Actually my first Gibson (and only to date) was the relatively recent Zero History. I found him engaging.
As far as intellectual material goes, I’ve found that it has to have another hook, like the visuals of Inception, for a wide audience to really care. Like seeing Shakespeare performed versus reading him (uh, no offense). Although it’s worth noting that we only think of Shakespeare as intellectual because of his reputation. He was a court guy, writing stuff his royal audience wanted to see, and his instincts (think of all the people who die in his plays, like the bloodbath of Hamlet, or the classic Greek tragedy of Romeo and Juliet) were popular instincts. The intimidating Shakespeare we tend to think of didn’t exist in his lifetime. That’s what makes him so fascinating. That’s why Marlowe is said to be such an “obvious” “real” Shakespeare, because they shared instincts, language. The Shakespeare we know emerged in the Folio, a printed version, that had to be read. Seeing his legacy like that was likely a novelty, everything he’d accomplished over the breadth of his career. It seemed a lot more impressive in hindsight. Today it’d be like not having any clue that one writer was responsible for all your favorite TV episodes, or movies. I mean, we focus on the stories, the actors, the directors, and it’s really industry insiders and nerds who care about the writers.
But even going back to Vonnegut, to Slaughterhouse-Five, when I read that in college I was seriously impressed. But when I saw the nonstarter of a movie that was adapted from it…Listen, I’m not someone who generally thinks,”Books automatically better than movies; book automatically better than movie that does not understand the appeal of book it cannot possibly do justice to.” But this was an exception. Seeing the shoddy, uninspired movie that this book suggested…It was like seeing the hamfisted manner in which Vonnegut had conceived the book itself. I don’t know, suddenly I don’t see the appeal of juxtaposing the firebombing of Dresden with trying to explain your life to a bunch of aliens. It just seems so incredibly artless, like Vonnegut trying desperately to explain how terrible war so that aliens would be able to understand its senselessness because of the randomness of Billy Pilgrim’s experiences…Listen, I appreciate knowing that something terrible like the firebombing of Dresden happened, but Hiroshima happened, and that was a million times worse, and then Nagasaki…
But these have been my thoughts for a decade and more, since I decided I was no longer impressed with the book. Vonnegut himself seemed to become as close a 20th Century Mark Twain as they came, a true charismatic literary cynic, and I can appreciate that, and let other people enjoy him, enjoy that book.
But there’s plenty intellectual material that the common man will never understand, and it’s a mistake to think our best writers ought to condescend to this level, or that it’s even possible for the best writers to succeed, always, in finding an approach for these readers. There are realms of intellectualism that will always be difficult to understand, and it’s really down to apathy, disinterest, and because of the different ways brains are wired.