Three Feet Long and Two Inches Deep or, My Inability

When in the course of our reading, we come upon descriptions, we must acknowledge a particular subgroup of descriptions: the delineations.

Or maybe that's not the right word? I'm talking about those specific, often numerical, clarifications: the desk was three feet long and two inches deep, and swept back into the six-foot-wide alcove with room to spare….

Or something like that. There can also be directions sometimes: I feel like a lot of Nabokov is his layout out the dimensions of things. "The room lay behind a smaller room, with low sloping ceilings, above which was a larger room and below which was a steep stairway leading to an attic…."

I am here to tell you that because, no doubt, of some faulty wiring in my brain, the minute a description starts to get particular in that way, my brain abruptly switches off and I go blank.

Why is this? I don't know. It is certainly a fault I think, because it happens when I am reading many absolutely-no-doubt-about-it good writers (hello, Vladimir). And other people clearly get what they're talking about.

I align it somehow with wine knowledge. It's some sort of mental block. I am generally not super-dense when it comes to absorbing new information, but start to talk to me about appellations and…it's just a wide whistling sound in my head.

I wish this were not so. I wonder how many excellent descriptions have passed me by because of this. It reminds me, somehow, of the poor, failed blockbuster of days past, Godzilla, which they remade with the wrongheaded (to my mind) ad campaign: His head is a big as this sign! His tail is as long as this bus! etc etc, and it just made his size graspable, which is not the right idea at all.

Related: The never-ending disappointment that dinosaurs aren't really all that big in the end. Though I am sure I would think differently if I met one in the flesh. Luckily, I don't have to read any explicit descriptions of their size….

2 thoughts on “Three Feet Long and Two Inches Deep or, My Inability

  1. I love this: “the wide whistling sound in my head.” I have that whenever I hear the words “subjective” and “objective” — and then there’s “meta” whatever. Good lord.


  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one with this problem. I’ve been reading my way through the Little House series, and whenever Laura launches into some intricate description of a machine or tool Pa uses or some item that he built, I can’t follow along. At one point Pa builds a shelving set for Ma called a “whatnot” and Laura, in great detail, describes some sort of edging she made for the shelves with fabric and squares of paper…but I couldn’t at all picture what this would look like. Thank goodness for Garth Williams’ illustrations, which help me a little bit.


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