Recently, I’ve actually managed to finish three novels that I’d consider fairly long:
- The Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone (480 pages, which doesn’t seem that long… except it’s a trade paperback)
- Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (just shy of 600 pages as a hardback)
- It by Stephen King (eleventy-billion pages long, capable of killing a man if dropped on his head from two floors up)
I’m also in the midst of Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James which is… I’m not sure how many pages long, since I picked up the audiobook from the library after running out of Audible credits for the month. But it’s 24 hours long, which pegs it as significantly longer than The Empress of Forever, which felt pretty meaty as an audiobook at just shy of 20 hours. I’m also not sure how I’m getting along with Black Leopard, Red Wolf, since I’m enjoying the journey of it okay, but 11 hours in I also have no idea what the fuck is actually happening.
Anyway, I’m actually kind of impressed with myself that I’ve read this many long books. Because I’m generally not great at long books. I really loved Lady Hotspur and it still took me a long-ass time to read, because I was mostly just doing a few chapters at a time while I was on the exercise bike and couldn’t escape to do something else. It wasn’t until the last 15-20% that it suddenly just accelerated and I couldn’t put it down. That’s pretty much been my experience with all long books… lots of setup, lots of getting to know people, lots of moving all the pieces into position, and then it just goes balls-out for the last little bit.
Well, except for It, maybe. I had other feelings about It, probably because endings are the number one thing Stephen King isn’t real great at.
Long books feel like a lot of setup, but on the good ones, the payout is worth it. But I have such a difficult time sticking with the setup without wandering off and wanting to read something else. (I’m normally reading about four books at a time, but the real problem is wandering off to read something else and then never coming back because it just feels like too much effort.) So I’ve mostly avoided long books, which means I’ve really limited my second-world-fantasy intake, since it takes a lot of convincing to get me to invest the time in an epic fantasy tome. Maybe it’s that my reading time is so limited, and I read slowly enough (which feels weird to say since I used to think I was a fast reader until I met my housemate) that I feel keenly what a time investment it is. And I haven’t been willing to make that kind of investment into epic fantasy in particular since I grew up enough to realize Terry Goodkind was fantasy AU Ayn Rand fic.
The “it’s too slow and there’s too much setup” feels like an even weirder complaint to make in light of the main reason I’ve given up on all but a very select few YA–those things are too damn pacey. I’m not interested in relentless plot beats where every chapter ends with a cliffhanger and the characters never get a moment to sit and, you know, develop. Which leads to a different kind of boredom on my part. I really do like a lot of what longer novels can come with, because there’s so much more room for characters to really stew in what’s happening, and a lot more set up that leads to a bigger payoff, or more little twists for the plot to have… but I suppose I’ve gotten very picky about what feels worthwhile when it’s character development or setup time, because other than these recent reading efforts, I’ve dumped a lot of longer books because the length seems to come from lovingly detailed world building that I’m sure really does it for some people… just not me. Because about the time I scream “Get on with it!” at the book is when I DNF it.
(No, I’m not reading Game of Thrones and you can’t make me.)
The biggest thing is that my TBR pile is huge and always getting bigger, my waking, free-for-reading hours on Earth are limited and finite, and the major advantage that a short novel has over a long one is that I can read more of them. Long novels just really, really, REALLY have to be worth it. If a book is going to take the same time for me to read as 2-3 shorter novels, I’d better get 2-3 shorter novels of enjoyment out of it. Which may seem unfair if you’re someone who has written a brick and sees me passing it by unless it has a really immense hook like “Hey Alex, I know you’re really into Shakespeare’s histories so what if Henry IV but with ladies and lots of queer stuff” like fuck you just call me out by name next time. And as a counterpoint, if you as a writer can manage to squeeze that many words out of your head and go through the endless middle act(s) death march without wanting to jump in front of a bus AND craft it into a coherent story that people who probably aren’t me want to read, that’s unfair and I hate you. (No, I don’t.) (Yes, I do.)
Written for The Blog Challenge Project run by Shaun Duke, @shaunduke on Twitter.