The Guardian view on lengthening books: read them and weep – The Guardian

At 500 pages, The Overstory is a “majestic redwood” of a novel. Its place on this week’s Man Booker shortlist is testament that long books are fine by the judges.


One book survey found that the average number of pages had increased from 320 to 400 pages between 1999 and 2014. Some think that the shift to digital formats has contributed, not least in removing the fear of being crushed beneath your duvet by your bedtime reading.


Writers are not the only ones reluctant to kill their darlings. Director’s cuts tend to expand rather than contract movies. Viewers of Apocalypse Now Redux — 49 minutes longer than the lengthy original — can testify that there’s sometimes good reason for studios to interfere with a creative vision. Yet executives too can overrate the long and sprawling.

One culprit can be the misguided sense that volume equals value for money. Another is the odd association between physical heft and artistic or intellectual merit — “weighty” is a compliment, “slight” is an insult.

Interestingly, I opined about this back in June, specifically mentioning The Overstory, a new novel by one of my favorite authors. I’ve put off reading it because it’s long, and I’ve been more interested in reading shorter books these days. Oddly, the books that have caught my eye in recent months have been longer, and I haven’t bought many of them; I’m still in search of shorter, tauter novels to read.

Source: The Guardian view on lengthening books: read them and weep | Editorial | Opinion | The Guardian

0 thoughts on “The Guardian view on lengthening books: read them and weep – The Guardian

  1. It’s not just the literary stuff that gets overblown nowadays – many of the newer crime novels spin out their particular assortment of the genre’s cliches – rebellious, non-conforming police officer protagonist with a darkly troubled past and a beyond merely stupid superior to contend with, etc, etc – to 450-500+ pages.

    Maybe it’s just that publishers have dispensed with their editors in pursuit of cost cutting?

    • I have a friend who is a best-selling mystery author in the UK. His books have always been around 400 pages. What changed for him a couple of years ago publishers tried to press him to write two books a year instead of just one. He refused. They never suggested his books be longer, but they tried to squeeze more out of him. This said, editing has become a lot less serious in recent years.

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