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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday: How Long is Too Long?

You may remember me posting that I was reading Goodwin's Lincoln bio, "Team of Rivals."  Or, maybe you had better things to remember. 

Anyhoo, I was reading that tome.

I've since decided to throw in the towel.  It's too dense.  I'm bored with it and can't press on.  Game over.

I learned long ago, as a reader, that my time was more precious than my bragging rights, so if a book doesn't "have" me, I let it go.  That doesn't mean it has to be a lengthy book; it just may not interest me.  But, this book got me to thinking about length, particularly the question of "how long is too long?"

See, I can read a long book.  Two of my all time favs are long books (Les Miz and Gone with the Wind), but I'm a reader who enjoys brevity, and I hate any piece of writing that bloats itself on unnecessary material.  Mostly, I don't blame writers for this.  I blame editors who let writers get away with this.

I think it usually happens once a writer gets popular, and editors just let the writers run hog-wild.  Cases in point:

George R.R. 500-words-for-a-breakfast-description Martin.
"Game of Thrones" is awesome.  First book?  Killed it.  But, then...2nd and 3rd books have great moments, but the reader has to first wade through half of each of those books to get to the great stuff.  I'm taking a sabbatical from his series right now because I was just getting so frustrated with his looooooong ass descriptions of people, places, and items that do nothing to advance the plot.  Dude. 

If I get to the end of this series and a Stark doesn't prevail, and I've read a couple thousand pages about some side character's dinner, the big vein in my head is gonna POP!

Stephen I-think-long-is-awesome King
Look at King's early novels.  "Carrie"?  "The Shining"?  Short, short.  Awesome books.  His more recent stuff?  "11/22/63"?  Really?  Really.  See, unlike some academics, I actually think King has some merit as literature.  His novellas, in particular, are really good.  His short story "The Man in the Black Suit"?  The bestest!  Notice, however, that I pointed to his short works.  The long stuff is best used as kindling ("The Stand" aside -- although, I, unlike Jerry, do NOT think it needed those "50 extra pages" that were included in the most recent, updated edition).

J.K. Potter-riffic Rowling
Notice how, in the Potter series, each novel gets longer and longer?  You can't convince me that the 7th novel needed to be THAT long.  C'mon, everyone was bored to death with that long wait in the woods that took up the entire middle 100 pages of the book.

To me, if the art is good, the length can sustain it.  But if the art is lagging, then the writing is just taking up space.  In the case of "Team of Rivals," I think there maybe need to be two editions: One for the history novice, who just wants to read a Lincoln bio; and one for the history experts/profs out there who have to wade through all the side stuff.  Because, you know, that's their job.  I don't like it when my pleasure reading feels like a job.

So, what about you?  What's too long?  Ever abandon a read because of length or boredom?


ajh said...

The Stand is an outstanding book. I read all of King's early books but don't read them at all anymore.

Erin said...

Yep, I am not ashamed to say that some books get left to collect dust at our house.

I do appreciate the heads up where people will tell me the first hundred pages are slow and then it gets better. I will give those a little more effort.

Laura said...

I couldn't agree with you more about King. I adore his short stories and novellas, but the big ones I just don't have the energy for.

When I was pregnant, I read "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and talk about starting off slow! The first 75 pages were so boring I nearly quit, but in the end was glad I stuck with it. However, I haven't picked up the others in the series because I don't want to trudge through the boring stuff.

Alex said...

I love the GOT series! Though I didn't like when he split the characters between books (i think) 3 and 4.

It took me a month to get through all 5 books-I was hooked!

Viper said...

I still have a hard time letting go of books. I fought all the way through DFW's Infinite Jest only to finish it and think, "What a dick."

I've gotten through maybe three of four of King's books for the reasons you mention. I just don't have much interest in trying more.

Anyway, reading Davis Grubb's "Night of the Hunter" now, and it's awesome!

Pharmie said...

I did the same thing with Team of Rivals. After the first few hundred pages, I realized it was a chore and I wasn't enjoying myself. It remains the only book I've never finished. That being said, I am sure I would love the Game of Thrones series, but I refuse to start it. I don't have that kind of time to commit right now.