Monday, April 09, 2007

Ranting with the classics

Yesterday's bad-book rant made me wish I could savage a book the way Mark Twain did in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (read it here). Twain goes after Cooper with every weapon in the arsenal, from the subtle stiletto to the Sherman tank. Sometimes he damns with faint praise:

Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go.

And sometimes his comments are more blunt: "There have been daring people in the world who claimed that Cooper could write English, but they are all dead now." Twain proceeds to bury any remaining Cooper fans under a mound of infelicitous passages from The Deerslayer.

Best of all, Twain includes his own 18 rules for the writing of fiction, including my favorite, #14: "Eschew surplusage." If the author of the book I complained about yesterday had seriously considered the immense number of mediocre books already in print, perhaps she would have refrained from adding to the surplus and saved us all a lot of trouble.

1 comment:

Joy said...

His rule about word choice - use the right word for the job, not its second cousin (badly paraphrased) - actually aided Early American Novel yesterday during a discussion about word choice in Huck Finn.

Thanks for steering me toward the essay - it was hysterical!