I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.
— Marshall McLuhan
I’ve been putting together some thoughts recently on our collective readership.
Not us when we read. Not our delegation here of Unboxed Writers.
And not even the wider community of writers, local and offshore, national and intergalactic, the diaspora-digital, and where it stops, nobody knows. That’s still us. We who read wee bits of each other and say we loved it. That’s just us chickens.
No, I mean the real readership. The end user. He who hurls your book across the room. She who reads fanny fiction and imagines she’s having a literary experience. The reader.
As writers, what do we ask of that reader? Literacy. That’s what we need. We need someone who is literate — per Merriam-Webster Unabridged:
Characterized or possessed of learning…able to read and write…versed or immersed in literature or creative writing…dealing with literature or belles lettres.
We ask that our customer, our consumer, our windsurfer, come to our creations with a few drachmas in hand. The currency we accept is literacy. The reader must not leave home without it.
But that reader is not expected to be in the business, as we are. We who do the writing. We who build the bridges and the mansions. We who want them to like us, to really, really like us.
The reader, while literate, can expect to be served by us with a greater level of literacy than she or he must attain. This is the unspoken covenant.
If everyone in 16th-century Venice had been Andrea Palladio, then Palladio would be nobody. Instead, that small, exquisite bridge at the foot of Prior Park in Bath, England, means something — it’s a prized architectural example of Palladian genius, one of only four such bridges left in the world, according to the National Trust. Prior Park, itself, was designed with the help of the poet Alexander Pope and a then-famous landscape-garden designer called “Capability” Brown.
Today, we’re the “Capabilities,” the ones who can bring Palladian order to human nature. We’re the ones who design with words for a living. We’re the experts, the snazzy guys.
So why don’t we use the language correctly for our readers? Why do we have our characters say such things as these? [Read more…]