The mainstream literary pleasure of highly literate readers.

STUCK WITH THEIR HEAD IN A BOOK

That’s where the young readers are, when they can get away with it. I was.

I kept books in three locations in our house in Mexico City, and snuck around so my mother wouldn’t find me and want me to do something – but I always had a book. In English. Of what was around the house, including my parents’ collection of the Great Books (only the half I liked) plus the James Bond novels and such my father brought home from business trips..

It is like an addiction, pouring words into your head.

Many people learn the pleasure of reading later – and do perfectly fine with it. But there is a subset of humans who are bookworms from a young age, and once they discover the printed word, can’t get enough of it.

My readers tend to be in that group.

Figuring out words in context is a big part of that

If you read material that is probably too hard for you, you’re going to run into words you’ve never seen before. That’s when the vocabulary starts to build: you don’t understand the sentence a word is in until you have some tentative meaning for the word, so you guess, store it away as a ‘possible,’ and move on with the story.

Do this enough times, and that word will get its meaning altered a tiny bit each time you run into it, because each place you see it will give it context, and eventually most words will have a complex meaning that settles pretty close to what you’d find in a dictionary.

Or you could ask someone (mom, teacher…) or look it up, and nowadays touch it on your Kindle and have the meaning pop up, but all those things take more time and interrupt the flow of the story, so many of us reserved that for rare occasions, and just kept reading.

The literary mainstream novel

English is an incredibly rich language (we steal anything we don’t have, and, voilà, it’s English now), and I can find the perfect word for most applications – with the nuances I’m looking for.

My readers don’t need anything explained: they either know it already, or they will be fine figuring it out in context.

Mind you, I’m not looking for the truly ‘literary’ one-of-a-kind only an English professor would know them words.

Just the words that I’ve acquired from all those books I’ve read – without paying specific attention.

The only ‘class’ I’ve ever taken in ‘English’ was the Freshman English course I took when I transferred as a junior from UNAM in Mexico City to Seattle U., which it turned out later I didn’t need to take.

That class also got me to write the only term paper I ever wrote, something wild about the psychological significance of Wuthering Heights, and for which I immersed myself in the literary criticism journals at the SU library, which had articles such as ‘The Window Motif in …’

I had fun, I got an A+, and never before or since was exposed to language that way.

I am not a literary writer; I’d have to have an entirely different background for that, and it wasn’t my path as a physicist. At this stuff, I’m an autodidact. They’re at an entirely different level.

Pride’s Children is just where it all came to roost.

They said, “Write the novel you want to read, and can’t find.”

‘They’ were right. It has been great fun just letting a novel be what I wanted it to be, and using everything stored in my very odd and now damaged brain exactly the way I want to.

And my readers like it!

That’s such a charge.

Here are some of those words from Chapter 27 of Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, which I just finished writing, and am now polishing up to send to Rachel, my wonderful – and omnivorously trained like me – beta reader. AutoCrit, my editing assistant software, flagged them as ‘uncommon in general fiction.’

  • interlocutress
  • verandah
  • malevolence
  • illusory
  • epigraphs
  • attribution
  • obeisance
  • dopamine
  • quintessence
  • scrupulous
  • galvanized
  • volition
  • tableau
  • pragmatist
  • modus operandi
  • bafflegab
  • choreographed
  • Janus
  • excoriated
  • impeccable
  • preternatural
  • demotion
  • demonstrably
  • asunder
  • pique
  • bawdy
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • pachyderm
  • impunity
  • wafting

Not really that tricky, are they?

But you don’t hear them much, and they like to get some attention, too.


Thanks again to Stencil, which allows me to create graphics with very little effort – and wonderful photos. When I need more than a few a month, I will definitely get their paying version. Meanwhile, I mention them here every once in a while, in case others need the same capacity.


 

19 thoughts on “The mainstream literary pleasure of highly literate readers.

  1. joey

    I looked up bafflegab! That was the one I learned just now. I don’t think the rest are terribly uncommon — unless one isn’t reading. Which you expressed. I read a lot. I read for pleasure, for learning, in research at work. I read before I went to school. I was in chapter books by age 6 and into literature by 12. Love of words, love of language, right up there with my love of ice cream ❤

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  2. Janna G. Noelle

    I would agree with Autocrit that the words in your list are uncommon in fiction, but that doesn’t make them invalid, and also say something about the state of mainstream fiction. I’ve used a number of these words myself in my writing (obeisance, impeccable, preternatural, volition, wafting, pique) and am happy to report that with the exception of bafflegab I can define them all. I read your previous comment to see bafflegab in action in the text, so now I’ve learned something new. As should be with fiction.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Literacy without pretentiousness is the base expectation – which is why I use Jane Eyre as one of my touchstones. People who have read Jane Eyre for pleasure tend to be those who can handle the level of literary that used to be the expectation for well-educated people.

      It’s not possible for everyone to have read everything any more, and in any education, many things will have been neglected. Even in my own times I was a rarity – most people had much fuller real lives than I had.

      Schools waste an incredible amount of time on logistics, including having one group of students wait while the teacher reaches as many as possible. When we homeschooled, we had some of that time.

      The kids were not necessarily equal readers – our oldest was the most like me, and far surpassed me in reading technical manuals from a very young age – but we had no time wasted on ditto sheets, and I encouraged a very high level of competence in basic English.

      Their handwriting suffered because they spent little time coloring – but their whole generation’s handwriting is barely adequate, and the rest of the kids DID color.

      I enjoy your blog posts because we seem to have that additional level of enjoyment in language that results in more complex sentences, more complex ideas. I suspect I’ll like your writing, even though I’m not heavily oriented toward historical fiction.

      I stay well clear of the academic level of literary fiction; I suspect it leads to the navel-gazing end of the literary spectrum, at least from what I’ve seen, and I’m not comfortable there.

      ‘Mainstream literary fiction’ – well-written and well plotted and and complex but not precious – that’s where I aim.

      Or I wouldn’t be writing something which will be as long as GWTW when it’s finished.

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  3. Lynda Dietz

    I read with a little trepidation down your list, and was thrilled to note that there were only four words I hadn’t heard of. Whew! I used to always read with a paperback dictionary on my bedside table so I could quickly look up anything that was puzzling. I hated the interruption to the reading, but I hated the not-knowing even more.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Oh, dear. I didn’t mean to provide a challenge! I don’t use words that don’t already exist in my brain – after asking myself if they are common enough so that most readers won’t have to look them up. So sorry.

      Today I removed preternatural because it is too vague. ONE of its definitions was exactly what I remembered, and exactly what I meant, but the others broadened it too much.

      I google words I use when I’m not positive – nothing like an author using words wrong and looking like an idiot! And anything I miss, Rachel catches.

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  4. acflory

    Bafflegab? Okay, you got me with that one. 😀 Oh and I agree with everything you wrote. My addiction started at 8, and I was reading Crime and Punishment by 12.

    It’s kind of eerie how similar our reading/writing adventure has been. I’ve always read in the loo coz no one disturbs you there, and my teachers were the classics. Isn’t it better to be shown how to write well than to be told?

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The house I grew up in had three bathrooms; two of those had books in them (the other was my dad’s, and was small); other good places were under the living room couch. It depended where my mother was!

      bafflegab: incomprehensible or pretentious language, especially bureaucratic jargon; use it all the time. But only once a book.

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      1. acflory

        Under the couch???? How on earth did you fit?
        I’ll keep a look out for bafflegab in the next book, but now you have to promise to use it.:D

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Not me, silly. The book.

          The excerpt:

          “‘In the air’.” Cecily’s fingers air-quoted.
          Kary nodded.
          “Same as some of the comments. Hard to pin them down to a particular person, and yet ‘everybody knows’.”
          “That’s when I miss the nouns the most.”
          “Nouns?”
          “It was the thing, you know, that he brought up at the place, but nobody brought up the other part, and now everyone thinks it’s okay, but it’s missing something…”
          “Pardon?”
          “I’m a writer. Real conversation is saturated with pronouns, and everyone else knows what they refer to, but if you come in at the middle, you have no idea what ‘thing,’ ‘place,’ ‘part,’ or ‘something’ represent—and you have no clue what they’re talking about.”
          “Got it. It was the battle at the castle, but no one brought up the dungeon, and it’s missing a guard.” Cecily shook her head. “I’d never noticed, but ye’re right. Bafflegab.”
          “Ask—you reveal yourself as an outsider. Don’t—and you’re clueless. Great for rumors.”
          “There are always rumors.”
          “That’s what Andrew said. I had no idea you all operated on gossip and innuendo.”
          “It depends on whose production ye’re in.”

          I put a few spaces in front of each paragraph above, but WordPress eats formatting, and it doesn’t show. I think you can see Cecily and Kary talking, anyway. The blockquote I just tried may work.

          Nope. just turned it all into italics. I give up. You’ll have to wait for the finished product for the formatting.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Widdershins

    Well, pish-posh to Autocrit, those words are essential to general fiction ( I wonder who wrote Aitocrits algorythms) … I discovered ‘big’ words at an early age too, and managed to figure them out without too much trouble. 🙂

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I only use AutoCrit to count – but I love that it counts so many things I find useful, and that it would be a pain to figure out. The various readability indices all must have lists of words – that may be what is being used.

      It isn’t emotional; it’s pragmatic to know.

      And I agree with you – which is the why of this post. Vocabulary shouldn’t be the result of studying for the SAT, but of reading use up until then.

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  6. Chris

    About reading material that is too hard for you…
    When I was a kid, I had my own room but there was a very serendipitous twist in the plot: It was also used as the room where the house bookcase was placed. As an inherently curious child, I would often grab random books to browse and read — some of them were not just difficult (imagine a 10-year old deciding to read ‘The Winter of Our Discontent’ or ‘Ben Hur’), they were somewhat inappropriate, too.
    I remember the feeling of transgression when I discovered a mini encyclopedia on psychology — words such as “regression”, “ego”, or “super-ego” were just indecipherable, but a chapter called “human sexuality” made me feel I had just broken into Fort Knox. 🙂
    All in all, though, having that bookcase there was an amazing thing to have happened to me — it has definitely played a part in my being who I am. Having direct access to hundreds of books (including literary classics as well as academic nonfiction) and having read most of them before my 18th birthday was incredible.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      You are so lucky!

      I made do later with National Geographics at my grandparents’ house. And my grandmother was a teacher, so she had a bunch of high school English and American Literature big fat volumes of everything, like they used to have – plus the classics, plus The Complete Sherlock Holmes (when I was 9) from a neighbor…

      It was hard getting enough to read in English, but I was always reading something. Mother wanted me outside ‘playing.’ I could only do so much of that!

      I had no access to a library with much of anything else in it until I made it to the States, but I made up for it.

      People like you understand. Readers who do also seem to leave me really nice reviews if they like my kind of fiction.

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