One of the common reviewer bromides is the phrase, one test for great literature, or one test of a great book, etc., with some x being the test – that it can be read over and over, that it transcends convention, etc., etc.
I’ve come up with a new test.
Here it is. Take any text – an essay, poem, story, novel – and sit down and read it next to a little boy watching a Youtube video of some of his favorite Oswald the Octopus cartoons.
For those pariahs outside the Oswald orbit, Oswald is a sweet tempered Octopus with a dog and a number of friends – a penguin, Henry, and Daisy, a daisy, among them – and Oswald typically has a problem that involves these friends, as for instance he wants to collect something (Henry collects spoons and Daisy leaves). Out of this problem evolves a series of episodes in which niceness triumphs and some life lessons are snuck in. All of this happens in a world where the most complex words are issued by Daisy, and these consist of Yipporapparoonie, or Fanfuntastic. Otherwise, characters do not speak with Shakespearean eloquence. The closest to that is when the twins, two eggs, get on the swing and one of them says I’m going higher, and the other says now I’m going higher, and then the other says Now I’m going higher – you get the gist. Which, I gotta say, Sam Beckett might like.
Reading next to that, I often experience some kind of linguistic transposition between what I am reading and what is occuring in Oswald’s world. The sentences in the book I am reading suddenly seem light, and not too far removed from the twins – or at least Henry. This is especially so with run of the mill mysteries, where the investigator rarely climbs the heights of I’m going higher/now I’m going higher. Swing swing, swing swing, crime explained, criminal caught.
I’d don’t quite know how to grade my results. Some of the transposition might only pick out the innocent text, that is, innocent in Blake’s sense. Sometimes, however, it cruelly picks out the level of plausibility that the book rests on – the kind of plausibility that is generated among 13 year olds. And that isn’t good – that is, if you are forty or more years older than 13 year olds.