[ultra-light meringues at Maltby Street]
I've often thought that if you can't be a readable heavyweight intellectual writer, it's best to aim for the apparent opposite and cultivate a lightness of touch. I say it's the 'apparent' opposite because the best lightness of touch is extremely deceptive. Done well, it has deftness, depth and subtlety, and although the writer is wearing his or her knowledge lightly, there's no denying it is informing every sentence.
I am always full of admiration for anyone who has this lightness of touch, who can engage the reader with a fresh, natural, authentic style and voice. Often the most difficult thing is knowing what to leave out, and letting go of most of the hard-earned knowledge in favour of touching upon, alluding to, and suggesting. It's so easy to be ponderous, weighty, and mired in detail for the sake of it, far harder to seemingly skim and float yet somehow also get to the heart of the matter.
I'm thinking of the way that Alexandra Harris deftly brings together life and work in a readable short book about an often difficult writer with enormous cultural baggage.
The way that Alan Bennett sums up why we should read books and their power to destabilise and subvert in a very funny short book.
The way that Louise Wilder and others at the Penguin blog appraise the novels of Dickens with such enthusiasm and clear-sightedness, and in terms that appeal to readers rather than academics. (Other with a lightness of touch when it comes to Dickens are Jane Smiley, John Carey and, perhaps surprisingly, George Orwell and JB Priestley. They manage to condense and illuminate without weighing down the reader, unlike Dickens himself at times.)
And the way that Derek Jarman writes about gardening and dying, Caitlin Moran writes about life and being a woman, Wendy Cope writes about love and loneliness, and John Betjeman writes about architecture and desecration.
Light, but certainly not fluffy.