Long Novels Are Painful

I have a confession: I hate long books, particularly long novels.

When I was in college, if you couldn’t stomach a long novel then you weren’t a true Literature student. Long live Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy! And some of those masterpieces (particularly Dostoyevsky’s) were compelling enough to keep my attention.

Most of them put me to sleep, though.

A quality novel can be defined as a good and complete story, rather than some 19th century concept of word count. When a long novel is a good story, it captivates you with a compelling plot and storyline. You don’t really care about how long it is, you just want to devour it! But before that ideal state of reading pleasure, a tome is prohibitive because of assumed time demands.

Sometimes a long book is necessary. I’m a big fan of breaking up lengthy works. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings was actually one novel that the publisher divided into a trilogy. That didn’t turn out too bad!


Long Novels in a Digital World

Things haven’t changed in the publishing business even though media has evolved. Publishers frequently push long novels.

I cannot help but turn my nose up at these wares. Unless a long book has fantastic word of mouth, I am not reading it. A good story is a brisk one, at least to my tastes. I find most of today’s writers embellish their novels with back story and details that leave me bored and disenchanted.

I remember how good Neal Stephenson used to be before 1000 pages became his average. How I long for the Diamond Age.

Currently, I am reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. Great prose, fantastic start, fluid and easy to read, but pages 50-120 were slow. In my mind, they could have been 20 pages instead of 70. I began wondering if the remaining 400+ pages would be worth it. And the book didn’t strike me as long. You get my point. Fortunately, things seem to be moving along again in Doctor Sleep.

In this digital age with so many other entertainment options besides reading, will people keep tolerating books greater than 100,000 words in length? Personally, the Kindle and other eReaders makes the experience of a long book more difficult.

Frankly, I think 50-75,000 is the ideal amount. Some call the shorter side of that a novella, I call it a reasonable risk.

One more thing about shorter lengths: Great writers deliver impact with each sentence. They focus on quality, and reveal their story in a meaningful captivating fashion. When I read Philip Roth, who often (but not always) clocks in under 300 pages, I am certain that every chapter will be great. He respects the reader with a tight well written novel (or novella) everytime.

What do you think?

Featured image via Devon Fredericksen. Lord of the Rings image by Abdulla Al Muhairi.