Ambiguity and Clarity. Why Some Books Are Hard to Get Through

Reading a Memoir

I admire clear succinct prose, like Hemingway’s. And I also like beautiful style of Oscar Wilde, where every word matters even though the language is poetic and can be quite elaborate at times. Both writers couldn’t be more different but one thing they have in common is clarity.
Once you choose sophistication, combine complex words with multiple meanings in one sentence, – there’s a danger of ambiquity, of losing the logic of narrative and, inevitably, the reader.

I find this problem plaguing literary fiction and it has always been common in inspirational and spiritual literature, where by definition, one often operates rather vague and complicated terms: soul, ether, transcendental, etc.
Moreover, writers working in these genres are often prone to using technical words that don’t quite fit in there. ’A quantum leap of faith’- surely this can only have a sarcastic meaning, like there wasn’t any real leap at all. But no, this phrase would rather be used with a solemn transtextual aplomb to underline formidable intellectual qualities of the writer, pun intended.

Clarity. That’s my stand.

Ernest Hemingway is known for his economical prose (EH, 1950, owned by John F. Kennedy library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Ernest Hemingway is known for his economical prose (EH, 1950, owned by John F. Kennedy library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

I grew up in the collapsing country, people lost their  faith in communism, scientific atheism and turned to God. A fewly found Christianity alone was insufficient, so they rushed into esoteric stuff, metaphysics, other ways of learning about this world or deluding themselves with artificial meanings.
In the 90s in Russia such ’spiritual literature’ thrived, magicians, sect leaders and ‘extra-senses’ folk were very successful businessmen. I think it affected modern Russian writing in a bad way.

A computer can randomly combine flowery words into a more coherent text that far exceeds efforts of many spiritual writers of that period. The advent of Internet let many ‘grapho-maniacs’ (as we call in Russia people who simply can’t stop writing LOL) pour their irrational flow of consciousness into words freely available for the unsuspecting public. But are these words really needed or they are just there to clog already highly polluted ‘informo-sphere’?

Needless to say, many people, including moi, developed a solid repulsion to this kind of writing. Which is a shame, because these genres can have books written in succinct, clear manner and they can really help a lot of people.

There are some examples where spiritual writers managed to overthrow the stigma. Paulo Coelho’s books may be labelled by some as spirituality for poor or banal, but The Alchemist is pretty clearly written and accessible to many audiences.

So, if you are a reader interested in the above-mentioned genres, read the first-page excerpts, – this normally suffices to make a judgement on whether a book a stinker or not.

If you are a writer – think: the mess on your page often reflects the mess in your mind. Structure your thoughts, think about the words you use, do they make clear  sense in the chosen context? Clarity – it’s your friend.

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