Analyzing what you like to read is a lot like researching why roses smell good or sugar tastes sweet. At some point, your findings kill the enjoyment.
That being said, I enjoy books with “textual density.”
That’s the phrase I stumbled across in a recent book review. In the latest Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, in her column Musing on Books, Michelle West begins her review of The Quantum Thief this way”
…this book has the textual density of a short story. It’s not long, but it’s not hugely forgiving if you don’t read for detail; skimming this book is hazardous for your comprehension.
I immediately put the book on my Must-Read List. Why? I love to “read for detail.”
When I was a Nittany Lion I grew weary of writing short stories because they were just at the length where an instructor or those annoying poetry students could insist on “getting every word right.” You can “perfect” a twelve page story. You can be held accountable for every word. Not so in a novel. It was too big a beast. Too sprawling. The language wasn’t tantamount anymore. Important of course, but not perfectable.
It’s a lazy way of thinking. Lazy and, I think, wrong.
The story we write rests on every word we choose. There’s really no other way of looking at writing. If we’re not focusing on the words…what in the world are we looking at?
Great writing hones and focuses language. They make their sentences work for them.
Call me a “literary elitist” if you like, but I’m definitely a sucker for good craft. Nothing thrills me like discovering a well-written sentence. Re-reading a paragraph simply for the joy of its prose is one of the reasons I read.
Of course, there’s a place for fast-paced commercial fiction. You know, the type of novels that permit “skimming.” But I side with Dave when it comes to a laissez–faire approach to writing. “If we’re not focusing on the words…what in the world are we looking at?”
Arguing against “literary density” is often “a lazy way of thinking.”
Snob. Highbrow. High-and-mighty. Call it what you like. But I don’t want to write to be “skimmed.”