Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Overheard at Table 1: What Modern Prose Is Missing Is ...

I have to admit that trying to get back into reading has shown me something quite interesting.

Currently, I'm reading several different books concurrently, and I am struck by the difference in styles.

For example, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan by John L Stephens was written in 1840.  While some of the phrasings seem archaic, the sentence structure is generally sound and the proper use of punctuation makes the book easily readable.  It flows.

Corporate Christianity, written 2013, which I wrote about a few days ago, was so incoherent that it is practically unreadable.

Midnight Fright: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Watermill Press, 1980.  This little dollar paperback contains five short stories written by late 19th century writers, including Dickens and de Maupassant.  Some of these stories are a bit tedious, but the diction is clear.  The words flow.

The Guest List, by Lucy Foley, William Morrow (HarperCollins) 2020.  At first it was difficult to get into.  The diction is simple enough and of course I speak and understand contemporary colloquial English, so I didn't understand why I was having difficulty with the text. 

Then I realized: punctuation.  There is a lack of appropriate use of punctuation that allows the written sentences to be read with ease.  There is a cadence to sentences, and a flow to ideas that punctuation helps make clear.  When not used to appropriate effect, the eyes flow too fast over the words without being able to understand the ebbs and flows of the sentences.

I can discard Corporate Christianity as having no editor, a writer with no coherent thought pattern, as the reason for the horrible prose, but The Guest List has had an agent, and editor, a process that has aided the production of this book in order to get to mass market.  Yet, it appears that no one ever said, "Here.  Put a comma here, so the reader doesn't find themselves too far downstream without a paddle"

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