Have books gotten better over the years?

Sometimes when I had to read classical authors for school I just couldn't fathom how bad at writing they were. Even the best (imo) classical writers' prose is tolerable at best. The sentences are unnecessarily long, and it was not seldom that I stumbled upon hole pages of tell-not-show exposition and unnecessary descriptions. I never find something like this in even the worst of modern books. Hell, Eragon - a book written by an incompetent teenager who manages to plagiarise every fantasy on earth has better easier-to-read prose than most classical writers. Books like Harry Potter have very easy-flowing prose, unrivalled by anything i have read written before the 20th century. Am I missing something?

My question is would it hold some water to say that we have gotten better at writing books over the last century? 


" Your opinions on the quality of anybody's writing are worth less than nothing. " As is your unwanted opinion.

Update 2:

And, @Andrew, since you saw the need to express your ever so polite opinion, would you be so kind as to explain your problem with my usage of the word "fathom". It seems you were searching for things to nitpick 

Update 3:

No offence but "the Books" community seems to be more toxic than "Politics". Honestly, it seems that to some people over here, a person who doesn't find the classics interesting has no right to speak out. Please, keep you answers constructive.

Update 4:

@Andrew With all due respect, I stand by my use of fathom. "They were so bad at writing - I cannot full comprehend how they managed it"

Update 5:

Please, don't spam spelling corrections. If I could edit my post I maybe would have revised it, but since that isn't an option, I don't see any point in having my obvious mistakes pointed out.

18 Answers

  • 1 month ago
    Favorite Answer

    I agree with you. Classics are super boring to read.  Even stories with interesting plots seem to take FOREVER to get to the point (Frankenstein).

    And there is a good reason why there were so many unneccessary parts and terrible prose.Unlike what the classics snobs claim, it makes sense. Editors were not as common or influential back then, and editing a book was significantly more difficult. Naturally, they would have gone through less rewrites. Lots of Charles Dickens novels were published chapter by chapter in weekly newspapers, so it is not surprising that some plotpoints were redundant or axed later. That publishing style brings many problems. He might have had an uninspired week or had a brilliant idea 10 chapters in that wouldn't work with the already published chapters. Sort of like you see with serialised TV shows that were poorly planned.

    Also, i sent a screenshot of Anonymous' comment, the "One day you might be profoundly embarrassed at this youthful rant"-one to a few friends from my book club and they almost died laughing. I bet he thought he sounds real sophisticated, using big words and long sentences, but his rant just comes across as snobby and incomprehensible. He also doesn't know how to place commas hahaha

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    in a word, yes.................

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    Note spelling - 'whole', not 'hole'.   Look up both words and see what they mean.

  • 1 month ago

    As your definition of "better" appears to be "short, colourful and easy to read" I will have to agree with you: in your terms, books nowadays do often conform to your definition.

    However that is not MY definition. I've just written an answer to your separate question about lengthy and complex prose, and I used Henry James as an example. I like Henry James and I swim happily in his long, complex sentences. If YOU are unable to do so, I hesitate to lay the blame entirely at Mr James's door.

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  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    *sarcasm alert* Yeah those dudes like Nathaniel Hawthorne,  Herman Melville and so on.... what a bunch of hacks. Couldn’t write for sh*t. What a bunch of losers. 

  • 1 month ago

    I do not think so, just the stories changes

  • 1 month ago

    You are simply challenging the shift in style.  I quite agree a writer such as Dickens is hard going due to what people like today.  In that era writers with a style closer to today's were regarded as semiliterate or low class (e.g. Mark Twain).

  • Elaine
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    It seems like you are critiquing writing style rather than content or author's purpose. Writing style often reflects what is happening in the society or culture.  Modern writing tends to favour terse prose which some people prefer.  That being said how do you distinguish the writing style among modern writers in that you can read one paragraph and immediately know who is the author?  It is true that Dickens, as an example can be overly sentimental  but his writing style is so distinctive that it is immediately recogniseable. Many of the classical writers whom you deride are noted for their complex sentences filled with descriptions that add to the richness of the story.  Where would  "Wuthering Heights" be if Bronte had not added the atmospheric descriptions of warm and cold? 

    You are entitled to your opinions regarding classical writings but when you ask for others' opinions give them the respect they deserve. When you ask for an opinion you must also be ready to accept that others will disagree with you. 

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    One day you might be profoundly embarrassed at this youthful rant.  We've all thought we knew it all once upon a time.  On the other hand you may live out the rest of your days in a states of arrested developement which is a sad loss of potential from a theoretical perspective but I dare say that the world will keep turning and that there will be plenty for you to read for entertainment.  It goes without saying that I do not agree with your premise at all.

  • Andrew
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    You couldn't "fathom" how bad at writing the authors of classic novels were? Well then what are you on about? Not only is it clear that you don't have any idea what "fathom" means, it's clear that you don't know the difference between "classic" and "classical." 

    It was "not seldom"? "Hole" pages or "whole pages"? 

    And yes, you are "missing something" - proficiency in the English language.  

    There has always been both good and bad writing at every point in human history. Your opinions on the quality of anybody's writing are worth less than nothing. 

    Regarding your silly updates:

    You're the one that asked this ridiculous question, and I have just as much right to answer it as anybody else. If you don't like that, feel free to block me. I'll try not to shed any tears at the thought of being barred from offering a reply to your next brilliant query. 

    fathom: to understand (a difficult problem or an enigmatic person) after much thought.

    "I just couldn't fathom how bad at writing they were", i.e.: "I just couldn't understand how bad at writing they were, even after giving it a lot of thought." 

    If you were to devote a great deal of thought to assessing how bad something is and still come away unable to do that, then it would be obvious to anyone that you have some pretty severe cognitive issues. If you cant fathom why "fathom" isn't the best choice of wording for your question, then that's your problem, not mine. 

    This community isn't "toxic" at all, but like practically every other section we're plagued with more than our fair share of trolls and when some imbecile comes here to suggest that each and every classic novel is rubbish because in his humble opinion they are too wordy and difficult to understand, the average user who frequents this section isn't going to entertain the idea. You were treated accordingly. 

    If you don't like it, the "Report" function might still be working. Have at it. 

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