An article in Publishers Weekly linked me over to a blog on The Daily Beast, written by Marc Wortman. The blog was about contemporary books being too long, and the writer’s theory was that books are becoming longer and longer mainly to beef up e-book prices. Now, I’m not sure if that’s the case. I don’t think books are long because editors are too lazy to chop them down, or because the authors have huge egos and want to profess to the world that they have written enormous tomes.
The writer of the blog uses examples of nonfiction books to back up his point that books today are far too long. In my eyes, a nonfiction book should be long. If you’re doing research, or even just reading nonfiction for pleasure, you want the book to contain depth. You want there to be a lot of references and footnotes, so that at least you know the information is validated and not just random facts that came off the top of the author’s head.
But as for fiction, it’s understandable that you might want a book to be shorter. You might not want to get bogged down in all the tiny details of the setting, or read pages and pages of backstory that may not be entirely relevant to the main plot.
Interestingly enough, it does feel like YA novels are getting longer and longer these days… and many of them are trilogies, which demand an even longer attention span. (Or at least a longer memory; for me it can be hard to remember all the events of the book while waiting for the second and third volumes in the series to come out.) It can be argued that teenagers have the shortest attention spans of anyone else.
But since the Internet is such a pervasive force in our lives, all of our attention spans are getting shorter by the day. There’s a phenomenon called “popcorn brain,” which is “a brain so accustomed to the constant stimulation of electronic multitasking that we’re unfit for life offline, where things pop at a much slower pace,” according to CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen. It’s no wonder we have no patience or time to read through a 600-plus-page biography of Steve Jobs.
I personally think that people who read a lot have longer attention spans anyway; reading seems to be an activity that actually lengthens attention spans. People who have shorter attention spans typically don’t enjoy reading as much; they probably prefer to do other things. But that’s only a theory I have.
So what do you think? Are books getting too long? Do you often read long books?