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Am I a writing snob?

July 6, 2010

I started reading Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and just couldn’t do it.  The contents were mildly entertaining, sure, but Pollan’s sentences battered my brain into a state of depression so deep that I shut the book and am not going back. 

“The great edifice of variety and choice that is an American supermarket turns out to rest on a remarkably narrow biological foundation comprised of a tiny group of plants that is dominated by a single species:  Zea mays, the tropical grass most Americans know as corn.”  
–Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma 18, Penguin Press (2006). 

 This one sentence, just a random selection from over 450 pages of text and footnotes, is a masterpiece of awfulness.  How many ways can we re-write the sentence to make it more readable?  Why doesn’t he take out his self-imposed “punctuation drama” and write for clarity? 

The American supermarket, of all its variety and choice, is supplied by products comprised of corn.  

Let’s add in a little “punctuation drama” to make this more Pollan-friendly: 

The American supermarket, of all its variety and choice, is supplied by products biologically comprised of one main ingredient:  corn. 

Oh, we want a little latin thrown in?  Why not put it at the beginning of the sentence, or the end, where words carry the most weight? 

Zea mays, the tropical grass known by most Americans as corn, makes up the vast majority of supermarket products. 

Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is written in an oppressive and rambling style that makes my head want to explode.  Knowing that he is a successful journalist and award winning author makes me want to quit school and join a commune. 

** edifice:  a large or massive structure, in either the abstract (i.e. institution) or the physical (i.e. building). 
** punctuation drama is a term I created to represent the use of “fancy” puncutation (like colons, semi-colons, dashes, and the like).  It can make a sentence more fantastic, but often just makes a sentence awkward. 

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One Comment
  1. LOL. I totally get this. I like the ideas behind his writing, but I often thought the same thing when I was reading his books.

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