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Friday, 24 February 2017


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Amen to all above! But most especially to the notion that each and every work should be judged on its own merits and as you added : by its own standards....I, like many readers, read many different genres and require all to be well written and yes, readable.

Desperate Reader

I've been reading Carol Dyhouse's Heartthrobs and one of the things I really liked about it was how 'readable' it was - as my reading time is often confined to lunch hours, breaks and bus journeys (presumably Roth's working day affords more time to read than mine does) I particularly appreciate a book that I can pick up and put down without losing the thread of it. Even more so when it's a book full of ideas (in this case the stop start approach gave me time to think about what Dyhouse was suggesting, but it doesn't always work like that.)

I haven't read the original article, but I am left wondering what he thinks reading is for though. That, and I enjoyed your rant.


Hello Diana and thank you for your comment! I think a lot of us enjoy reading a variety of different genres and read for a variety of different reasons. The amazing thing about novels is that they can work so well in so many different ways.

There were some good points in the article, but it was not entirely well argued and rather dictatorial. If he'd just discussed his favourite books and why they were good, it would have been a really excellent piece (and certainly I've got a list of authors whose work I'd like to read now, thanks to him).

Hayley - exactly! Novels of ideas can be just as effective using fairly simple, plain language. And writing clearly is difficult. As well know.

It is well worth reading the original article because it is very interesting and I do actually agree with some of what he says though not necessarily how he gets there. You just can't say something is meaningless and then attribute your own meaning to it and then see it as a Sign of the End of Times. Pah!

And yes, his approach is a bit high fibre. So you read some Franzen: it's not the end of the world...

(Oops, I seem to be ranting again!)


Also, the comments underneath the article, which I'm now reading, really refine the argument very well indeed.

Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

I would agree that "readable" is not a very meaningful term to use when trying to assess or describe a book. For one thing, as you so truly point out, what is "readable" can vary tremendously from reader to reader. I shall make sure to eschew this term in future on my blog, as I think I have been guilty of using it from time to time.

I think there's a place in each serious reader's life for more and less difficult books, as judged entirely by that reader's own experience and standards. Don't we all sometimes want to read books that flow easily and don't demand intense concentration? Why should that be a negative thing? And don't we all sometimes want to push ourselves and try something different, unfamiliar, and challenging?

A good reading diet is all the more satisfying if it's varied, to my mind. I think it would be unhealthy to always to looking for the exact same thing in one's reading experience (and perhaps that's one habit he's pointing to with his criticism of "readability").

Pieces like this make me glad that I'm not a professional reader, and so if I find a book truly unreadable for whatever reason, I just don't read it. And I'm not going to feel guilty about it.


Hello Lory!

You are quite right, it IS easy to get lazy in one's reading choices and it is good to challenge oneself too. I know for myself that I am all to quick to pick up a book that I know will give me easy pleasure than a book I'll have to work with. And he is quite right - to call a book 'readable' isn't terribly helpful - unless perhaps you go on to discuss why.

I think his attitude is quite ahistorical really. His definition of what makes a good novel is very Modernist/post-Modernist. Before and even after these movements, most novelists strove for readability. A lot of Anglo fiction is in the realist tradition, using language like a window through which society is observed. That which is observed, especially when it relates to social groups outside most readers' direct knowledge, are surely worthy of our attention and study too.


Hi! Short time reader, first time commenter, etc...
First of all, your painting is attributed and titled here: (thanks to the absolute delight that is Image Search).

Second, this argumentation reminded me painfully of my philosophy classes at uni, in its "I am now going to define that word you used in my own specific way and then build an entire thesis on it which will prove you So Very Wrong"-ness. Ugh.

We can count ourselves fortunate that there are worthy novels beyond Ulysses and his friends, or our world would become very small indeed.

I do recognise his feeling, though. I am currently reading Joseph und seine Brüder in the excellent newish Dutch translation and it is so enormously readable that I almost feel bad about it. I keep thinking, this is Mann, this is Great European Literature, shouldn't it be... harder?


Hello Anna, and thank you for your comment!

Thank you also very much for the source of the painting - I'll add the correct attribution. :)

Ha ha, oddly enough the writer of the article has a doctorate in philosophy!

That's a very interesting point, that readability makes you (and him?) feel bad. I wonder if its roots are in school; you know, the texts you study at first seem enormously difficult and you're having to look at them in certain ways. I remember the first time we read any Shakespeare, and we went through 'Macbeth' line by line because it was all so alien to us; and then we studied more Shakespeare plays at A-level, sixth-form that is, and then I was studying them at university and I could just read them easily (with an eye on the notes of course).

So to me Shakespeare is very readable, and to you Mann, but this is surely due to educations that have taught us to read them (educations to which, importantly, not everyone has had access; Shakespeare is not so readable to them perhaps). But we somewhere have imprinted on our brains that if it's not hard, if we're not working our brains vigorously, then it's not educational, worthy, 'literature'. And perhaps that's because of school and those memories of struggling with texts (by which, I absolutely do not mean that we shouldn't learn to read literature at school, quite the opposite, there should be more!).

I am not sure if that makes sense or is just late-night rambling...

Jenny @ Reading the End

Oh I do get tired of people writing about what books are supposed to be or not be. I was reading a thing in the NYTimes Book Review today about books having plots or not having plots. It wasn't anti-plot or anything, but I do get frustrated with the literary elite acting like having an engaging plot is a flaw. Plots are hard! People who can do plots are talented!


Yes, these articles do tend to crop up now and then - I wonder why people think they need to repeat them? This one started as an entirely reasonable point that 'readable' is a meaningless and overused word of praise and then descended into rant.

Engaging plots are extremely difficult to pull off - especially the ending - and guess what? They don't actually prevent a book from having the original language, interesting characters or complex ideas that the author of the Against Readability article considers the markers of a good novel. Books with lots of plot and books with little plot - let's have them all!


Well said! I agree that "readable" doesn't mean anything but I think it has become a kind of shorthand for "quick and easy." Maybe? At least that is how I interpret it most of the time. I could be wrong! Articles like that make me tired. I mean, can't we all just read whatever we want without getting judgmental?


There's the implication that 'readable' means mass-market and not 'literary' - that kind of literary snobbery that I despise. Well said, Helen.


Thanks Annabel!

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