“Whose entire body of work is worth reading?”

Reading Marginal Revolution brings up interesting questions every now and then. Tyler Cowen is a person with a very wide range of interests, and these are well reflected in the wide spectra of posts that can be found on MR. So, with interest I opened up a post with the same title as above, thinking: “What has Tyler written now?”

That original post can be found over here, ‘Whose entire body of work is worth reading?’. It might be interesting to acquaint oneself with what Mr Cowen has said for I think I wish to differ in my opinion.

Yes, I’ll grant that historians are an easy pick. Or, at least, an easier pick than any fiction writer. But there’s a reason for that and I am not entirely confident that the reason is that high quality history is always substantiated by top research. And, even if it is, it is not the research but the author’s readability which is the important part in reading a historical book. And, being very good at research means very little in immediate writing skills gains so there must be more to the puzzle.

My theory on the historians would be that historians who have the knack for writing come out better in the general readability of their tomes. If they know how to write well instinctively, they have an easier time writing for having to worry less about making the story into a single cohesive unit. And, yet, I would dare not name any names. I don’t think I am familiar enough with the works of any single historian to bring him/her out in full.

Overall, then, this question comes down to style for me. But, if I concentrate on the problem, is it possible that any writer has kept their style from the very beginning to the end without pause so that it is uniformly strong and infallible?

I don’t think so.

In effect, I would go so far as to say that all of the names that Mr Cowen brought up in his post are names that I would not dare mention. In which case, what names would I bring up?

That’s a trickier one to answer, partly because I feel like I would want to name a few people, but I am afraid that their originals read worse than the translations that I have read. It might be a fortuitous event that I’ve probably read Arthur C. Clarke most extensively, probably covering the majority of his published works, but even that list is a few titles short of a full collection. And no matter how good the ideas present in the books I’ve read, Mr Clarke has had a few weaker books.

Henryk Sienkiewicz would probably come second, and again the question of translations has to be present. Assuming that Sienkiewicz’s style in Polish is just as clear and strong as it was when I read it in English and Estonian, I would be happy to say that all of his work is worth reading. If, however, some parts of it were a fluke of chance or an edit of the translator, then maybe the reader has been deceived. [Note that a lot of the sentiment present in Mr Sienkiewicz’s works is something I might consider worthy of reading to understand the past rather than the present.]

Of other names, I would bet on Ryotaro Shiba. Again, I have only read him in translation, some of which was not the top quality work I was expecting, I do say myself, but I think that his style in the original is likely to be so much better. So, there’s another unsubstantiated claim that I cannot prove.

On the philosophers: why would I cross off Plato and the rest mentioned in Tyler’s post above?

I am not certain that their works carry the worth of reading throughout. The thoughts of philosophers naturally vary over time and space, and I would not find it difficult to believe that the heavy style we have attributed to Plato and Nietzsche is stronger in some of the books than in the others. And if that is the case, then with the style of the author faltering how can the author himself be consistently skillful?

Indeed, if I were to guess of a type of people who would have put down the most to paper that is all worth reading, I think I would lean towards a playwright or a poet. Maybe Pedro Calderón de la Barca is a good guess, but I’ve only read one title by him so I cannot comment in full. Yet, Calderón de la Barca sounded as if he had something to say. Likewise, I would probably prop J.R.R. Tolkien up there if only for all of his poems, although that is shirking the question slightly again…

So, those are the names that I would put forward. I didn’t think much on where to get them from, nor did I spend an inordinate amount of time on them, but I think that’s something for a start (I’d be interested to see what any of my readers say). I dare add that this is probably one of those questions which are better left unasked in general, although it is also always fun to throw names around and see which ones stay in the air. But, for now, I’ll keep to the poets…

The Kindle (and its Possibilities)

 So, recently I’ve been trying to make an informed decision about the Amazon Kindle 3. It’s been tough, but I think I’ve managed to make one.

However, with searching for information about it I also managed to come upon a rather decent amount of self-publishers (including a man named JA Konrath who has a very interesting blog, which I recommend!) that are making a decent profit out of their avantures on the Kindle. So, I’ve been taking a look at that side as well (KDP: Kindle Digital Publishing, for anyone interested) for both myself (future) and possible AE functions. Which incidentally means I went and checked what’s happening on AE.

Significant? Only if the idea turns out to be a good one. 😉

If.

On Reading and Writing

I think that when I once began this version of my thoughts in the shape of words and paragraphs, I said that I would take pleasure in commenting upon a few authors and their pieces of writing, that I consider excelling in all manners or some.

Now, to begin, I’d first say a few thoughts on writing instead of reading. Writing demands time and passion, also skill. Without skill and style, one may put an infinite amount of words into a sentence, but it will mean nothing and it will be valued as nothing. The song that I have selected as the ‘Current Music’ somehow reflects this complication that I feel about writing, and, more to the point, writing well. Writing well means that there are already concepts that can be developed — I would take the historical backgrounds that Ryotaro Shiba and Robert Graves present us, and compare them to the nationalistic passions that Henryk Sienkiewicz so well materialises… the eloquent style and form of Hermann Hesse, or the grandiose descriptions of John Tolkien and Arthur Clarke, utilized very differently, but still enhancing the bigger picture.

‘And I will start again… Make a wish…’
— Conjure One, ‘Make a Wish’

Writing also demands much other resources — firstly, one cannot simple write since it demands a special mood of sorts that I am at a loss to describe though I am sure that people who do write (occasionally) know what I hereby mean; secondly, the concept should not merely be stating what thousands have already stated, but to try (and to succeed) in putting to paper something new, or, at the very least, something that few others have done well.

Today, I managed to reflect that I have likely not read any non-English or Japanese author in the past two or three months. Oh, sure, I have read Eliot, Clarke, Kawabata, Shiba, Graves, Maugham, Tolkien, and some others. But not a single non-English/Japanese writer in this time-span. Possibly, the last one from other sources that I read was Hemingway whose ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ was, simply put, excellent. To specify, this does not exclude various foreign newspapers (American, Australian, British) and magazines that I happen to read or skim in what detail I can, but a newspaper or a magazine is far different from a decent novel. In any case, I happened to read Plato’s ‘Apology’ today, and I found it compelling. Compelling to think, compelling to be. But, just to further prove my earlier words, I did happen to the library a few days ago (might have been yesterday… but I lose track of such details since they are of no consequence), and who did I lend..? Kawabata (The Master of Go), Graves (Count Belisarius), Maugham (Razor’s Edge), and Clavell (Tai-pan).

Anyways, I think that I wished to say a few words about reading as well. Reading demands attention, even more so than writing, mainly because of the little details or stylistic nuances that writers like to add into their works. Reading books of good style is easy — reading those which are said to be ‘classic’ or ‘superb’ is however a different thing. Indeed, many of these so-proclaimed grand works amount to very little in my eyes. A true good book can be sensed when looked upon, when read. One should not have to exert more than the usual concentration to remain fixed in a book. If that happens, then the book is simply over-worked. The young writer’s (Paolini, might have been) series of a dragon-boy and whatnot come to mind which simply have the English-English dictionary written into themselves.

As a final thought, I’d like to say that what makes for a good read should also make for a good quote. Both Plato’s ‘Apology’, and Robert Graves’ ‘Count Belisarius’ offer for many such instances. I am sure that I need not be disappointed with any other of the books that I lent. Nor in any of the authors I mentioned in the lists before. What about others though?

Edit: 27-11-2010. Fixed an error: I attributed the lyrics present in this text to Enigma instead of Conjure One.