f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Questions Nobody Likes to Ask

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Questions Nobody Likes to Ask

I hope when all is said and done and I retire this blog that I will look back on it and say, “Well, at least I didn’t leave any stones unturned.” I know this space irritates some folks and I’m not happy that happens. In the end I don’t see it as a terribly bad thing though. Stasis and comfort aren’t usually helpful states of being.

So, just as we looked at the uncomfortable question of “other-ness” in CBA fiction and the problems of race and class and a number of other issues within our industry, I’d like to bring up another difficult topic.

Where does reader comprehension fit into this grand scheme of books and publishing and audience?

What I wonder is what distinguishes books in terms of their being easily comprehended? The difference between a Dick and Jane book and Nietzsche is easy to distinguish. As books become more alike that difference is more difficult to distinguish.

Is there some threshold that can be crossed in terms of complexity of language and narrative that makes a book less appealing to readers? Why do some “literary” books bore the pants off of readers and some “commercial” fiction so deeply aggravate others?

These are questions that could lead to some rather unpleasant arguments (“I like John Updike. You only like John Irving!”). I’d like to ignore those and instead ask a question of readership. Can we deny a book its proven readership?

Can we expect the readers of Judith Krantz to suddenly like Lorrie Moore?

Should Buechner fans suddenly be asked to read, and enjoy, Clive Cussler?

Are we hard-wired at some point to simply not get certain books?