Let’s talk about Jane Smiley’s writing

3 minute read
560 smileyjane
Let's talk about writing
(specifically, Jane Smiley's)


Good editors used to tighten up sloppy prose. They cut out redundant paragraphs. They made sure a simple declarative sentence actually had a noun and a verb and a reason for being included in the paragraph. That was before the Internet, of course.

Famous people— writers and non-writers— post their opinions on the Huffington Post website for publication. The former right-winger Arianna Huffington dumped her wealthy conservative hubby, Michael, just before he announced he was gay in 1998. Then she reinvented herself as a “progressive populist.” Fortunately for Arianna, her ex settled a huge amount of dough on her, which means she now hosts her own radio show, and she appears on more TV talk shows than she did when she was a right-wing Republican. Plus, she has her Huffington Post website, which will print anything from anyone with a recognizable name.

I’m not knocking The Huffington Post. I read it regularly. And that leads to my point:

I used to love Jane Smiley’s writing. That is, I loved her writing back in the days when she wrote Age of Grief (1987) and when she either had an editor or she read what she wrote before publishing it. She won a Pulitzer for A Thousand Acres and established serious writerly credentials in 13 Ways of Looking At the Novel.

A challenge to the Pope (and to readers, too)

Smiley writes for The Huffington Post. This past April 10, she posted a 1,691-word article, “My Reply to the Pope's Easter Message.” One scans helplessly through paragraphs about religion, Smiley’s experience with religion and the separation of church and state, looking for a well-constructed thesis or a resting place and finding neither. You can read all 1,691 lugubrious words here. For our purposes, let’s play Smiley’s editor. God knows somebody should.

—“It seems obvious to me that globalization and religion are on a collision course. The world we live in is the 13 colonies writ large, but our leaders don't have the good sense that the founders had.” Our leaders don’t have the good sense that the founders had? Why not: Our leaders lacked the good sense of our founders?

—“Our attempts to get the faithful and their religious superstructures to simply back off and leave some blank public space where daily life can proceed without coercive ‘faith’ or greedy ‘religion’ are seen as the ultimate insult.” Yes, but what about our attempts to get secularists like Jane Smiley to express themselves in pithy sentences, preferably of fewer than 37 words?

—“I am sure whatever religious group or faithful follower it is who explodes that big bomb and kills all those innocent people will have some excuse, some reason why in spite of all appearances, that individual or group is innocent or holy or pure. God will have told them to do it. Oh, I mean, the ego-mania they call ‘God’ will have told them to do it.” Not to mention the egomania of Internet posters unconstrained by editors.

Even if there is no God……..

Is it fair to judge a writer by something posted on a blog? Of course it’s fair. Millions of people read The Huffington Post. When a well-known and respected writer like Jane Smiley publishes work that’s ill conceived, ill considered, slapdash and clumsy, it’s fair to call her to account.

Maybe the secularists like Jane Smiley are right when they deny God’s existence. But if we humans don’t live on after death, our words do. Is it too much to ask people— especially writers— to treat their words with respect?

To read a response, click here.

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