A recent post by an incognito publisher asks us to name a book with more than 500 pages that sustains the reader’s interest for its entire length. Despite my oft-repeated grizzling about the length of books I didn’t think it would be that hard to find one.
The task proved more difficult than I thought not least because I don’t always know how many pages books have. Anything I’ve read within the last 10 years or have owned a copy of – however briefly – within that same time period appears in my database (yes I am nerdy enough to have a database and be cross that it didn’t exist earlier in my life) but I haven’t always noted the page count and for anything read before that I’m using pure guesswork. And of course I read a lot in audio format which doesn’t neatly equate to page counts.
Mechanics aside though it’s still a bloody difficult task.
I always say Stephen King’s THE STAND is one of my favourite books of all time (though I haven’t re-read it for 25 years) despite my belief that if it lost half its page count it would only gain in quality. And that was before King released his Author’s Cut version in which when famous enough to do so he released a version of the novel containing the 400-odd pages his publishers made him take out first time around. That is the precise moment I lost interest in reading Mr King’s work. Talented storyteller he may be but THE STAND was not improved by the addition of 20 highly repetitive pages depicting a schizophrenic pyromaniac mumbling to himself and lighting more fires. Nor by any of its other additions.
I read an enjoyed all three of the Stieg Larsson trilogy installments but all of them could easily have survived with 100+ fewer pages and I recall even suggesting which pages could be cut from THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.
I liked Tana French’s IN THE WOODS but its ponderous length (my version was 608 pages) has put me off reading any more of her books despite owning two of them. Every time I look at them on my TBR shelves I groan at the thought of such length and choose something different to read.
I also liked Jo Nesbo’s THE REDBREAST but could easily have done without all the flashbacks to wartime in the trenches (the repetition was unnecessary) and, as with French, I am put off reading more of his novels because they make it seem like the author is paid by the word.
I’m guessing that Elizabeth George’s CARELESS IN RED is a brick in physical form because it is the second longest of any audio book in my library. Here’s how I opened my review “I struggled through this book primarily because of its length. At 23 hours and 15 minutes it’s a lot longer than the average audio book which in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing but there is not 23 hours and 15 minutes worth of story to be told“. ‘Nuff said. For the record the longest audio book in my library is Anthony Trollope’s CAN YOU FORGIVE HER at 28 hours and 7 minutes. Of course that is way too long also but from memory I bought it specifically because of its length to consume on some long-haul flights.
Some possible winners?
Ariana Franklin’s MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH is eligible for consideration and in my review I said “Although it runs to 502 pages I gobbled up this book in a couple of settings“. I don’t remember any feelings that fewer pages would have made a better reading experience in this instance. I rated Liza Marklund’s RED WOLF (508 pages) and Christos’ Tsiolkas’ BARRACUDA (513 pages) both very highly too and similarly don’t recall any sense that less would have been more on either occasion.
Overall though I can’t vehemently disagree with Agatho’s premise. For me at least 500+ pages is almost always too long.
Whenever I think about book length I am reminded of my favourite history tutor whose first assignment was for us to write a 2000 word essay. After we had all dutifully submitted them he gave us our second assignment: to answer the exact same question but in half the words. I can remember hating him for a while but that assignment, and the others he set that creatively taught us to say more with less, have proven invaluable over the years. I often wish more writers had been taught the same lesson.
What about you? Any thoughts on book length as it pertains to quality? Do you actively avoid books with a high page count? Or do you love them?