I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the size of books (not whatever it is you were thinking when you read the heading!), and whether the number of pages (word count) affects my decision to buy/read them. I was planning an in-depth, objective post on the subject, possibly ending by comparing published novel length, my own preferences and my own writing style…
And then Stephen Watkins went and beat me to it. (Damn you, Watkins! )
He took a look at some of the more popular and well-known series and books, and how their word count compares to the industry “standard” and the guidelines offered by agents and publishers. His conclusion is that many best-sellers are longer than these word limits, and he extrapolates some further conclusions from that. Click over and read his whole article — it’s really interesting, informative, and incredibly long (thus proving his own point about word length).
I can’t compete with his researched, reasoned argument. What I can do is share my own opinion, and then ask for yours.
Back when I was in my teens and early twenties, I loved long books. It was all about “value for money”, and when I say money I really mean time. (Although sometimes $$ mattered as well.) When I went to the library or the bookshop, I wanted big, solid, long books. I wouldn’t have even picked up a thin book. If I was going to invest time in getting to know characters or a world (especially considering it was usually Sci Fi or Fantasy), then I wanted it to count. I wanted to stay with those characters, in that world, for as long as possible. If a book wasn’t long enough on its own, its only potential saving grace would be if it was part of a series.
So I was in my early teens when I read some of my favourite books and series of all time, including Clive Barker’s Imajica, Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series (both of them), Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles and, of course, Lord of the Rings.
I own and will reread these books/series at the drop of a hat. BUT now that I’m at a different point in my life, there’s absolutely no way that I’d pick up any of these books if I hadn’t already read them. Because they’re just too damn long.
Any Stay at Home Mum will tell you that looking after 2 kids, a husband, a house, and all the related stuff is physically, mentally and emotionally draining. Plus, I write. Plus, I’m looking for part-time work. My time is precious and all-too-little. So when I pick up a book, I need to know that I’m going to be able to read it and enjoy it.
Bigger books tend to have more characters, more sub-plots, and more complications. They take a longer investment of time and mental energy to read. Considering I can only spare 30 – 60 minutes a day to read in between doing other things, a 300 page novel only takes me 3 or 4 days to read. But a huge 1000 page novel would take me 3 weeks, because every time I pick it up again I have to try to remember who everyone was, and what was happening.
(As a note, this is why I can reread long books I’ve already read. I know what’s happening, so there’s less mental gymnastics required even if I only read 1 chapter a day.)
These days I generally read books that are about 250-300 pages long. I’ll sometimes go out on a limb for something that looks absolutely fantastic, but it’s very rare.
Perhaps when the boys are a bit older, I’ll go back to reading bigger books again, but it’s just not possible right now.
What about you: Longer? Shorter? Or it’s not the size that counts, it’s how the story’s told?