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The long…and the long of it

For a literature major it’s somewhat shameful to have to confess that I find really long books  daunting.  From the Steve Jobs biography to the Game of Thrones series (both of which are on my “what I want to read next” list) page counts north of 400 pages give me pause.  So many words, so little time.

Inveterate bookworm that I’ve always been, I remember the days when nothing was as exciting as having a giant doorstop of a book at hand and a school vacation (or even a sick day) providing unfettered hours of reading.  Now, with manuscripts, proposals, blogs, articles, e-mails and all the other content fighting for attention, a really long book produces something akin to apprehension, maybe anxiety.  Which is why I found Marc Wortman’s piece in The Daily Beast so interesting.

Of course, I’ve always been aware of the economics of publishing long books—we have, on occasion, advised authors to trim unwieldy manuscripts with the warning that editors are sometimes scared of fat tomes and not just because they take so much time to edit but because they are more expensive to produce.  Wortman’s argument that e-book pricing is encouraging authors to write more and publishers to cut less is, therefore, intriguing and not altogether surprising.

Dickens and other serial writers of the 19th century got paid for content, so more was definitely more.  Now, according to Wortman, publishers want to charge more for e-books and feel they can justify doing so by offering longer books.    Interesting theory.   Not sure there’s sufficient evidence to support it, but I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s some truth to it.

How do you all feel about long books?  And, does it make a difference whether you’re reading them in print or on your e-reader?

10 Responses to The long…and the long of it

  1. Diana West says:

    I love reading long books! When I think of my all-time favorites, the epics head the list: …And Ladies of the Club, The Mists of Avalon, London, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, the list goes on. I love to immerse myself in a different time, place, and multiple generations of somebody else’s family. I haven’t read anything really long on my iPad yet, but I certainly would because it would be so much easier to carry around. Long live long books!

  2. Rowenna says:

    Call me a wuss, but I avoid long books unless they’re on my ereader–fighting to hold and keep a tome open is hard work for my weak little hands. Now that I have a Nook I love long books and plow through them–in the middle of the third Fire and Ice book now. Still, a long book has to earn its length–I’ve stopped reading giant books before because the length wasn’t doing anything for the reader’s experience–it was just dragging.

  3. I read a lot of SF and fantasy, which tends to run longer, so it’s unusual for anything to be under 400 pages for me. Above 500, though, does make me pause for a moment to consider whether I’m really interested in the story. I do appreciate them a lot more on my Kindle, though. I bought a print copy of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS and wanted to throw it across the room, it was so thick and unwieldy.

    This is interesting for me as a writer, as well, because I struggle with wordiness. It makes even what I consider simple story ideas become longer than they probably need to be (at least in the first draft).

  4. Veny Armanno says:

    It depends on the book, I guess. I can read and reread The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Les Miserables etc in their hard copy form, but would never have made it through The Passage and Matterhorn except as audio books… and IQ84 seemed indigestible in any form! I do find ereaders helpful but only for shorter books, novellas and stories funnily enough. Maybe it’s the long long stretches of using technology for reading that are really off-putting (for me).

    • Veny Armanno says:

      Also, forgot to mention I don’t mind paying a “little” more for a much bigger book… it always makes me think of the old days of buying a single record album ($5.95) and buying a double album ($10.95). So why not with a book that gives much longer reading/better value?

  5. emily says:

    Yeah — the ‘book-worm syndrom’ means reading long, short and the milk carton too!

    But, when it’s one of my ‘must read for my current writing project’ — like the Caro series on LBJ — I read some of the books and for others I get the audio version and listen in the car. And I am wading through the current volumn.

    As for fiction, that’s tougher. I would like to re-read HAWAII but OMG — its sooooo long :(

    I did recentLY review THE FAR PAVILLIONS — but I found it over written and so skipped through some parts.

    I even read full articles in New Yorker and Atlantic, although I tear out the pages as I go and toss them into the recycle bag so my household is not over run with magazines.

  6. Andrea says:

    As long as the story is good, and the story really takes that long to tell, I don´t care if a book has 800 pages. Actually, sometimes when I read shorter novels I want them to be longer and find out what happened to the characters afterwards. Garth Nix´ Abhorsen was one of those.

    I don´t read (or like) e-books, but my own novel project is getting quite long (120,000 words and counting…) and the e-book might be my savior, because I honestly need most (if not all) of those scenes I´ve written and there´s no way I can cut 50,000 words without harming the story…

  7. Since getting a Kindle (an actual Kindle and the free app for my Android phone) I find that I’m definitely leaning toward reading longer books. The reasonable weight of the ereader, the fact that I’ve got it with me (in phone form) whereever I go (work, restaurants, etc.), not having to arrange sugar dispensers and catsup bottles to hold the thing open when reading in said restaurant, the old-eye-friendly font size, the difficulty of flipping ahead which leads to reading toward natural breaks, like section breaks or the ends of chapters, and simply not being constantly reminded of the sheer size of what I’m reading are all pluses in favor of reading the longer tome electronically. And, of course, there’s also the paper-like experience of e-ink (sorry iPad fans) that makes reading out on my front porch on a sunny day not only possible, but a real joy. So, yeah, I think the emergence of the ereader is a boon for readers and writers of the reallllly long form novel. Hell, I rebought Don Dellilo’s Underworld just so I could re-read it on my Kindle. (Perhaps I should seek professional help…)

  8. Joelle says:

    I find myself shying away from really long books lately. I think because there are so many books I want to read that I feel slightly overwhelmed by them. However, I’ve found a solution. Audio. For some reason, probably because I can knit or cook or clean, I like a long audio book. Whenever the house needs a good cleaning, I get an audio book. I probably should do more of that, actually!

  9. Absolutely indited articles, Really loved studying.

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