You may remember my post about Jeff Lemire's Essex County getting voted off the Canada Reads competition on the first round a little over a month ago. Well, Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot used it as a "point of departure for an analysis of common attitudes towards reading", a great post which itself generated quite a lot of discussion in the comments.
Here's an excerpt from Nymeth's post:
The thing that made these judges who are supposedly trying to encourage literacy so uncomfortable was the fact that the book was quick and easy to read. To me, this is the most interesting thing about the whole situation: the fact that the judges’ arguments rely on the idea that reading should be hard, that it should take work, that it should be a somewhat arduous process. And if isn’t, it can’t have Meaning or Relevance. It doesn’t make you think of “things other than things”.Read the rest of it here.
Of course, I also don’t buy the opposite argument, which is that anything that isn’t easy must be worthless or pretentious. Dense texts are fine; I love many of them. But what they have to say, what about them encourages people to “think about things other than things”, is not necessarily determined by the difficulty of prose in itself. If you take an author of moderate difficulty – someone like, say, Virginia Woolf – you can argue that their experimentation with form can’t be separated from their content, and it’s a crucial part of what makes them so extraordinary. This is a fair enough point, but at the same time, I have trouble seeing form as a thing to be revered in itself, quite separately from any sort of meaning. What bothers me about the assumptions behind the Canada Reads judges’ arguments is the idea that complex ideas are defined by a complex form of delivery: that you cannot possibly communicate anything worthwhile or convey nuanced emotions using accessible language (or even - horror of horrors - pictures).