Hi, lovely reader, and thanks for joining me today for another round of rambling about books. I’m linking this to the Discussion Challenge, where great bookish debates are to be found on a monthly basis.
I’ve been meaning to write about fat, long books for a while now. Greg mentioned a cool expression, “doorstoppers”, and I think this is an appropriate term for the big tomes that have some 600 pages or more. I know Cait talked about this briefly in one of her reviews, too, and probably a bunch of other people, but I wanted to discuss this as well, because I have a kind of love-hate relationship with these massive books.
Fact the first. Some of my favourite books are massive doorstoppers. The Lord of the Rings, The Name of the Wind, The Assassin’s Apprentice, Harry Potter, and many more besides. You’ll notice that these are mostly fantasy novels, though I recently read Me Before You, which has 560 pages in the Slovenian paperback edition, so it’s no small book, either.
Fact the second. If you count the entire series as a single unit, most of the trilogies and longer series are super long. Now, this might be unfair, a series can have a large number of very slim volumes but I count the time it takes to read the entire story. Some of the heftiest series I’ve ever taken on are: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (this one has fourteen 800-page books, folks, that’s crazy right there), Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich (these are very moderate in length but I think 22 have been published so far!), George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (I let this one go), Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass (unfinished), Robin Hobb’s Farseers (and subsequent trilogies featuring Fitz), and Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence (unfinished).
Fact the third. In the time it takes me to read one such book or series, I could have read many, many more shorter stories or standalone novels. Yes. See, here’s the heart of my problem. If I start a series that clocks in at 3000 or more pages when all is said and done, I’m effectively giving my reading time to a single author when I could, in fact, be reading six different authors and giving them a chance as well. The question that arises is: is this author’s writing really worth more than the writing of six other writers put together?
Well, it depends. As I said, some of my dearest books and series are incredibly long. And I have zero regrets in having read them and given the authors the time their books deserve. But sometimes, like with Martin, I become so disillusioned with the series, I drop it – and find I’ve wasted hours of precious reading time chewing my way through stories that should really have been much shorter (I think Martin’s series was originally planned to be a trilogy. Oops?).
I love long books and series for a number of reasons. They give me the chance to really get to know the characters, the worldbuilding is usually excellent, and there’s just so much going on I forget that my arms are supposed to hurt from supporting the massive hardback I’m holding.
But then I wonder: did the author really need to include that particular subplot in the story? Is this character absolutely necessary? Or are they just examples of an author refusing to kill their darlings and an editor not insisting enough? Because I know I would have loved some of the massive books more if they were shorter. If they were more concise, direct, and not such a time sink. I’ve joked with my editor (when talking about translating fantasy) that every book above 500 pages should have a 100 pages axed and every book above 800 could definitely lose 200. And it’s sort of true. If you’re completely honest with yourself and look at your favourite chunky book, you’ll soon see what I mean. Sure, that dialogue is quirky and that description beautiful, but do they bring the plot forward? Do they make story tight? Probably not.
Also, these massive books take authors years to write. And by that time, I’ve forgotten everything that has happened in the previous book and hardly ever have the time or inclination to re-read a 800-page monstrosity to “refresh my memory”. *sigh*
There’s another, perhaps lesser reason why I wish authors would write shorter books: they’re cheaper to translate. In a book market as small as Slovenia’s, the biggest print runs for absolutely best bestsellers are perhaps 5.000 copies (and yes, I’m talking Harry Potter and ASOIAF). Libraries here do a brisk business because books are relatively expensive – and they have to be. And if you consider how many pages there are to translate, you can bet that the translator is getting the lowest possible rate because the publishing house simply cannot afford to pay them more! So it’s financially better for everyone to translate shorter books that don’t need to be as expensive on the market and can be done in a reasonable amount of time.
So you see, I really wish some of my favourite authors would consider writing shorter books. Their writing is great, sure, but so is other people’s writing, and I often can’t justify starting another 6-part series when it’s just such a massive time and money investment. I’ll still be reading my favourite authors’ series, even if they’re huge, but I’ll be wishing for something lighter all along.
How do you feel about super long books?
Do you ever hesitate before starting a really long series?
I’d love to hear from you! :)