Saturday, April 03, 2010

Let Books Be Books

Many books today seem afraid to rely on pure text. They seem to be embarrassed to be what they are: books, that is, orderly collections of words formed into sentences and paragraphs.Too many books are filled with one-sentence paragraphs (usually a sign of poor style and impatience), call-outs that repeat what is in smaller print elsewhere on the page (annoying), stand-alone call-outs with little connection to the flow of the text and which I find disorienting. (When do I read them? That is their context?) We also find lists, bullet points (the bane of orderly discourse, but the balm of PowerPoint), and font variations. These books are more like children's books of old.

This is enough to send me screaming to acres and acres of pure, small, hard text: Augustine's The City of God or any book by Kierkegaard or Dostoevsky or even Being and Nothingness by Sartre! (But Being and Time...don't go there, although I own it.) These books require concentration, fixation, and focus. One cannot breeze through them. These works have heft; they must be mastered; they cannot be skimmed.

I say: Let books be books!

16 comments:

Ken Lewis said...

As a proud bibliophile I salute you, Sir. May your tribe increase.

Doug Groothuis said...

My library certainly is increasing/

ChrisB said...

Books today are written for the readers of today. Dense text makes people put books down.

Would that it wasn't so, but if you want people to actually read your book, you can't have the layout push them away.

Doug Groothuis said...

I will not capitulate. My apologetics book will be text, text, text; argument, argument, argument. But there will be some subtitles--no graphics or call-outs, though. The footnotes (about 2500) should keep it lively!

Jason Kanz said...

Doug,
Thank you for writing this. I have been concerned about how books are changing as well. I wrote about the advent of the "e-reader" last week and how that is a bit sad for me.

http://docsdining.blogspot.com/2010/03/for-love-of-books.html

ChrisB said...

If you're writing an apologetics book for scholars, that's fine. If you're writing the book for laymen -- well, you're not writing a book for laymen, because few of them will read it. They'll open it, be intimidated, and put it back down.

Sorry, but dense text scares people off.

Not me, though. I'll buy it no matter how dense your text :)

Sam said...

What about Venn diagrams? How do you feel about those?

Jim Pemberton said...

Welcome to the intellectual degradation ("dumbing down" is the term usually used) of the western culture where even our colleges must remediate material that should have been taught in high school. As such, I've been told that books for a general audience must be written on an eighth grade level. Far be it for anyone having any worthy subject compose with such craft that few can apprehend his prose.

Doug Groothuis said...

Venn diagrams serve a logical purpose!

Can you imagine Moby Dick (which I have been reading since late December) with call-outs, inset paragraphs, and so on?

Demian Farnworth said...

At first I thought you were just being a crank [although I agree with you that most books published should go from the shelf to the shredder] and just complaining about how books were formatted, but I then realized you're concern was over content. I'm with you.

And you won me over when you mentioned Augustine, Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard...and with this line: "These works have heft; they must be mastered; they cannot be skimmed."

Lovely, sir.

Mark H said...

How ridiculous. If callouts and diagrams are so bad, how come my Bible is full of them? If they are good enough for the apostle Paul, they are good enough for me.

Demian Farnworth said...

Mark H...that's a joke, right? I'm a little slow. Forgive me. [I laughed.]

Rudolf van der Berg said...

disagree (like usual). Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler is a good guide to go by. Anything that makes sure you can communicate the message better should be used, no medium should be spared. Either you have a message worth communicating and you do or you don't have a message worth communication. You should put your time in to get it out there in a way the reader can grasp it to his utmost extent with a minimal of wasting time, resources and confusion.

Let books be books completely misunderstands what a book is for. A book or a scroll is irrelevant. It is a medium and though Marshall McLuhan is to be praised for saying: "The medium is the message", it certainly isn't the full truth. And let us be clear.. if oral delivery, memorisation, stone slabs or scrolls were good enough in the bible.. ;-)

Let the message be the message.

Doug Groothuis said...

Mr. Berg:

This makes no sense at all to me; I cannot even make out a thesis.

C said...

Your preferences are my preferences. As a reader, I hate the stand-alone call-outs. Like you, I have trouble knowing when to read them (I've taken to reading them at the end of a page.)And I would add, Solzenitzen (sp?) and Bonhoeffer to your list :).

But if I can reword Mr. Berg's comment for clarity (and if I'm missing it, I hope he'll forgive me), a book is communication. It's purpose is communication. As such, it should be written in such a way as to be most effective in communication. Paul adjusted his communicative style (spoken, instead of written, in this instance) to the Greek method when at Mars Hill, but to the Hebrew method in Romans and elsewhere.

All that to say, I think as a writer, we have a different goal than we do as readers. So I will continue to prefer to read "acres and acres of pure, small, hard text", but to communicate by whatever method will best convey the information to my audience. After all, we were taught in basic composition to target our audience (we don't write a theological apologetic in Haiku, for instance.)

Rudolf van der Berg said...

Mr. C. thank you for making clear what I wanted to say. The writer has an idea to communicate. The way it is written and the way it is displayed to the reader should support the communication of the idea. If that is terse text, so be it. If it requires imagery, bullet points etc. please use them.