Is it just I?
Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction (2014) discusses the ongoing murder of other species, possibly culminating in total human suicide. Not exactly a trivial subject. She has about 270 pages to do the job, and probably every word counts if she wants readers to gain, as she says, “an appreciation of the truly extraordinary moment in which we live” (p. 3).
But Kolbert writes for The New Yorker, and therefore one must subtract from the page count a biographic overhead factor (BOF) of about 5%, leaving only about 257 pages to do the real work.
On page 9, for example, Kolbert notes that
EVACC’s director is a Panamanian named Edgardo Griffith. Griffith is tall and broad-shouldered, with a round face and a wide smile. He wears a silver ring in each ear and has a large tattoo of a toad’s skeleton on his left shin.
When I see such de rigeur asides here, in New Yorker articles (where it seems about half the subjects are barrel-chested or have high cheekbones), or elsewhere, I always wonder what it is about me that makes them a placebo for me, while reportedly critical for other readers in allowing them to attend to the rest of the narrative. Do I have a special exemption from a dependence felt by others? Or do I have a special blindness not afflicting others? I’m not entirely alone, because my wife jokes about the BOF, too, but anybody else I have discussed this with seems to claim that almost the whole population finds it an essential catalyst for its appreciation of an author’s work.
For the majority, then, please insert the following after paragraph 1 above:
Kolbert has an oval face jutting out from a full head of black hair cascading like two waterfalls down either side and splashing onto the top of a black turtle-neck tee shirt. She looks straight at you with an ambiguous smile or smirk, above a lone dimple. Any jewelry, piercings, and body art are concealed from view.
Did that help?