20 August 2007

On Reading

So I recently read a comment that someone liked JRR Tolkien's works but not JK Rowling's because of the difference in quality of language. I must disagree with that view. I think language is very important to tell a story well, but I think meaning can be conveyed just as well with simple words and a good sense of humor as it can by using obscure but precise words. I do enjoy reading for the pleasure of enhancing your vocabulary and traveling to other worlds. But I also enjoy reading to get a good laugh, or to enjoy masterful characterization or a good plot.

I haven't read Tolkien for over ten years, but I still remember his descriptions of settings because they created such vivid pictures in my mind. On the other hand, when things happened to characters in the Hobbit, I recall being more enthralled by the descriptions than terrified for the character. I guess I need to read the books again before criticizing, but the characters just didn't speak to me the way those in the Harry Potter series have. I have seldom cried over a book as much as I did when I read Deathly Hallows, and that is because the book was a culmination of such an intricate plot that I was simply awed. I also wept because I felt so attached to the characters that it felt like the actions of the book were happening to close friends.

Plot and characterization are two of Rowling's greatest strengths, but she is also an expert at using the language. I haven't read the England releases of the books, but I imagine that they are even more fun to read than the American ones because the American ones get edited into simplicity. For example, in England, the Sorcerer's Stone is called the Philosopher's Stone, but the editors thought Philosopher would be too intimidating for American readers. If you examine the sentence structures of her paragraphs, you will notice that the grammatical structure varies widely. This, for me, is one sign of a good writer. Variation makes the writing more subconsciously entertaining because you are not reading the same structure over and over again with different words. (Another favorite author of mine is Annie Dillard for this same reason--master sentence crafter.) And though Rowling doesn't use five-syllable words at a rate of two or three per sentence, her similes and metaphors paint vivid images for me. (I am recalling a certain slurping noise in book six when Ron quits kissing Lavender Brown.)

Rowling's bank account provides another support for my theory. She is the first author billionaire. She has written books that encouraged millions of young people to gain a love of reading, and she has been handsomely--and I feel appropriately--compensated for her trouble. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but sometimes the dollar is mightier than the pen.

The love of reading saves many lives from dull drudgery on a daily basis. Nancy Drew rescued me from an isolated social life as a young girl, because I had her for a friend. I am pleased as punch that Harry, Ron, and Hermione can do the same for our generation in a way that Bilbo and Frodo did for generations before.

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