Is Literacy Dead?

The worst thing to happen to ADHD readers is poorly-written prose.
Treating ADHD Blog | posted by Bill Mehlman

I'd like to rant about the death of literacy, but this isn't the right venue.

If ever I get my website up and running, along with a collateral blog, you'll be able to see some bile. Anyway, I was sitting at my desk the other day, slogging through a dreadful manuscript, thinking about egos and entitlement. People write these unreadable, poorly plotted, typo-ridden "books" and send them off to publishers, who send them off to drudges like me for major surgery.

These things actually get published, and it makes me ill. If my eighth grade teacher, whose name I forget, the one who taught us to diagram sentences, ever saw some of this tripe, there'd be hell to pay and no pitch hot. (I'm not sure what that means, but it appeared numerous times in the Patrick O'Brien novels.)

Do kids still learn to diagram sentences? I blush to admit that I fought against acquiring that skill for a year. Never could understand the point. But I always had a good intuitive grasp, an ear, to mix metaphors rather brutally, for language, and it usually made sense without having to make those diagrams.

In reading these horrible books, however, sometimes I wish I could conjure up one of those graphics, because the sentences are so poorly crafted that it can take some real effort to sort them out.

You've seen these train wrecks: no proper nouns; no agreement of number and tense; confusing (or no) punctuation; mis-used words and, most of all, no sense that the author himself knew what he wanted to say.

It occurred to me that for ADHDans, a sentence like this can be a death sentence for the book he's reading. My particular downfall is remembering characters' names, to the point that when I'm editing I have to draw charts. Imagine how much worse it is when, halfway through one of these epics, it becomes clear that "Frances" and "Francis" are the same person, an epiphany that resolves a lot of plot issues. If I were reading for pleasure (a phrase I use advisedly) I'd have given up much earlier.

I have no hope that this situation will improve. All I can suggest for those of us who are afflicted is to concentrate on making our own language clearer and more precise, and to stop buying and reading the tripe.

If you want to get your head clear, go read some John McPhee or E.B. White, or, for the sports people among you, some Herbert Warren Wind (all of whom, and not by coincidence, wrote for The New Yorker in its palmier days). It's an enjoyable pursuit, and may help you to understand that the problem isn't entirely in your head, but in the morass of unfounded self-esteem, ignorance and poor judgment that allows some of these authors to allow their names to be attached to these horrid books.

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