I’d finished a book the other day and only had one book going. Since I generally like reading at least two at a time, I started scanning my TBR shelves for my next read. A book that I’ve had for a couple of years caught my eye. I’d read other things by the author and liked them, and this one had an intriguing title. Then a thought struck me: “It’s awfully long.” I passed it by.
Something similar occurred a couple of months ago. One of my colleagues at Xavier was reading book three of A Song of Ice and Fire. That’s Game of Thrones for you TV viewers. I’d been watching the TV show myself and much enjoying it. I’d decided I wanted to read the books. But there stood my friend with a serious doorstop in his hands. It’s over 1200 pages. And that is one of a bunch in the series. I thought to myself, “I have not the strength.”
I’ve never been one to judge a book by its cover. In fact, I notice covers only in passing. But I’ve been aware for maybe a decade now that I’m becoming increasingly reluctant to start “big” books. Increasingly reluctant is the operative term. I used to read Stephen King novels. Not anymore. I used to read long-assed thrillers. Not anymore. Even if I love you, I’m just not going to read your 800 page opus. Or even your 600 page one. And probably not your 500 page one.
400 pages appears to be about my cutoff these days, but the book I rejected this morning for being too long was only around 380. My ideal length for a book that I’m about to invest my time in is between 185 and 250 pages. I’ll pretty readily go 300, especially for a thriller. But 350 is starting to push it.
I guess the question is, why am I becoming this way? I have some thoughts, of course. First, I’m 56 and quite aware that I’m likely never to get all the books read I’d like to read. Five of my preferred size books would equal one Game of Thrones tome. Do I want to read a 1200 pager by George R. R. Martin, or would I rather read five other books by the likes of James Reasoner, E. C. Tubb, Joe Lansdale, Poul Anderson, and O’Neil De Noux? Five wins.
Second, I started out writing short stories mostly so I had very little idea how long novels needed to be. But I’ve written a number of novel length projects by now and I’ve never found the need to go beyond about 350 pages. I can’t even imagine how much padding I’d have to include to push one of my Taleran books to 1000 pages. They average a little over 200. And in almost every long book I’ve ever read, I’ve found what seemed to be padding. As a writer, I just don’t think one story in a million needs great length to be told effectively. In fact, padding a work is the opposite of being effective. Maybe once in a while a story really needs to be that long—once in a long, long while.
So what about you? Do you love big thick tomes heavily marbled with fat? Or would you prefer a leaner cut of meat? What is your ideal length for a novel?