Form Versus Function

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 09.43.21The unreadable book.

It is always the unreadable that occurs. —Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying 

People toss around the word unreadable a lot—invariably about something they have, by definition, read, at least in part. By “people,” I specifically mean people who read for a living, or part of it. It’s one of those conversation enders, a condemnation so sweeping and damning that one is powerless to argue.

But beyond this, unreadable can mean many things. An unreadable book may be pretentious, obscure, indecipherable, and/or not worth the time it takes to decode. Occasionally, the unreadable text takes vague inspiration from modernism, postmodernism, and academic writing. Footnotes are not uncommon. This form—aspirational unreadability—is popular among the very young and the mentally ill.

There is writing so incompetent that it is unreadable: clunky sentences, random tense shifts, leaden dialog. This is particularly irritating in the case of plot-driven narrative, with a special emphasis on mysteries. Terrible translations also belong in this category, although they are sort of a category of their own.

Then there is the literally unreadable, otherwise known as the illegible. Granted, this is not as common in a post–typewriter ribbon age. But weird fonts, the use of symbols, and computer viruses can all contribute to unreadability. Handwritten manuscripts are often unreadable, too—although it should be said that in my experience, these usually fall into one of the above categories, too.

To be unreadable means that the book in question is not merely bad but offensively bad, an imposition on one’s valuable time. It is not pleasurable or instructive in any way. An unreadable book serves none of the functions of a book, whatever that may mean to an individual. The epithet is high-handed and subjective. Anyone who uses it is redefining literacy! At least for a moment.

Originally from Sadie Stein, contributing editor of The Paris Review and the Daily’s correspondent.

The Self-Published Writer’s Hubris


I understand… Sometimes we should just raise shoulders, and move on. But sometimes it is just a tough one. One aspect of self-publishing that really ruffles me up—and it does so because it hurts all independent authors—is the oddball writer who has quite a peculiar vision of what entails publishing, being read, and the care and sweat […]

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“Write Every Day” – Simone Pond

Pond Books

Award-winning author of young adult dystopian fiction. Simone Pond is an award-winning author of dystopian fiction. Her current series includes The City Center, The New Agenda, The Mainframe, and The Torrent. She also has a short story series called Voices of the Apocalypse. She grew up in Kensington, Maryland—a small town just outside of Washington […]

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Spiderworld – by Richard Bunning

AIA Publishing has just released its fifth book, and in line with previous fiction titles, the book has a unique voice and a metaphysical bent. Spiderworld by Richard Bunning turns the tables on humans and spiders, and makes you think about humankind’s relationship with animals and with each other. Not even the time-lord, Orlando Oversight, […]

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Cover Reveal – “Daimones” – Booktrope Publishing edition

If you were subscribed to my newsletter,  you would already know that I’ve signed with Booktrope Publishing. The whole Daimones trilogy will receive new covers, new editing and proofreading, some rewrite and some culling, all while waiting for me to finish my fourth novel, “The Law,” a YA Urban SF. If not, now you know. Daimones, […]

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The Technology of Trailokya ~ By K. Williams

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Technological advances usually follow a need based origin. Rarely is anything created simply because it can be. In the hit television show Star Trek, we see this theory carried out. The tech used on the ships and in the lives of the character all have purpose. So, creating a world where sci-fi roots are overshadowed […]

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Of Godlike Power – Mack Reynolds

In Of Godlike Power, Mark Reynolds quipped on the consumer society (at the time of the novel, they used to call it “affluent society”) by placing in his bulls-eye the organization of work and leisure time—thus also of culture—in the capitalist system, its inequities and absurdities, the squandering of resources, brain, and so on. This “critique” is conducted by […]

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Vulcan’s Hammer – Philip K. Dick

 Vulcan’s Hammer might be one of the lesser works of Dick, true, but it remains an interesting novel narrating of a world ruled by computers as only Dick could do. In this planet Earth of the future, all major decisions—in every field—are taken by a supercomputer known as Vulcan. The computer processes data are provided by “Directors” of the […]

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Star Trek – Alan Dean Foster

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Novelizations, i.e., adaptations in the form of a novel of the story of a movie, is a difficult task. Without much circumlocution, they do not always manage to live of their own life. Essentially, they are part of the promotional machine, an attempt to obtain as much dollars as possible from the fame of a film. The writer […]

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I Spent the Night at the Hospital

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Yesterday, Life reminded me how ephemeral everything we do is and–also because of this–how important and crucial are every moment, every day, from the little smiled “good morning” of your wife/husband/significant other/cat/dog, to the last look at the glitters the silver moonlight blinks at you with from the shattered glass you broke and damned the day […]

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