Re: RARA-AVIS: God is in the details, not the footnotes....

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 12 Dec 2001

Kevin asked:

"Or, like, read and learn. No matter what someone writes, someone will miss it. Where would it stop? Street maps for people who don't live in the city the story is set? A dictionary/glossary at the back for big words? Annotations and footnotes?"

Actually, most of these have been tried. And in my mind, they've often gotten in the way. As cool as the covers look of the Dell "mapbacks," I seldom, if ever, consult the maps while reading the book. Iceberg Slim's Pimp has a glossary in the back, but I seldom consulted it. And it's not that I understood all of the words, but I picked up most from context and stopping to look up the others would have gotten in the way of Slim's flow.

I have a similar problem when the author spends too much time explaining or providing background. It's been a long, long time since I've read James Grady's Runner in the Streets, but I remember there being long passages whose only purpose was to proclaim authenticity, to prove Grady had gone on a lot of drivealongs with DC cops. Unfortunately, this verisimilitude stopped the story in its tracks. It's one of the reasons I never got into much sci-fi -- okay, nice story, but why'd it have to be set on another planet? All of the setting got in the way of telling the story.

So I usually prefer an author who just tells a story and expects the reader to pick it up along the way. And George has never felt like Dennis Miller to me. I find iller very funny, and feel very smart when I get his more obscure references, but many of them seem to be there only to prove something about the speaker. George seems pretty transparent to me, his references meant to reveal something about his characters, not himself. And I never get the feeling that the characters think of their music taste, for instance, as anything but normal. This may be because I'm a big music fan, but I know plenty of times when a favorite band of mine, the knowledge of which I take for granted, has never been heard of by someone I'm talking to and vice versa. However, those bands are so obvious to us that we'd never annotate them, especially not in our own thoughts, unless someone asked who the hell they were.

Also, too much knowledge on the reader's part can get in the way. I just finished Benjamin Schutz's The Things We Do for Love. I'm going to talk more about his books in general in a later post, but my point for now is that this one was set in the late-'80s DC rock music scene. I spent a lot of time in DC clubs at that time. So I was pretty intimately aware of his setting. This led me to spend too much time trying to figure out places and locations of his renamed clubs, going, wait a minute, there's no club at that location, but he must be talking about Desperado, or is he talking about Posers, or moving 9:30 to a different location? Still a really good book, but I've liked his others better and part of that is because I spent too much time mapping something I wouldn't have done if it had been set in a different city.


# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
#  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 12 Dec 2001 EST