Everyone has them … articles that make you cringe. Things that make your skin literally itch to crawl off your bones in disgust. Pet peeves. Mine is literary elitism and I just read the mother of all posts on the subject. You can find it here. Go read it, or the rest of this post won’t make any sense. Seriously … I’ll wait.
OK, I trust you’ve read it. Here’s my problem … not only is Andrew Brown asserting that readers, who enjoy the prose of writers such as Dan Brown, are illiterate … wait for it … he has the balls to go on and on about his spotless and (worse yet) brilliant method of assuring that his style transcends the likes of Dan Brown and his ilk. “Flat prose” isn’t a new term, not by a long shot, but once again I find that intellectuals such as A. Brown are using their distaste for popular fiction as a childish weapon against feeling jealous of others’ success.
Comments are closed, no shock there, but I’ll give them some credit since the article is virtually archaic (2006). Still, it smacks of pretentiousness and frankly, I found the whole thing nothing more than a stroke-fest.
Unfortunately, A. Brown isn’t alone in his thoughts. If he read my work or anything at The Asylum, it would do nothing but verify his claims. After all, I’m sure this post is rife with dull, unadorned, and unpolished conversational fluff. But, my point in bringing this article up is that he’s gotten one thing in particular grievously wrong: what he calls flat prose, is simply elemental. Some stories are larger than the words with which they are told, and no amount of complexity is going to change that. Yes, he does give a little credit to LOTR for being just such a story, but did you catch the nastiness in his reference?
“Not all bad books would sell better if they were better written: if you rewrote The Lord of the Rings so that it did not read like a translation from invented dead languages, a lot of the book’s strange credibility would vanish, though by no means all. Its deeper credibility is non-stylistic and has more to do with the experience of war and loss than anything else.”
Strange credibility? Tolkien was a brilliant linguist and despite some of my personal issues in adoring his dialog, I’m not dense enough to wonder at the work’s credibility. LOTR is epic in more ways than one.
But, it doesn’t stop there.
“But there is a class of author where even this kind of explanation breaks down: Dan Brown, Dennis Wheatley, and some other thriller writers like Robert Ludlum fall into this category. They all produce books so aggressively badly written that no virtues of plot or characterisation – even if they existed, which they clearly do not – could make up for the deficiencies of style.”
No virtues of plot or characterization? Really. Who the hell is this guy to make such heated claims about the works of others in comparison to his own work? Five years later … how many Andrew Brown books do you have on your shelf?
Oh wait, we’re the illiterate masses. We wouldn’t have purchased his books anyway because we would be far too daft to fully grasp the understated brilliance of his stylish, yet-oh-so-humble prose. Wouldn’t we?
Or is it that something deeper within these works touches the hearts of real readers … the ones who carry those books near their souls and speak of those stories years after first reading them, as one would an old and dear friend? Perhaps there is something about the sort of narrative that transcends the overly ornamental prose of whomever it is he deems as worthy. I can’t give you names because he doesn’t bother to quantify what he thinks is relevant, worthwhile fiction. Other than his own.
But here is the real rub, and the most offensive claim he makes:
“I labour the point, but this resemblance to ordinary speech (except for the small matter of being unspeakable) is, I think, the secret of these books’ success. It is not just that they are written by people who can’t, in any interesting sense, write; they are read by people who have not properly learned to read. I don’t mean their taste is uneducated, or that they can’t spell, or that they have trouble with long words, though all those things may be true; I mean that they have not internalised the activity of reading so that it feels natural.”
Who can’t in any interesting sense, write? Wow. There aren’t words. At least not that come easily enough to rip this guy the new asshole he deserves. There are certain circles that would applaud his elitism. I hope, for his sake as an author, that those circles are large enough to maintain his livelihood. Calling everyone who doesn’t “get” your work, illiterate, does absolutely nothing for your career … as any professional publicist would tell you. Then again, maybe that small group of readers is who his writing best suites. I looked up some of his “refined” work and found it unutterably dull. But, perhaps that’s my fault for being so uneducated. He does after all hint that he believes all best-sellers to have been written for the poorly taught masses.
Andrew Brown, like so many of his professional peers, is a literary bully. His words are strong, but unlike a good cup of coffee, they have such little substance that drinking them leaves one feeling like a naked emperor just walked by, reveling in his new cloak, gloating over how it makes him look.
I’ll tell you how it makes him look. It makes him look like a jackass.
You see, there is bravery in saying precisely what you mean. There is danger in it. You can’t be misunderstood that way. Complex prose, often lends itself as its own excuse and defense against criticism because you can easily claim that you were misread or that the reviewer missed the point. Dan Brown doesn’t have that problem. There’s no cowardice in his work, because it merely is what it is. And millions of people think it’s incredible.
So, with that in mind allow me to translate Andrew Brown’s post for all of us illiterates out there. You’ve read what he wrote. But here is what he meant: “I love me. But my shit ain’t selling. So, it’s your fault because obviously you don’t know how to read. Not interestingly anyway and my work is infinitely more interesting than Dan Brown’s. Maybe when you’ve gone back to school and learned to naturally read my clumsy, clod-footed prose, you’ll understand my genius for what it really is. Until then, I pity you for your tastes.”
Nice. Good luck with that. I pity you for your arrogance.
**Brown (Andrew) is the author of The Darwin Wars: The Scientific Battle for the Soul of Man and In the Beginning Was the Worm: Finding the Secrets of Life in a Tiny Hermaphrodite. And no, I didn’t just make that last title up.