A Qualified Arbiter?

I want to know WHY I find the essays of one such as Stephen Jay Gould to be more accessible, and therefore of greater power, than that of the essay A Perfect Game by David B. Hart. I know I prefer the one. The question is “Why?”

The literary world will grimace when I invite Stephen King to serve as an arbiter.

Another favorite essayist of mine, whose pen has now grown silent, is Cullen Murphy who wrote for the Atlantic Monthly (and produced, for a time, the epic Sunday comic staple “Prince Valiant“). In a humorous but perceptive essay, Murphy came to King’s defense, I think, when King was taken to task by Harold Bloom for making no contribution to humanity other than “keeping the publishing world afloat”.

King’s book On Writing is more a memoir than a handbook on style (and is therefore a book that many can read and enjoy), but he did make some comments about style that have stuck with me. In short, he, like many stylists, praised the active voice and eschewed unnecessarily complex sentences and tendentious uses of modifiers. (“The adverb is not your friend,” he says.)

I’d like to go through the essays by Hart and Gould, mark the use of adjectives and adverbs, the complex sentences, and the use of the passive voice. My guess is that Gould would have far fewer of each. This would be fun, but I despair having the time to do it.

I’m just a lowly pastor and consumer of the written word. And I may be an arrogant one at that, setting myself in judgment over one who not only thinks, he writes, and not only writes, but writes with sufficient merit to be published. But when good ideas, ideas I want to embrace, are wrapped in obscurity, that makes me sad. I’d like to see them set free.

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