Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ode to the Lowly Quotation Mark in Literary Novels

I very much enjoyed Lionel Shriver’s essay “Missing the Mark” in the October 25th Wall Street Journal. Shriver bemoaned the fact that several current literary writers have given up using quotation marks, thus making it even harder than ever to read literary fiction. He says:
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, nearly half of Americans do not read books at all, and those who do average a mere six a year. You’d think literary writers would be bending over backwards to ingratiate themselves to readers – to make their work maximally accessible, straightforward and inviting. But no.

He then goes on to give several examples of dialogue passages without quotes from bestselling authors – passages that make very little sense. In one case I thought a sentence was a description of the weather when it was actually dialogue from one of the characters.

As the author of a (non-literary) novel with quotation marks, I was upset to learn that several bestselling literary authors are making it harder for readers to enjoy novels, thus perhaps discouraging reading of all novels.

I hope that all of these authors are shown this essay by Shriver. And that they then make a pact to use quotation marks in their next novels.

And, oh yes, I love these sentences of Shriver’s:
Reading heated dialogue without quotes is like watching chase scenes in “The Bourne Supremacy” with the sound off …. Surely most readers would happily forgo “elegance” for demarcation that makes it easier to figure out who’s saying what when their eyelids are drooping during the last few pages before lights-out.

Do you have any opinion on the use of quotation marks in novels?

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