Thursday, August 6, 2015

The difference between good and bad books

I've been reading out-of-genre in the last week or so, as a way of putting some clear blue water between myself and the Hugo shortlist. 

And I found myself unexpectedly enjoying Public Enemies - the published correspondence of author Michel Houellebecq (best known over here for Atomised) and intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy (best known to me for being a repeat target of phantom pie-flinger Noël Godin)

It's exactly as pretentious as you'd think - but it's never less than entertaining and there are some great moments.

Take BHL on the difference between good and bad books. 

"For someone who is interested [...] in the machinery of literature, its abysses, its chaos, and the complex of forces that allows it not to implode, the only question that needs to be asked about any writer is what is alive in their writing and what is dead. In a given text, which are the words that are already dead, those that have one foot in the grave, those that are still alive but for how long? Which are the phantom words, the ghosts?

The answer is clear.

It can be seen with the naked eye. Your ear will detect it. There's no need to be a great critic. Or rather, that is the principle of all criticism worthy of the name.

In the great writers, the ones that practically discourage us from writing in their wake, almost everything is alive. For a long time, a very long time after the words are written, the power of the drama that took shape through them lives on.

In the bad ones everything is dead. The ink is barely dry and already the words it formed are disappearing. These are the books without a footprint, books that leave no traces. It is sometimes said [...] that they are so bad they dirty your hands. But it's not that, its not even that, since the sign of their poverty is that they leave no trace at all."

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