When I was younger, I used to love getting my hands on long books. A long book was always better than a short book, because there was more story to tell. And as a practical matter, long books were always worth the money, especially if it was a hardcover. Short books just couldn’t be as interesting; not only that, they were a waste of money. Why should I spend my hard-earned cash on a 200-page book when I could spend the same amount of money on a 500- or 1000- page tome?
(Ignore the fact that storing and carrying around doorstoppers could get old pretty quickly. Thankfully, with the advent of e-readers, I can carry around the entire Harry Potter series without breaking my back.)
As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve stopped caring how long books are. Actually, that’s not true. I care how long a book is, but only because I want to know how long it’ll take me to read. You see, I’m not a fast reader. I love to read, and if there’s a book I’m super interested in, I could read it in a day or so. Case in point, I started reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at 10:30 am and finished at 8 pm, mostly because I didn’t want to be spoiled. But the rest of the time I’m impatient and have a very short attention span, which has only decreased as I’ve gotten older, so even when I’m engrossed in a book, I get antsy and want to move on to other things. (Note that this did not happen while reading the second two books of the Mageworlds trilogy, which is why I keep recommending them.) Not to mention that I’m forced to spend time doing other things, like going to work and doing chores, and choose to spend my free time writing and watching stupid TV shows. (Don’t judge me.) A 300- or 400-page book takes me about two weeks to finish, if I read my standard few chapters per day before bed. Therefore, I prefer reading books that are that length or even shorter.
Longer books make me feel rushed, and then I feel obligated to keep reading and finish, no matter how good the book may be. Then I look at how many pages I have left to read and want to cry. That’s the reason I just can’t bring myself to read really long books. Once I bought Les Miserables, since I love the play and figured I should read the book. I never even got very far; it was like a mental block kept me from reading. Same with The Stand. Novels like A Song of Ice and Fire? They’d take me months to read, and I won’t even try. Would it be worth it to read them? Possibly, considering how many people love the series. Would I also continuously wonder why I was spending my time on a doorstopper when I could be tackling all the other novels on my Goodreads “to read” list? Definitely.
Pablo Hidalgo, one of my favorite people on Twitter, once lamented the demise of short books and movies. Consider this blog post an extension of that. I want to bring back the appreciation for short novels. Is a story inherently bad if it only takes 200 pages to tell? Is a 1000-page novel inherently better than a 300-page novel? I say no to both questions. In fact, I’d propose that a book is even better if it can tell the same quality story with fewer pages, because it’s cut all the fat.
You might be asking, what about money? Aye, there’s the rub. When people complain about the length of a book, they’re usually complaining about having to spend the same amount of money on fewer pages. Fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe are often guilty of this, declaring that they will wait for the paperback version of a novel if it’s not “long enough.”
I understand this frustration, to a point. I didn’t want to pay hardcover prices on the Fate of the Jedi series, either. But I would have paid hardcover prices for novels like Darth Plagueis, or Scoundrels, even if they had been shorter. Length isn’t the issue—it’s quality. To prove that point, answer this question: would the Fate of the Jedi novels have been any better if they had been 500 pages each? Probably not, and you still would have paid hardcover prices for bad, but longer, books. To further this point, look at how many EU fans have been begging for an end to the megaseries. Why? Because we’re tired of them, and we want to get a complete story in one book (or three), not nine.
One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that a story will be however long it needs to be. My first novel ended up at about 84,000 words. My second novel is looking to be about the same length, if not shorter. I’m biased, of course, but I think the stories are compelling and complicated, even if they’re short by some standards. That’s the length they need to be.
Am I missing out on great stories by refusing to read super-long novels? Maybe. But my time is valuable, and as such my preference for shorter novels has grown over the years. I suspect it will stay that way, especially with the advent of e-readers, the popularity of digital shorts, and a possible return to serialization.
Comments? Differing opinions? I’d love to read your thoughts on the subject.