October 7, 2012

Why are some books so long?

Is it me, or has the average length of a novel gone up? I don't know if I'm reading different books than I used to, but it seems like most books I read nowadays are over 400 pages, and it's not rare to pick up a book that's over 500 pages long.

The length of a story in itself isn't that important to me. Some of my favorite books are over 400 pages. For example, my edition of Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring clocks in at over 500 pages, and it's one of my all-time favorites. However, what bothers me about some of the long books I've read recently is that they don't need to be so long. It's as if the author stretched out the story on purpose or the editor did a poor job trimming it down. There have been two occasions this year when I gave 4 stars to a novel that was potentially 5 stars, but the length/verbosity slowed down the flow of the story. In those cases, if the author had cut 20% to 30% of the book, I believe the story would've been a more interesting read without losing any substance.

Why are authors and publishers releasing so many unnecessarily long books? Do they think that length is a proxy for quality and that they can charge more for books like are longer? Are they just not doing as good a job editing? I will gladly pay for a 300 page book if it's good. For instance, all three books of the Hunger Games trilogy fall under 400 pages, and I don't regret paying for any of them.

If a story requires more than 400 pages to tell, by all means make it as long as it needs. However, I hope that authors are conscious that writing overly long books doesn't make them better. Oftentimes, they are worse because they are longer.

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