My conversion to the “dark side” of digital sometimes makes me wonder if the 1, 000-page printed tome is already on its way out. Recently one of my colleagues here at Love Central left a big fat fantasy book on his desk on full display. Being a naturally nosy, open-plan office, we immediately descended on it en masse and fawned over it as if it were a dinosaur artifact. “How can you read that?” someone asked. “It’s soooo long!”
Last year I read one of the best (and biggest) books I’ve read in a long time – Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – about a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escapes prison and flees to India. It was unlike anything I’d read before, it made me cry, and I was truly sorry when it ended, but I knew while I was immersed in it that it was going to take a full-time reading commitment. Since I feel bad when I cheat on books with other books, I cast aside other tempting shorter works and was faithful to Mr. Roberts.
The thing is, though, we live in a society where leisure time is incredibly fragmented and rare. We steal moments of entertainment for ourselves wherever and however we can. Usually this means an hour of TV here, a couple hours at the movies there, 5 mins on the interwebs at work, or too much time playing Angry Birds on the commute home.
I don’t think I’m alone in considering word length or book size as one of the key factors for or against deciding to read a book. To me, there’s just something about a shorter story that’s innately appealing in our time-deprived, short-attention-span lives.
Although I’m still known as the Romantic Suspense Go-To Girl around these parts, lately I’ve been branching out and reading new-to-me niches like male/male. “Devoured” is about the closest word I can find to describe how I inhaled the two male/male novellas that were assigned to me over the past few months. What struck me most is that they were the perfect length to introduce me to something outside my usual reading comfort zone. Getting a taste of the niche has definitely made me crave more man-on-man editorial in the future!
Now I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a place for books with a 100, 000 word count. On the contrary! When I’m fully immersed in a genre or waiting for one of my favourite authors’ new releases to come out (that means you, J.D. Robb), my philosophy is “the bigger the better,” because I don’t want to leave the world they’ve created or say goodbye to the characters I’ve fallen in love with. So, a lower word count isn’t necessarily better, but it is something to consider in the electronic age.
For me, a book doesn’t have to be dense to be developed. At the same time, I’m not going to read a novella if the characters aren’t compelling and the plot is skimpy on believability. I think one of the reasons the novella market is growing is because you get straight to the story and get to sink your teeth into the action. It also doesn’t feel as daunting to start a novella as it does to begin a mammoth book.
So what are your thoughts on book size/word length? Does it matter to you at all?