Monday, August 06, 2007

The Long And The Short Of It

I think one of the reasons I got pissed off with some of the books I've been reading for the last couple of years is that they seem so bloody long. As I've been sorting through my bookshelves recently I've noticed that a lot of my old books are only about 250 pages long. Nowadays it's hard to find anything under 350.

Not that I used to seek out short books, it's just that most of the writers I liked tended to write shorter novels. Which did me a favour because when I did read a long book I didn't feel any pressure to get it finished quickly in order to make time for all the other massive tomes I needed to read. The way I do now.

Now I know you're thinking, "Hang on, 350 pages isn't long!" And you're right, it isn't. But when the shortest books I can readily find are all 100 pages longer than what I used to read it soon starts to mount up. Especially as all the books that used to be 350 pages are now around 500 pages.

It used to be that if I didn't like a book I didn't mind so much because I hadn't wasted much time on it but now I'm ploughing through 500 odd pages in the hope that the story will turn out to be halfway decent. (Okay, I should be able to tell if the story's any good well before I finish the 500 pages but unless the story is truly awful I like to give the author the benefit of the doubt.) Whereas when I waded through Crime and Punishment as a teenager only to decide that Russian literature wasn't really my thing I didn't feel too bad, I still had lots of other novels that I could zip through.

I miss being able to do that. I miss being able to read a Michael Moorcock trilogy in a weekend. (Admittedly, that 's probably longer than it took him to write it.) Because then I had plenty of time left to tackle the longer stuff. And also because I like to reread stuff. Back in the day I read Dune three times; if I was going to attempt a book of similar size now I'd have to check my diary to see if I had time to read it even once.

I don't mind if a book is long because it needs to be but a lot of them feel padded. Even with authors I like such as Stephen Hunter and Lee Child I'm often left thinking that their longer books don't really need to be edging towards 600 pages.

I'm guessing a lot of this is due to the publishers. They think that the punters want long books. And seeing as the rare 250 page book that does get published these days go for the same price as a 500 pager then yes, the public probably do want longer books if only to feel that they're getting their money's worth. Because it won't occur to the publishers to charge less money for a book unless it's part of a promotional offer.

So a lot of modern books put me off with their length. Most of the cutting edge SF writers I hear about produce books the size of housebricks. The same with Fantasy (and then it's usually the first instalment of a bloody trilogy.) I think Horror might not be so bad, although to be honest I don't read a lot of Horror novels. Of course back in the Eighties and Nineties Horror novels were bloody massive in order to emulate Stephen King. There was an old Jonathan Carroll interview where he said he'd been interested in writing a full-blown Horror novel until his publisher told him it would have to be at least 600 pages. Carroll decided to stick with his usual Dark Fantasy stuff.

Anyway, I'd better stop now as I've just realised that this post is about three times longer than I intended it to be. Oh, the irony ...

9 comments:

Chris said...

As someone who doesn't necessarily read brick-sized fantasies, I'm publishing one next April...

Stuart Young said...

Admit it, you're only publishing it to wind me up.

Chris said...

If I wanted to do that Stu, it would be a novelisation of AOTC. ;-)

Stuart Young said...

You really have turned to the Dark Side.

Elizabeth said...

Stu-- I *hate* it when a book is really short because it means I just spent $8 on something that only kept me entertained for two hours :-P

Stuart Young said...

You mean like Neil Gaiman's Coraline :-)

Elizabeth said...

Lol, you know he could write a sentence on a napkin and I'd be entertained for days...

Stuart Young said...

Ah yes, The Napkin Chronicles.I believe he's just sold that to HarperCollins.

Elizabeth said...

Maybe he'll get DeNiro to star in that adaptation, too :-P