Readability vs writeability

October 18, 2011

There seems to be some controversy about the Booker prize shortlist being too focused on ‘readable’ novels. This from the Obo on Sunday:

Maybe it says something about our culture that it has become strangely unfashionable to suggest that great novels shouldn’t only be a quick fix, another consumer experience, that they should make us work and reward us for our effort by staying with us, leaving a bit of intellectual and emotional residue.

In this sense, though, “readability” is a poor substitute for “writeability” – the craft of making sentences and paragraphs that take us to places we hadn’t imagined. It loses sight of the fact that the best books – the books that last – are born of necessity, not just of the need to fill a gap in the market and give us an easeful few hours. Book prizes should be about writers, not readers.

Well, let’s have a look at how ‘The Sea’ by John Banville (winner in 2005 and given a 5 out of 5 for highbrowness by the Obo and one of the least pleasurable 5 pages of a book i have read before packing it in) measures up on either ‘readability’ or ‘writeability’. This passage is taken from a Normblog – woohoo the sea review:

The past beats inside me like a second heart.

‘Take off your coat, at least,’ I said.
But why at least? What a business it is, the human discourse.

But then, at what moment, of all our moments, is life not utterly, utterly changed, until the final, most momentous change of all?

The autumn sun fell slantwise into the yard, making the cobbles bluely shine, and in the porch a pot of geraniums flourished aloft their last burning blossoms of the season. Honestly, this world.

And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet

I think I prefer readibility and writeability. This just reads like impenetrability and when someone chooses to express themselves that way i get a sneaky suspicion they might not have much to say.

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