by Dylann Cohn-Emery
A teenager walked up and down the aisles of Barnes and Noble, searching for the perfect book. In her mind that meant something weighty, something she would have to put time into to finish.
“Short books just turn me off,” she told her friend.
It is understandable that readers might want the challenge of reading a lengthy book, something they know will take weeks, if not months. Perhaps they think the subplots and extra detail might make the book better, and that short books can’t have a full, satisfying story. I used to maintain this mindset; I was this girl, who thought that reading bigger books made me smarter and more interesting. I thought they were better because they had more to say.
With time, however, I have actually found that the opposite to be true. Longer books tend to drag more often, losing me before they even start. Sometimes it feels like authors write long books with the knowledge that half of them could be turned into a sequel or all the subplots into a spin-off book. Of course, not all longer books are like this, but short books have an easier time being concise, engaging, and consistent in pacing throughout. Authors of short books and short stories know their time is limited—they are putting only the most important and compelling details on the page, and they don’t deviate from the plot for something insignificant. I think this makes the difference between books that are impossible to put down versus books that I put down for months at a time.
Richard Lea, a writer at The Guardian, talks about a survey from 2015 that found books have gotten 25% longer over the last 15 years. The survey was conducted by James Finlayson from Vervesearch, and Lea summarizes the conclusion to assert that “there’s a ‘relatively consistent pattern of growth year on year’ that has added approximately 80 pages to the average size of the books surveyed since 1999.” Lea discusses a few potential reasons for this, but his only conclusion is that people are reading longer books, so more are being produced.
As someone who used to believe negative stereotypes about shorter novels, I have come to appreciate their conciseness, captivation, and consistency in pacing, which are lacking in longer books. For instance, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a 784-page book, took me a solid few months to read—not because it was bad (it won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), but because there were times when I felt either overwhelmed or bored and so I put it down.. A book of similar length but lesser quality might be even less likely to captivate me till the end.
Conversely, short books and novellas generally don’t experience these issues in keeping me enthralled. A novel like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, which is 208 pages, has a higher chance of keeping myself and many other readers interested and engaged throughout. With a lesser reading time and a more focused, detailed plot, short novels seldom leave opportunities to be put down.
To disregard the merit of a book because it’s short doesn’t do it justice, no matter the topic. Although longer books may seem appetizing, they can become long-winded and off-topic, whereas shorter ones are more succinct; to experience a whole story and be able to reflect on it in one sitting can be just as rewarding as finally finishing a lengthy novel, if not more so. It still invokes a sense of accomplishment, and won’t make a reader feel bad for putting the book down for days or months at a time, as they might with a longer title.