I just finished reading another recently released 500-plus-page novel. This was the third one I’d read. In a row.
It wasn’t bad. In fact, I kind of liked them all. But as I dutifully read page after page after page in book after book, I realized they were bloated.
The narratives swung from character to character, future to past, fun fact to pivotal point in history, without stopping to develop personalities or periods or to give me any context.
I also realized somewhere, underneath the too much of one novel, were three just enough novels — satisfying, 250-page books that just might have left me wanting more.
But big, fat, sweeping novels (invariably dubbed “epics” on the dust jackets) seem to be the thing these days. Even if the stories and the writing can’t support the length, bigger has somehow become better. And I, for one, am getting a tad tired of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an eager reader, usually not intimidated by a book’s size. I’ve read the epics, the Russians (“Anna Karenina,” “The Idiot”), the Germans (“The Magic Mountain”), the Americans (OK, I’ll admit I skipped “Infinite Jest”). The time it takes to read a big book doesn’t bother me.
In fact, when I’m reading something really good, I slow down once I get past the halfway mark, because I don’t want it to end too quickly. Once I finish, I often start right back in again, rereading my favorite parts, marveling at the structure, the often subtle foreshadowing, the pacing.
But length seems to have become the point, not a byproduct of the story that needs to be told. C’mon, authors! Most of us readers don’t set out to read really big books. We just want to read really good ones.
What we want is a well crafted tale, arresting in its premise, delighting in its choice of words, with deeply developed characters we come to love or hate. It doesn’t have to be a sweeping epic, loaded down by an endless expanse of years or so many characters that it’s impossible to remember who’s who, much less care. We don’t have to be hammered over the head with a too-obvious theme or distracted by irrelevant facts that the author learned during his or her research.
What I want is what we’ve all wanted since we were old enough to climb into our mom’s lap with a copy of “Horton Hears a Who.”
We want a story.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connie Nelson is senior editor for lifestyles. Laurie Hertzel is on vacation.