Several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks

Why I Like Long Books

One of the benefits of publishing in today’s milieu is that book length is no longer as rigid it was in the days of print-only, trad-only publishing. Especially in the case of ebooks, where length is measured in time needed to read a book, rather than its physical bulk. If a writer is inspired to create in short forms, they shouldn’t hesitate to publish those works, or consider them inferior because they’re short.

pocket watch and book

Short fiction ranges from micro or flash (a few hundred words or less), through short stories (1,000 to 10,000 words) to novellas and novelettes (10,000 to about 50,000 words). Some say a novel has to be at least 80,000 words, but I figure anything over 50,000 may squeak into that category, as a “short novel,” perhaps.

Short fiction is generally published in the form of collections (single author), or in anthologies or journals (multi-author), as well as singly on writers’ blogs.

Now that’s out of the way, I can say that in general, I prefer long books to short, and novels to collections or anthologies. In high school, I was the kid lugging around the biggest, fattest books from the school library. I particularly recall Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, which was three inches thick and could injure your foot if you dropped it.

Several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks
Several big, fat books I have read.

Why do I prefer long novels? Because reading is analogous to writing, it may be argued that by visualizing as they read, the reader continues the work of the writer. It takes a similar sort of mental effort for the reader to run a mind-movie as for the writer to create the script for it (the book).

But works of short fiction are not always worth the trouble. You get to know the characters and they’re gone. You appreciate a setting, but you’re kicked out of it when the story ends. Or it’s all minimalistic–a character in a situation, without much detail or context. In a novel, especially a long one, you can settle in, get to know the characters, become friends with some of them, return to their world day after day, and feel bereft when you close the book. (We’re talking about a well-written, interesting novel here, folks. We know that whether long or short, they aren’t all like that.)

Spines of several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks
Books featured here: Les Misérables / Victor Hugo ; Maia / Richard Adams ; Anna Karenin / Leo Tolstoy ; A Place of Greater Safety / Hilary Mantel ; …And Ladies of the Club / Helen Hooven Santmyer ; Black Water : the book of fantastic literature / edited by Alberto Manguel. (And yes, that last one is an anthology of short fiction.)

Short fiction doesn’t linger in my memory the way long novels do.

A book of linked or interrelated short stories, on the other hand, has possibilities. They take place in the same setting, possibly in different time periods. The same characters may appear in more than one story. There may not be a unified plot, but figuring out how the various stories fit together can be interesting.

Fellow writers, what do you think? I see reviews of short books on your blogs, so I know you read and enjoy them. Long reads or short–which do you prefer, both to read and to write?

By the way, my 2018 novel, She Who Comes Forth, is having its final two free days on Amazon August 20th and 21st (today and tomorrow). It’s shorter than the books in the photos for this post. Click the cover image.

98 comments

  1. I remember when I was reading a Stephen King doorstop sized book (paperback) and giving up after page 100 because nothing much had happened.
    ‘I could do better than this’ I declared to my then wife.
    A local newspaper short story competition turned up just at that time 1500 words, and I did ok. The ‘Trad’ way was still the thing at that time and first three chapters / synopsis proved a waste of postage stamps and paper. Ebooks came out pushed by Amazon and then the brakes were off. Roughly 35 ebooks with a handful of paperback createspace versions and it was a journey of over 35 full length boos, some over 90k words plus a gazillion novellas and shorts depending on my mood of the time. And it’s all still out there with a few readers, especially on Apple, with beer money turning up. And yet I don’t read much at all. Too busy oil painting theses days, especially with my exhibition to work towards. But hey. We are all different.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I love all good stories, short and long. I’ve read some Margaret Atwood and Alice Monroe short stories I will never forget. I’m currently reading the granddaddy of all long novels, War and Peace. Hope I live long enough to finish it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Hi Darlene, I got irritated with War and Peace and DNFd it. Yesterday, I decided to dust it off and carry on. The middle of some very long novels can get a little tedious but I think I’m almost through that bit so time to get back into the Napoleonic war.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I’m finding the war a bit of a slog but think I’m almost past the boring stuff. 67% done. It is good though and some of the descriptions are amazing. The scene before and after the battle, Oh my. He gets a bit too political for me at times, but it was written a long time ago.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. When my adopted Dad and I read W&P together during the “dragging bits” we read a bio of Tolstoy, history of Russia etc that tangentially related to the dragging part in W&P. That helped me get thought those parts.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. HI Audrey, I read everything and anything as long as it grips me. As mentioned to Darlene, some long books get a little long winded in the middle, but if its a good author, I can usually push through and appreciate the descriptions and writing. I have read a number of long books, including Gone with the Wind, Great Expectations, Testament of Youth, Shogun, The Thorn Birds, and To the Last Man and they were all terrific. Equally good have been The Yellow Wallpaper, A Modest Proposal and many of Poe’s short stories. I can’t say I prefer any one type of story over another.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Short, medium or long – I have no real preference if the subject matter: ie the story, well written…grabs me. Gone With The Wind, Great Expectations, The Thorn Birds, Anna Karenina, and many shorter books have kept me one happy reader.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. My attention span has shortened over the last 10 or more years, so I stick with books on the shorter side these days. However, that said, I decided to read The Reivers, by Faulkner, recently. It’s amazingly wordy and detailed. I’m making my way through it though. Slowly!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This must be why you seem to like my books, because I have trouble writing short stuff. I had a friend tell me when I was first starting out that my books would never be widely read because attention spans had grown too short these days.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I could relate to this post, Audrey. I used to read long, long books, the thicker the better. (I recognized a few from your pile). I’ve found in the last decade or so, though, that I’ve traded the indulgence of longish books for a greater volume of shortish books. My time has become so limited and segmented that quicker reads work better for me. I look forward to being in my nineties and being able to read tomes again. 😀

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I was an English major in college (back during the Nixon administration), which meant reading a LOT of very long books. I took an entire course in the writings of Charles Dickens, who wrote some short stories and the occasional novella, but his specialty was the enormous, sprawling, multi-plot novel with so many characters you had to keep a list of them to remember who was who. I fell in love with George Eliot, who also wrote some shorter things, although I like her long novels (especially Middlemarch and Adam Bede) the best. I love all of Jane Austen’s novels, the shorter ones as well as the longer ones. Obviously length is less important than quality, and it’s good to have some variety as far as length goes, especially if you’re a slow reader like me. I don’t always have time for a very long book, so I need to have some shorter ones around for when my reading time is limited. But there’s nothing like losing yourself in a really well-written long novel. It’s one of life’s great pleasures.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I used to love long books, but that was when I didn’t have access to a lot of books. Now I’m like a kid in a candy store, and I want one of everything from a bazillion different authors, so I do look for shorter novels. Besides, horror (which I enjoy reading) works well in a shorter novel form because it’s so doggone emotional, you’d go numb if it were any longer!

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Are there any long novels written these days?
    What author would risk 200k words in a singular effort, not knowing if years of work would sell (if they were trying to sell — if they weren’t then we’d prolly never hear from them, right?).
    Releasing in installments is far less risky. No wonder the serial is really where most authors end up.
    Even today’s “serials” are monstrous if taken as a whole. What is HarryPotter’s total word count? 1,084,170 words. Day-yam!
    I’m sure I read some doosies way back when. But no longer.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I also love thick books, and for similar reasons. The mental and emotional involvement with the story and the characters is deeper; as a reader, I become part of that world. The most powerful reading experiences I’ve had, however, came from tiny books such as “Anna Sorror” by Marguerite Yourcenar, “The Notebook” by Agota Kristof, or “Brokeback Mountain”, just to name a few that knocked the wind out of me.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I tend to pick medium-sized reads, though I prefer a long book over a novella. I almost always finish a book once I start it unless it’s tedious, boring, or uninspiring.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Hi Audrey,

    While I do appreciate the skill that goes into writing a short story, I tend not to read them very often, preferring to lose myself in a longer work. Not every writer engages me though and I do struggle with books that others rave about, both classics and contemporary. This also has something to do with my mood – a bit like writer’s block – I get reader’s block and have gone through several months of dry, but was recently plunged into Sebastian Faulk’s Snow Country, which I binged on over several days and couldn’t put down.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Like you, I prefer novels for the same reasons. I don’t like short stories, unless they have continuing characters like Sherlock Holmes or Bertie & Jeeves. I’ve enjoyed some of Dicken’s novels, War & Peace, and I’m planning on tackling Kings’s 11/22/63 this fall, and maybe a James Clavell title as well. As one of the other commentators pointed out, series books can be considered vast novels. Patrick O’Brian’s Audbrey & Maturin series eventually reads like a single novel, with one book ending with the heroes shipwrecked, only getting off the island in the next book.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Good point about series and short stories that have the same characters. I reread the Sherlock Holmes stories every few years. BTW, I just finished your Sailing to Redoubt and loved it. The sequel is queued up in my TBR.

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      1. I am glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for the very nice review. And yes, the sequel is sort of necessary. A certain element of the story needed more than being tacked on to the ending of Sailing to Redoubt.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll let you know what I think of it, but I probably won’t start it until October, once I clear up my current writing project. A booktuber was raving about Shogun, so I might give that a try, or one of the other books by Clavell. We’ll see.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I’ve never read any of King’s books, and not being a fan of horror, 11/22/63 sounded like one I might enjoy. Maybe the only one… It was the booktuber’s favorite, and he has read all 84 King books.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Short stories have to be focussed, without any surplus stuff. Novels, on the other hand, can be fatter. Hmm, maybe it’s sort of like food. Give me a pizza instead of a celery stick. (Unless, of course, I happen to crave a celery stick.)

      Liked by 2 people

  15. My ebook sales are quite modest, but D2D emailed me that Kobo sent some $ my way. My Kobo sales are as rare as rocking horse poo, but there were two (or was it twelve?) last month. It was either for two VERY long books or ten books of average length. Both were ‘complete series’ one being the Craggy sci fi and the Deep Space Intelligence series. So you tell me. Two really long ebooks?

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Part of me wants to say I like any length of story, if it’s good. But my revealed preference suggests that in fact I prefer short stories. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when a story gets dragged out unnecessarily. I’d rather have a story that’s too short than too long.

    Are there long books that can keep me engrossed from cover to cover? Sure, there are, but I think the vast majority of long books have sections here and there that are a slog, or just don’t fit with the rest. Even the good ones.

    I’m not sure I agree with you entirely about short fiction not having the same ability to completely absorb the reader. For example: last night I was re-reading your story “The Ice Cream Truck From Hell.” To me, it’s perfect. I feel like I know all the characters, and their world, just as well as those in any sprawling tome. For me, I guess, it’s just about whether I like the “vibe” I get from a story, and I think that is completely independent of its length.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I think I have more tolerance for slow sections than you. If I find the characters, setting, and basic premise engaging, and if the writing is good, I go with the flow. I do get annoyed if the story veers off course entirely, however. My rationale, is if I read every day, I’d rather stick with a longer work than have to select a new short one every day or two.
      But hey–I’m glad you re-read “The Ice-Cream Truck from Hell” and liked it!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m another doorstop reader, and for the same reasons. That’s also why I prefer trilogies [or longer], or series set in the same world, to standalone books. Once I stumble across a world I love, I always want more, no matter how many books there are. All hail the Doorstop!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think people who have the reading habit are OK with long books (except ones that totally bog down somewhere). People who are occasional readers need stories that move fast and resolve quickly. There may be more of the latter around now, so shorter books do make sense. (I still like long ones, though.) 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  18. I completely agree… novels keep you so involved and once the book is over it leaves you with a feeling of isolation…..as if the ones you were involved with so long have left.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. I read everything: children’s books, fiction, nonfiction, short stuff, long stuff…. I just like a well thought out well told story. I love sinking into a really long novel for weeks. But I also enjoy the shocking beauty of a short poem or story. I can ponder one line from a poem or a short quote for weeks at a time. It’s the quality of the thoughts that I’m interested in most when I read. In my own work I will work for years on a painting series. I will create a short poem and illustrate it in a week. When I create I’m reaching for a form/format that fits the quality of the thoughts I want to share. Sometimes it’s long. Sometimes it’s short. 🤷‍♀️

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Absolutely!! Short stories aren’t novels that didn’t grow up – they are a thing themselves. Like tapas. Tapa’s are a whole category of really yummy food that is just bites. Not appetizers, not dinner courses but a small savory bite or two. There’s some memorable eating in small savories! Same with words. Some phrases are small savories. A thick novel can be a multi-course meal. Both forms can nourish the spirit. 😊❤

        Liked by 1 person

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