When you look at the word from a dictionary point of view it seems like a good thing:
- Handiness: the quality of being at hand when needed
- Approachability: the attribute of being easy to meet or deal with
But somehow this seemingly benign word has turned into a little bit of an insult.
Look at this definition as an example:
- Accessible - capable of being read with comprehension; "readily accessible to the nonprofessional reader"; "the tales seem more approachable than his more difficult novels"
I know what's going on here. If a book is "accessible," what you're really saying is that it's dumbed down.
Accessibility has become one of the most overused words in reviewing-- right next to "gritty." I've used the word in the past and meant it as a compliment. One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to write in a way that has broad appeal. There are times when being likable is not the same thing as being good (*cough*Twilight*cough*) but I admire authors that can take a lot of complex ideas and convey the essence in a succinct way. Anyone who has tried to write a 200 word book review knows exactly how hard brevity can be.
I'm someone who likes books that are given the humdrum label of accessibility. But I also think we need to reexamine what the word really means when we talk about literature.
When the word is applied to science fiction, it's pretty easy to read between the lines. If I can understand it, then it's not too complicated. But how complicated should it be? Should a scifi novel read like it was written by Stephen Hawking?
What about fantasy?
I have yet to read a fantasy book I couldn't understand. There are varying degrees of complexity, but nothing that I would say is incomprehensible. The use of maps-- or lack thereof-- has no bearing on whether or not I understand the world in which the story exists. I'm not even thrown by the dictionaries that are so often tacked on the end of a fantasy novel-- I'm good like that. And I'm pretty sure that holds true for most fans of fantasy fiction.
No. These days accessibility seems to cover a lot more territory; and in my opinion has more to do with taste, and maybe the need to dismiss a differing opinion, than anything else.
Here's my gripe. I'm kind of tired of profanity in my fiction. Call me a prude, but I feel like modern entertainment has gotten really coarse. I've read, and championed, more than a few books that drop the f-bomb like nobody's business, so you'd think I wouldn't mind. And I wouldn't if the success of one author didn't spawn a dozen copycats. It's like Hollywood and it's obsession with sequels. They assume that a monster hit in the 80's will automatically generate a huge audience 20-years later because we're too dumb to know that they're out of ideas. Well, publishing has proven that it too will churn-and-burn as many books in whatever style is currently fashionable to make a profit-- not that I blame anyone. I like to make money as much as the next guy. But, like any industry, once you start worrying more about what's popular, you forget to worry about what's good. Worse, you end up with an audience that becomes to immune to subtlety.
And I guess this is where I part ways with some of the other reviewers I cross paths with. I've noticed lately that when I say I like one author more than another who is known for their "edginess" I get the cyber equivalent of a pat on the head and the inevitable observation that it's nice that I like the more "accessible" author-- but it's time to let the grown-ups talk about their books now.
Okay. I exaggerate. But I'm a little miffed that there seems to be this notion that one has to prefer books that bludgeon the reader with words rather than caress them with language. That it's somehow dumber to forgo viciousness and sarcasm for something a little more inspiring. That "accessibility" is somehow not a desirable trait.
What can I say other than I completely disagree? I think it's much harder to be interesting when you don't fall back on the lowest common denominator. In fact, I wonder what you'd be left with if you take the profanity and violence out of some current fiction-- would there be a story left? Imagine if you did that with your average video game. Or reality show.
Maybe it's my age. But I feel like the real world is mean enough without it seeping so deeply into our entertainment. I like the dark stuff too-- just not all the time. So, if that makes me unintellectual-- so be it. All you other guys can be the smart ones-- I'll be the happy one.