has a way of seeing the topic whole. And his writing is vivid and compressed - he manages to say a lot in a few words. His Compulsory Miseducation is still insightful 50 years after it was written.

Jim Belshaw said...

These things are, of course, matters of taste Evan. But I really liked this comment. I am trying to catch up on emails and other things tonight, I am just so far behind, but will respond properly tomorrow.

Jim Belshaw said...

Evan, your comment on Simenon captures a whole way of writing that then contrasts with the other two. I was never very keen on Vonnegut.

Re the other two, it's interesting, at least to me, that some of the best writing is non-fiction. And some of the worst(!) especially in academic writing.

Evan said...

Yes, they are very different writers.

I agree re non- fiction and esp. Regarding academic writing