At the other extreme, there's E.L. James, who will tell you exactly what her characters had for breakfast and what the vintage on the wine is and what her hero's cologne smells like. She spent around three paragraphs once just describing her heroine showering. (Here's a great recap of the 50SoG trilogy, if you're interested -- but fair warning, you will lose hours of your life to reading this and you will not get them back.) Her predecessor, Stephenie Meyer, has a similar tendency toward detail. At first I scoffed, but then my younger sister explained to me that when Twilight first came out, it was engrossing to her in part because she could empathize with the details of it. "Bella was doing the same science experiments I was doing, so I understood where she was coming from," she told me. A fascinating thought: that teenage girls were clamoring for these books not because they'd fallen for sparkly Edward Cullen, but because they, too, had studied mitosis. The detailed depiction of learning science, more than the gorgeous vampire, felt real and important and aroused their empathy.
How much detail is enough detail is a matter of personal taste, of course, but since James and Meyer are now bazillionaires and I'm living below the poverty line, I figure they've got something to teach me. So I'd like to kick off a weekly or semi-weekly discussion feature on this blog by asking, "What details help you to engage with a book? What details help you to empathize with the characters?"