A Rebuttal of Complex Reading vs. Simplistic Reading

Earlier today I posted a blog entry entitled “Complex Reading vs. Simplistic Reading, which you can read here. Adam has written a rebuttal of his personal views on the subject which you can read below:

Adam says:

I was always taught in school a simple acronym when writing short or long essay questions; K.I.S.S, or Keep it Simple Stupid. (I think my teacher’s just added on the stupid part to get a laugh out of the students)  It’s that very same rule that I feel many authors should comply with when they write their novels. Many times authors feel the need to explain the hell out of a situation to give the reader a visual to base their understanding of the novel off of. I believe that’s what a person’s imagination is for. Yes, the setting needs to be set and characterizations need to be established but I think some things are better left unspoken. Many times, in my opinion authors over-write their books when they should instead follow the same advice I was given as a middle school student and keep it simple stupid.

I don’t necessarily mean simple wording or simple language when I say keep it simple. I understand that as a person, you should constantly challenge yourself and reading is an admirable way to do that, but I think that some things are better left unsaid. I think the author should give basic details and cut out a lot of the extra stuff, or fluff. Think of Fluff when you put it on a peanut butter sandwich, it adds nothing to the sandwich. If you cut it out, you don’t necessarily miss it. A lot of times authors go off on a 40-page tangent to say what could have been said in 10 pages. They instead should challenge the reader with introducing them to new language and new ideas, but not bore them with inane details. 

One author who I feel understood the average reader like me, kept it simple, and didn’t bore readers with frivolous details was Ernest Hemingway. In his short, but classic novel The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway got right to the point and told a story about an old man and the sea. There’s no 7-page digression of how the water is calm or how the old man is conflicted between capturing the fish or humanity. It is a simple worded book and is a story in it’s basest form. You may say that I am being lazy by not wanting to read all the details or read longer novels but I like that the story is just that, a story.

You may or may not know this about me, but I am obsessed with musicals. The best comparison I can make to what I am trying to say is that a book with tons of inane details is like a poorly produced musical.  The reason the musical is so bad is that the music doesn’t push the story forward. The characters sing for the sake of singing, leaving the audience bored with the musical. I feel when authors over-analyze the setting or go into every last detail about what the character is wearing, it takes the reader away from the main plot of the story. Unless the character’s clothes suddenly go up in flames and we have to figure out why it occurred, I don’t need to know that the shoes they were wearing were given to the character on her 12th birthday by grandma. I just think those minor details are filler and fluff. 

One author who did detail overload is Stephanie Meyers. I can just picture 2,000,000,000 teenage girls cursing my name, but it is true. Twilight was one hell of a boring book. She went into so much minor detail about everything.  It didn’t make me like the story any better; it made me dislike it to the point where I couldn’t finish the book. I couldn’t handle the 40 pages of explaining one simple event that could’ve been explained in 10 pages. A lot of that book was filler crap, and I refused to read the other three because I didn’t want to put myself through that sort of torture again.

I think books are best when kept simple. When reading a book, the author should give you the basic details, but then you, as the reader, should be able to imagine what the author is telling you.  In my opinion any other way is being spoon-fed the information. When Kim and I were discussing this she said that if you’ve never been to a place or never given the details, how are you to supposed to get a feeling for the surroundings? I am not advocating that all details should be thrown out the window, I just think the author should give us the basic details of the surroundings and we figure out the rest. As readers, we should be able to visualize what the author is saying from the hints given. If the author said, “The setting is a typical high school cafeteria, it is raining and all the kids are wearing rain coats and boots” we should then be able to visualize the kids walking in wearing squeaky boots.  We assume that the boots will be squeaky because we’ve seen in our own daily lives that wet boots squeak when you walk on the floor.  We can also assume that if a kid didn’t bring an umbrella they’d be wet. I don’t need the author to go on a tangent talking about little Pete and how he’s upset because he didn’t bring an umbrella.  I can assume that because I’ve been in that situation. We should as humans take our own experiences and be able to visualize the scenes in our own mind without be giving every little detail.

If you’re like me and want to read novels minus the fluff, two other works of literature come to mind; Of Mice and Men and Our Town. Both of these works are literature in its purest form.  In Of Mice and Men  Steinbeck strips everything down, into a quick and easy read.  Our Town is a play that doesn’t deal with the frivolous components that are often connected with a play. There are no sets and nothing to distract the reader from really understanding what actions the characters are taking. In my opinion they show that literature is at its best when there is nothing distracting the reader from the main plot.

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2 thoughts on “A Rebuttal of Complex Reading vs. Simplistic Reading

  1. After reading Kim’s initial post and then Adam’s follow-up post, I have to take the weak exit out of this one and side with both of them. Both of them made valid points on the subject of details in a novel – on the one hand it can be the details that can make a book go from “just a book” to something you cannot put down because you are so entrenched in it that life becomes second to finishing that book (Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot), to the other side where the details can be the dagger in the heart of your wanting to finish that book. I am no expert by FAR in the writing styles of different authors, but I have read enough of a diverse variety of genres to be able to speak to this and sound somewhat educated. I feel it really does come down to one thing – what type of genre are you reading.
    I personally love to read two types of books: historical non-fiction books and finance & investing books (very diverse, I know). With the first, the more details the better. Since I have no idea what it is like to be involved in a war and in the middle of battlegrounds, when reading about WWI, I can’t get enough details. Anything from what the smell of gun powder is like to the sound of a cannon going off can add enormous emotion and depth to a story. And on the other side of that spectrum, with the latter of genres (finance and investing), it is a very dry subject matter to begin with so the lack of details is important to keep my attention span there. I don’t read finance books to see things like “the GDP of the United States is like a butterfly in its cocoon ready to blossom and fly away to live life anew”, I read them to educate myself on a subject that I feel is important to know. State the facts, state why it’s important, and move on.
    Some might argue that it is not the genre of a book that is the key factor in whether or not details are important, but a multitude of things (subject, author, etc…), but for me and my reading interests, it is the genre that becomes the determining factor.

    • Greg very interesting point. I too agree with you that the genre is very important. I try to be diverse in my reading (mysteries, historical-fiction, memoirs, poetry, classic literature) and I can agree with you that some genres require more details than others. I enjoy reading plays, and it’s true that they lack the amount of “fluff” that you might read in a mystery, where detail is very important. Excellent points!

      Thanks for reading =)

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