Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Monday, August 20, 2012

We'd rather not know that you don't know

...than know that you know way too much.

Colleen McCullough knew too much, again and again and again, in the Roman historical novels that became her cash cows.  But no moos was eventually good moos for me, though I'm a Roman history buff and dig the Roman classics.  How much history can we take when we're trying to follow a story?  I don't need or really want ten pages about Roman plumbing or any arcane trivia that puts my mood to sleep.  I want to know more about Caesar's reactions to the new jams he was in.  I want to know less of the weave of his rug and more about why neither women nor men gave a damn if he had hair or didn't.

Steven Saylor may know just as much but is happy to seem to know less.  His Roma Sub Rosa mysteries make the case masterfully for sprinkling, not shoveling, the details.  We get a ripsnorting mystery each time and characters we can't forget are in another time and place but who are brought to life today.  Paradoxically, Saylor's less is more technique brings Rome more to life in my mind.

And anyone with any interest in Elizabethan England would be hard-pressed to find a livelier account than Brad Strickland's short YA mystery entitled Wicked Will, starring a young boy named Shakespeare.  Strickland's renowned for his research, but had to rein it in here because of the length of the story...but also because he believes less is more.  I'd say it's more than just more here, damned near close to most.  Scattered historical tidbits bring old London and young Will crackingly to life.

The great trick of the minimalist buckshot approach  lies in one of the loveliest words in the Italian language:  sprezzatura. The word was coined in 1528 in The Book of The Courtier:
It is an art which does not seem to be an art. One must avoid affectation and practice in all things a certain sprezzatura, disdain or carelessness, so as to conceal art, and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.

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