Or, why thinking is good for you
Complicated books, oh my. We’ve been seeing a lot of reviews in various spots on the Interwebz recently, saying that a book was complicated, or used UK English (gasp) instead of US English, or used words the reader didn’t know. Usually, the reviewer is knocking off stars for this.
You know the reaction at By Rite of Word, if a book makes us think, or, better yet, uses a word we don’t already know? We get excited. We go and look shit up. We tell our friends about the cool new word / idea / whatever we found. Yes, this may explain why we read about ten books a month and don’t have many friends.
So, yeah, we’re not big fans of the belief that a book should be written to the lowest likely reading level. We don’t agree that books should confirm to ‘grade-level X‘…unless of course you’re in grade school. The English language has an incredibly rich vocabulary. Over 170,000 words. Tragically, the average native speaker knows between 10,000 and 20,000 of those. There seems to be a growing noise out there that anyone using a word that doesn’t figure in that most common 10 – 20 thousand is, at best, grossly inconsiderate of their less-lettered readers.
Bullshit. Pardon our French, gentle readers.
Using a word the reader doesn’t know is not a crime against humanity. (Providing, at least, that it’s used correctly. If it isn’t, well, then we might join you with tar, feathers, and pitchfork.) Writing is an art form. Making use of the incredibly rich linguistic heritage of English is what writers should be doing. Do you expect painters to stop painting and move to stick figures, because it’s easier to understand?
Thinking is fun. Thinking is, in fact, good for you. While there is certainly a line to be drawn between writers who get so hopelessly mired in their world-building and plots that the story never coalesces into a readable whole, and writers who expect that their readers can follow something a little more complex than ‘Peter and Jane saw a BUTTERFLY!!’, on the whole the point of reading is to think. We read to exercise our imaginations, or to learn. We read to see the world, for the span of a few hours, from a different point of view.
If what you read never challenges you, never makes you think, never evokes an emotional response, never teaches you anything new…what’s the point?