The roses? The violets? The nasturtiums? The chive blossoms? All the tasty writing that once garnished the mental meals on the menu of fiction?
When I would go to check my print-on-demand account, I used to stop by the “community” to take a peek at the previews put up by aspiring writers who intended to publish with the same printer. After 18 months, I gave up: within the previews I never found even one sentence that qualified as a snack.
Writing quality has deteriorated badly, and I’m convinced the reason can be found in “education reform,” starting when desks were unbolted from classroom floors. Children who had done poorly on their homework, memorization and recitation grew up to reinvent themselves as “educationalists,” who convinced government officials to keep dumbing-down the Three Rs.
Anybody who doubts this should take a long, hard look at the McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers: Primer through the Sixth. These books constituted much of the reading and writing instruction back when desks were still bolted down: middle-class adults had graduated from “grammar” school, the upper middle-class graduated from “high” school, and the upper class were university graduates.
I earned a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration. When I was in graduate school, I had to participate in group projects with students who would have had difficulty processing the McGuffey Readers,* and their writing skills ranged from atrocious to nonexistent. All university graduates, mind you.
Education reform also produced several generations of “professional” agents and editors who understood so little about what makes good writing good that they were easily bamboozled by early 20th-century “avant-garde” scribblers, whose grasp of punctuation and parts of speech was shaky, but by virtue of their incoherence, managed to pass off their prose as “profound,” and became enshrined as epitomes of writing excellence.
So, now that publishing has been blown wide open, we have agents and editors who won’t touch writing that employs adjectives, adverbs and semicolons, with a barge pole; and writers to whom “descriptive writing” means monosyllabic grunts liberally larded with obscenities, “character development” means characters who have passed pubertal development, and “plot” means seeing how many times they can make their characters “say it” and “do it.”
I’m famished for a banquet of fresh, florid, well-turned phrases, but all they’re serving is rusty iceberg lettuce house salad. Picked by language Luddites, every one.
* McGuffey has been reprinted. I own a set. (Not surprising? I didn’t think so.)
(Parts of this rant have appeared in comments elsewhere in the blogosphere.)