Saturday, February 12, 2011

I swear, Professor, I'm trying

I just swapped out "Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs in favour of "The Gunslinger" by Stephen King. I'm getting a lot more comfortable these days with tagging the buzzer on books I don't want to read, although I've got to say it leaves me bewildered about the kind of stuff that gets published and the kind of stuff we think possesses literary merit.

Granted there are both "popular" and "literary" books I want to read, that I have read and have enjoyed. Generally speaking, though, I'm trying to read a little more "literature" lately; and this not to be a snobby person and so I can say, "My, yes, of course I've read the Masterworks of English Literature," but rather to try and improve my own sense of language and how to use it.

The problem, of course, is that reading something like "Naked Lunch" doesn't really tell you anything about how to write well. Not only are the metaphors the story supposedly makes utterly impenetrable; a lot of the book is also "cut-up," where a linear story is literally cut to pieces and pasted back together. Some of the imagery sounds really beautiful, or really disturbing, but in a lot of ways it's not writing, and in a lot of ways it's not a story.

Conversely, I'm only a few pages into "The Gunslinger" and King's prose is beautiful. It inspires images, instead of forcing me to struggle for them. That's the kind of story I want to write, and so that's that the kind of story I'm aspiring to read.

While there's a lot of really awful popular fiction out there in the great publishing machine, there's a lot of really fantastic stuff, too. Let's raise a glass to that while I burn these lists of supposedly-greatest-ever-English-literature.



  1. If you can understand it, it ain't Art.

  2. The Gunslinger is definitely the best of the whole Dark Tower series -- except for Wizard and Glass where you get Roland's backstory. Great stuff.

  3. Personally, what annoyed me with the Gunslinger is how the flashbacks are whole chapters, which really interrupted the flow for me. This happens whenever something really promising is bound to happen.

    BTW Naked Lunch might be a guide to writing a fragmented narrative.