A few months ago someone retweeted an Ebert post; it was interesting and so I started following him, and my life has never been the same. No, it isn't that dramatic, but I find him incredibly insightful, especially for someone I'm not predisposed to agree with (see the Unbridgeable, Inexhaustible Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives*). But he loves his books and he loves his movies, so it was fated from the foundation of time that I would love him. He posted a blog the other day and I'm going to share an excerpt that I completely disagree with which is the source of my current joy:
"My house is filled with books. I read every day. I willingly enter older, slower novels by Balzac, Dickens, Hugo. I love Henry James for the very reason many find him unreadable, the texture of his language. The style of a writer is important to me, and the language is more important than the story. It is how it is about it, not what it is about it [emphasis added by me]. I like Faulkner and McCarthy because their prose is al dente. And Cather and Simenon because they write as clearly as running water."
I read and enjoy books for exactly the opposite reason. I don't much care about the way a writer writes—I judge a book by the level of insight it has, the things it makes me think about, the strength and imagination of the story, if I find the philosophy compelling/interesting etc.
I have a lot of anxiety over my intellectual capabilities. I like Dostoevsky, but I like Stephen King, too. So when I don't dig Dickens all that much, I just automatically assume it's because I'm deficient in some way. Ironically, when intellectual titan Ebert states stridently that style is much more important to him than substance, I feel flooded with relief. This is the way I see it: If such a smart man can value style over substance, then I know it isn't sheerly a matter of intellect that determines what you will get out of a book. I don't understand why someone would care more about style than story, but what I know for sure is it isn't due to any kind of deficiency or shallowness. Naturally by extension the same would be true for my preferences (especially because I see my own as, subjectively of course, superior).
So there you go, I feel better, QED. Thank you, Ebert.
And that headline was just to be provocative, we don't really disagree, we just value different things in a text.
*Intended to be sarcastic—I believe in our ability to listen to and love one another.