I’m just back from my honeymoon, where apart from the obvious* I did a lot of reading. Literary stuff: Nobel Laureates, classic suspense, top journalism. And it set me wondering what the definition of literature really is.
No textbook (or textbook author) has ever won a Nobel or a Booker. But a few great ones – like Alberts and his Molecular Biology of the Cell – would deserve consideration if they were in the running. And the literary world is starting to understand non-traditional literary forms as valid literature: look at Spiegelman’s Maus or Moore’s multi-layered Watchmen, both graphic novels.
So a teaching text is literature, according to my definition of it. (That’s wonderful ideas, beautifully communicated.) Not literary in the flowery Faulkner or artful Wolfe sense (although I’m not dissing those uber-dudes) but literary in the Hemingway or headline sense: brilliantly precise and to-the-point sentences, arranged into exactly the right order to bring complex concepts into concrete existence in the reader’s mind.
100 Days, 100 Grand started as a pocket tract: I’d guessed 40,000 words you could finish in a weekend that’d give you some tips for maximising your income as a freelancer. Something akin to Strunk and White. Now it’s looking like an A4-sized 750-page textbook, and I’d like it to be a great one. And a great textbook – the kind people annotate, scribble in margins, put fluorescent tabs in – perhaps means treating it as literature. Wonderful ideas, beautifully communicated.
If this grand project of mine turns out to be something people leave their jobs and remortgage their homes for, the least I owe them is to give them a damn good read.
So as I near the editing phase of the work (a great chunk of the actual facts and figures stuff is reasonably complete and in sequence) I’m going to be looking even more critically at my use of language. Whether each sentence uses the smallest number of the shortest words needed to convey meaning. Whether each bullet is constructed in parallel; whether each checklist item uses active verbs and the active voice. That I’m using second person invisible everywhere except the author’s bio. Check, revise, and check again. Make it really worth the reading.
That’s the goal, anyway…
* Shooting handguns, driving 4WDs, and exploring coral reefs 12m beneath the waves. What did you think?