Tuesday, August 04, 2009

THE MEANING OF WORDS


I have been following with interest the John Banville/Benjamin Black saga at Declan Burke's sparkling blog Crime Always Pays concerning the impression that was allegedly given that Banville was "slumming it" when writing crime fiction as Black.

My concern is with Mr Banville's choice of words, and use of evocative language. I might not have noticed this, but because I have reviewed some historical crime novels recently, I have been reading the very useful How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson.

Kathy Lynn refers to author Laurie R. King choosing as her original title for The Beekeeper's Apprentice, "the subtitle of a book on beekeeping written by Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, 'With some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen'."
King's editor reminded her that "segregation" is a word with decidedly negative connotations.

I then looked again at John Banville's comments in the Guardian:

"I deplore the apartheid that has been imposed on fiction writing so that in shops the crime books are segregated from the proper novels."

Apartheid and segregation were appalling policies directed against human beings, not books, and perhaps it is a sign of my own semi-literate status, or my general bolshiness, that I find their use in this context totally inappropriate.

6 Comments:

Blogger Bernadette in Australia said...

Hear Hear Norm. I despise the way such terms are hijacked these days. It dilutes their original significance. An article in a paper I used to read once said that something was "...like the holocaust". To me there is no such thing as like the holocaust. I stopped buying the paper from that point on.

A lesser example is the way the word tragedy has been co-opted to apply to everything from the death of a car-load of teenagers on a country road to a broken nail. GRRRRR.

I'll get off my soap box now.

5:33 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Bernadette, I am glad I am not the only one who feels this way.

6:17 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

Interesting one, Norman. I think there must be allowance for the well-established use of 'segregation' in scientific work -- I wouldn't want anyone up on a high horse over Mendel's Law of Segregation and such. The use of the word in Holmes' subtitle is a good instance of that, and I'm inclined to think King's editor was being a touch over-cautious, a little too pc there. But outside of the sciences, and I think here and there in law, 'segregation' is customarily used only with regard to communities of people -- though the context and import is not always negative -- and I most certainly think its use with regard to books or such inappropriate, and the more annoying in that it is not as if we are short of more apposite words. It may be odd, but 'segregate' is not, I think, as weighted with connotations as segreation, and may the more easily be used without offense. Banville's use of apartheid in the quotation, however, I think ludicrous, offensive, and strangely lacking in thought.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Maxine said...

I don't find the use of words in the quote objectionable - but maybe I'm not stressed out enough yet having just returned from holiday. (the holocaust I would have found objectionable but apartheid is a word used in various contexts). I would also not judge someone based on a "quote" in a newspaper article - I don't doubt on this occasion that he used that word (a*********) but bear in mind that newspaper and magazine interviews are in the control of the writer and editor- not the interviewee, who will not see anything between interview and publication. The journalist will select the most "arresting" comments and junk most of the conversation.

I would also mention that Banville/Black has come under so much spiteful flak himeself from many blogs and other places for writing crime fiction in the first place, including lots of sneers at him for using a different name for different types of writing (how petty! People do not do the same for authors like Rendell who choose to do the same thing).

Finally, the bookshop segregation is a purely marketing thing - but the booksellers often do not have a clue. I have lost track of the number of times I've found a "crime" author in "general fiction", etc - and also often bookshops have the same author/titles in more than one category, but whether this is deliberate or accidentaly I don't know.

(I haven't read Banville or "Black" by the way, so have no particular axe to grind.)

9:20 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine, pleased you are not stressed out. If I was in a frivolous mood books put in the wrong section would be worth a post.

Firewall, Henning Mankell: in the computer section.

Dead Horsemeat, Domique Manotti: cookery section

Bad Traffic, Simon Lewis: transport section

;o)

11:26 AM  
Blogger Maxine said...

Ha Ha! "My last confession" in the true romance section, The Rule Book in the highway code department and "August Heat" in the holiday area.

1:16 PM  

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