Look, I don’t mean to give you a big head here, but if you’re reading this then you’re probably a pretty smart cookie. Statistical research suggests that people who stop by this way tend to be avid readers, and probably writers as well. Clever clogs like us get used to each others company, and it’s easy to start thinking that, well, everyone is as clever as we are.
But they aren’t.
Now, I don’t mean to belittle the stupid. Actually there are a lot of downsides to exercising your intelligence. Once you start thinking too hard about things, there’s no end to what you can think hard about, so many people quite validly avoid thinking too much about anything.
So I wish I could agree with Umberto Eco (who I LOVE) in The Guardian when he says that ‘people are tired of simple things, they want to be challenged‘. And by wish, I mean that every fibre of my superior, snobby little soul is vibrating in agreement. But the rational part of my mind that retains a tenuous engagement with reality knows that more people will watch X-Factor this Saturday than will ever read any one of Mr. Eco’s sublime novels.
When it comes to complexity in novels, it is lost on most people. Worse than lost, it will likely make a text incomprehensible to most people. Because most people, whilst literate, just aren’t very good at reading. Dense, poetic prose, rich in symbolism and thematic depth, the things us writerly smarty pants all love so much, will just confuse the hell out of most people. That prose passage you’re so proud of, the one that switches seamlessly between the internal monologues of the novels five key protagonists whilst expanding the narratives core philosophical argument? Most people just couldn’t make it go in to their head even if they tried. You may as well expect them to read pure binary machine code.
Bestselling books are, by and large, simple books. Simple stories, simple language, simple ideas. But, simple is as simple does. Perhaps the real art of the novelist is saying the most complex things in the simplest ways, so that even stupid people can understand.