Monday, January 29, 2007

Yes, But Is It Literature?

I suppose it had to happen eventually: an author in Finland has published a 332-page novel written entirely in text message format. The book, titled The Last Messages, tells the story of a Finnish information-technology executive who quits his job to travel throughout Europe and India, keeping in touch with his friends and relatives only through text messages.

Readers of this blog know that I appreciate clear and persuasive writing, mainly because I see so little of it in my job. It seems as if schools these days are less interested in correcting mistakes of composition, grammar, spelling and punctuation, and more interested in making sure everyone gets a passing grade (or better, since some parents appear to take it as a personal insult if their child receives a grade as mundane as a "C"...which is, after all, supposed to be the average). One of the most precious gifts I received as I was growing up was a mother who was very literate and encouraged in all of us a love of reading and writing; another was a series of truly wonderful teachers of English who set and enforced high standards of performance.

I'm continually amazed by the quality of the writing churned out by people who should be able to do better: writing characterized by sentences and paragraphs that don't make sense, subjects and verbs that don't agree, and egregious spelling errors (often resulting from overreliance on the automated spell-checker which, after all, doesn't tell you that you've used the wrong word but spelled it correctly). My mother taught us that we would be judged by people who didn't know us on the basis of what we wrote and said, long before they knew anything else about us. It's true: when I read a business letter that's poorly composed or full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, it tells me that the writer didn't care enough to spend the time to make sure his message was clear. It insults me as the reader by telling me I'm not important enough to receive the writer's best effort.

Part of the problem is that e-mail and text messaging have driven down standards of writing in the interest of brevity. I understand "rotflol" and "ttfn" and "ygbkm," but it doesn't mean I have to like them, especially when they appear in formal correspondence. A little formality in writing - even in a breezy e-mail to a close friend - is not a bad thing, for it shows respect for the recipient of the message.

As for Mr Hannu Luntiala, the author of the Finnish text-message novel, I wish him all the best and hope his book sells well.

But I won't be buying it.

Have a good day. Write something worth reading. More thoughts tomorrow.


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