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The Length of a Book….

This month I was the subject of “Q & A” in the L Magazine.

I’m feeling sheepish that I spent so much time commenting on the length of books…it strikes me as bordering on shallow to be so concerned about how long a book is.

But…of the 12 fiction titles on this year’s American Library Association Notable Books List, 7 are more than 400 pages long, and 3 of those top 600 pages. This reminds me of the quote often attributed to Mark Twain but probably more likely from Pascal, along the lines of “I’m sorry that this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to write a short letter.” As a reader, I suspect that authors of such long novels could have created better books by taking the time to pull out more of what is not essential. In both “The Lonely Polygamist” by Brady Udall and and “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen, I sensed the story sagging in the middle. Both books have great scenes and lovely characters but too much, too much, too much.

I don’t wish to be a shallow reader, or a shallow reviewer. I am willing to read (and I hope sometimes love) a long book that needs to be a long book, and that has the narrative structure to support its length. But life is short, and I will be most happy to read a book that is only as long as it needs to be.

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