By Louise Ure
My husband came home from CostCo a few days ago and unloaded our usual cache of red wine, paper towels, hamburger and typing paper. I was gracious and grateful. After all, I hadn’t had to go down and brave the hordes with fifty-pound bags of rice and four steel-belted radials in their carts.
I didn’t once mention that the cranberry juice he thought would “come in handy” was the same size container that I’ve hauled gasoline in, and the metal canister of olive oil is big enough to drape with a cloth and use as a side table.
“I asked Brian to come by and help with the rest of it,” he said.
The rest of it?
If it required Brian, our well-muscled, 28-year old, foster son-firefighter, it was gonna be big.
And it was.
A Jolly Green Giant sized flat-screen, high-definition TV.
Did I mention that we have thirty-three stairs up from the street to our house? Brian was doing his best not to break a sweat. It wasn’t working.
And did I also mention that our den is approximately ten foot by ten foot?
The new TV fit nicely onto the existing shelves … if I took out the three rows of books above it and knocked out the west wall.
And it does look good.
Joe Biden’s smile on the Sunday talk show is as wide and bright as the dawning sun. The weather forecast looks like it’s coming from the hand of God. Giada DeLaurentis’ s head is bigger, and yes, Simon, so are her breasts.
My new favorite find is “Sunrise Earth,” on the HDT channel (754 on my cable channel) that shows nothing but pictures of dawn with ambient sound at 7:00 o’clock every morning. Sunrise in Patagonia. In Tahiti. In the Arctic. It’s my new meditation.
But then the Bobbleheadedness set in. I found myself craning from left to right, following the arc of a golf ball’s drive from the tee. Nausea set in when I switched to the Nascar race at Sears Point. I don’t ever want to see Bullitt on this TV.
“I thought it looked so small,” my husband said.
It does. If what you’re comparing it to is the screen at a drive-in.
CostCo sizing had struck again.
Is bigger automatically better? Or is bigger just what you get used to if you only shop at CostCo?
I see the same CostCo sizing in books. James Patterson has long been known for the wide margins in his books in order to increase page count, but we’ve also had a raft of really long mysteries and thrillers hitting the best seller lists of late.
Tom Rob Smith’s debut novel, Child 44, comes in at 448 pages. Katherine Neville, who awed us twenty years ago with The Eight (at 550 pages) has a new book coming out in October called The Fire. She dieted this one down to only 464 pages, but Elizabeth George’s most recent, Careless in Red, is a whopping 640 pages, and weighs two pounds.
These books are the 52” flat screens of crime fiction. They needed all those extra pages to tell the story right. In their case, bigger really does mean better.
But what about the lean, mean shorter books? Books by James Sallis (Drive, 158 pages) and Megan Abbott (Queenpin, 192 pages). Richard Aleas (Little Girl Lost, 221 pages) and Anne Argula (Homicide My Own, 219 pages).
Stripped down to the barest of bare bones words, they might well be the handheld video playback machines of the literary world. But that format fits the story they tell just fine.
I sent the big screen TV back for a smaller one.
It turns out that the big screen wasn’t important at all, it was the High Definition that mattered, and that holds for the world of crime fiction, too.
A six-hundred page thriller or a hundred and fifty page noir novel? In the hands of a great writer, it makes no difference. It’s the sharp character definition and focus on a riveting plot that counts after all.
High Definition, indeed.
Tell me, my friends, have you ever judged a book by the number of pages? (I’ll fess up early and admit that a couple of times I’ve wavered in the face of a $23.95 price tag for a very thin hard cover book. Would it last me for the weekend or the whole airplane flight, or would I be shelling out another $25 by Saturday night?)
And writers, do you have an “ideal screen size” in mind for your own work?