Wednesday, October 01, 2014

1390 California Dreamin'

You want a degree in geography?  Earn one at home by reading any dime novel set in Los Angeles.  By the time you finish, you’ll know the streets like the back of your hand. (You do know the back of your hand, right?)


Every novel is chock full of paragraphs like this:


“Traffic was murder on the 405 so we got off at Sepulveda and snaked our way past La Plaza Canyon, then over to the 101 making sure we went nowhere near Echo Park.  Then it was over to the Ventura Freeway… off at Boylston Street (oh, wait, that’s Boston) and back on the 405 all the way up to Granada Hills.


“I pulled into the dusty parking lot near La Casa Pizza, in a strip mall on San Fernando Mission Boulevard.  The neighborhood had changed, but for a pizza joint, they had the best music in northeast LA.”


All this to tell you the “I” of the story and probably a companion went out for pizza and traffic was bad.


Check it out.  Every novel set in LA has paragraphs like this every time anyone gets into a car and starts it.


Part of the reason for this is nostalgia for olden times.  Way back.  When people still bought hardcover books.  


Slim novels priced at 25 bucks didn’t sell well.  People wanted their money’s worth.  So writers started putting meaningless subplots in the works. More pages, more justification for the sticker price.


But there’s just so far you can go with that until the subplots become a distraction and dilute the main story.


Hence, geography.


The two fake paragraphs above run about 98 words total.  Do enough of that and you can fill up half the book without any disturbing creativity.


Today, with almost no real bookstores, we don’t need that many real books.  Tablets, Kindles, Nooks and you’re not really conscious of the pages because the pages themselves are an illusion.


Of course, page padding can get out of hand, and that’s nothing new. “War and Peace” runs more than half a million words in English.


“Moby Dick” is about 200-thousand.


Too much of a good thing.


No one’s counted “Finnegan’s Wake” because the words are placed at random and Joyce was one of those guys who surely thought “I have a reputation as a genius.  Let’s see what I can get away with.”


A second reason:  Pride of location.  It’s like the author is saying “hey, I’m intimate with all these oddly named streets and freeways that require your saying ‘the’ before the number… and here’s a bunch of words to prove it.”


Like, who cares?  Everyone gets stuck in traffic jams in places large and small.


Notice that novels based in New York don’t use the same device.  That’s largely because it’s almost impossible since Manhattan street names are mostly logical and in numerical order.


“We were getting hungry and hopped in a cab on 14th St. at Eighth.  We told the driver to head for the Russian Tea Room.  So it's uptown, passing (insert a long series of numbered streets) hung a right on 57th St. And there we were, just to the left of Carnegie Hall.”


Colorful, right?


Shrapnel:


--His wife, Sally Quinn, reports in a television interview that former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s health is fast deteriorating.  Thanks, Sally.  Now no more about that please… we want to remember him as the force in journalism he was.com

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

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