There had been an older gentleman in that summer English class. Well, if one could call someone a "gentleman" who thought Daisy Dukes was appropriate college wear. Saw more of him than I ever wanted to.
Anywho, the professor's policy was to have us exchange papers and critique the others' work; I chose to ignore the comments on mine. At one point, I was handed the fellow's paper.
It was incomprehensible. I revel in polysyllabic words, but this was above and beyond. And it went on for pages, pages and pages, way more than the teacher required. Even she looked a tad dazed when faced with his offering.
Same thing with books. "Oh, I found it amaaazing," many will enthuse. Yes, but did you understand it? "Um, well, you have to understand it was a metaphor . . . or something."
Once, I would have felt unsure of my intelligence when reading something along the lines of Short-Shorts' paper. But then I realized (before coming across the article) that we often mistake inaccessibility for brilliance.
Zoë Heller: Some writers compose convoluted, hard-to-read sentences because they don’t have the chops to make simpler ones. Some use 10-cent words just to show that they know them. The reader who assumes that abstruse prose is clever prose, or that there is a reliable correlation between opacity and depth, is bound to waste a lot of time on writing that doesn’t deserve it. She is also liable to end up praising works that confound her, for fear of being revealed as a dimwit if she confesses her perplexity.
Leslie Jamison: There are silly ways of mistaking inaccessibility for brilliance. It can become some literary version of always wanting the lover who doesn’t want you; the flip side of Groucho Marx’s truism about not wanting to be part of any club that would have you for a member. You worship the one that wouldn’t have you instead.
However, both respond with the importance of stick-to-it-iveness, a dying commodity in this day and age. Heller expresses frustration that her children refuse her book selections because they are, initially, too slow a read.
I have hit that same wall of "I'm not entertained this second" with the kinfauna, hurling book after book after their bakveimpt backs.
Heller: Old people like me believe we are at a slight advantage when it comes to readerly perseverance, because we did our formative reading in an age before technology began destroying attention spans.
As for Jamison, she describes her initial experience tackling a daunting work, and the shame of her inability to "get it." But when she doggedly attempted again, this time with a 50-page-a-day commitment, her perspective shifted:
That month of commitment ended up mattering not because I was always immersed but because I often wasn’t, and kept reading anyway — because I was perpetually recommitting myself to the novel, and because that recommitment was an act with great wingspan and grit. I was invited into a different understanding of what authentic literary absorption might look like: neither struggle nor bliss but a strange weave of the two; not completely “losing myself” in a book but feeling myself more deeply in the act of reckoning with it — becoming aware of my own attention, becoming an agent in its application.
Yet there we part company. After struggling through more than one tome claiming that I "won't let it get the better of me," I've decided life is too short and books are too many to waste my self-discipline on a tale that does not appeal.