The Long & Short of It

I think that Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ is one of the longest books that I have read, if not ever then certainly in a long time. It’s funny how sometimes what you read can suddenly make you only too aware of where some of your reading weaknesses lie. Ok I have to come out and admit it to you all, I can hide it no longer. I tend to be a little scared/daunted/put off from reading long books and it’s actually a habit of my own that really annoys me. I would much rather, mentally from the out set, grab a much shorter book. I don’t think I am alone in this, but I thought I would explain it and how slowly but surely I might be changing my mind.

I think a picture I took this morning will illustrate one of my biggest issues with long books…

Look how many short and medium sized books I could have read instead? I always think as a reader you want to read as much as you physically can. Does anyone else sometimes have the dreaded thought of ‘I will never actually be able to read every thing that I would like to read in my life time’? It’s something Granny Savidge and I were discussing only the other day. But then in only reaching for the shorter books am I selling myself and my reading a little… erm… short?

 Time is a major factor, and not just in the fact that a long book takes much longer to read, though that does nark me a little. I also, and this is me being totally honest, see bigger books as being boring bricks and they need to be fantastically great in order to pay off the time invested in them. However when you get a great one like ‘The Passage’ it opens your mind to them once more and you start to see all the positives.

So I thought I would create a little table with pro’s and con’s of each (tongue firmly in cheek)…

Long Books

Short Books

You can’t read as many in a week You can read loads in a week
They need to hold you from the very start If you don’t love it initially what does it matter you wont have to read it for long
You have to lug them about in a bag when your commuting You can run out of a read mid journey and have nothing for the return
If you find a gem you don’t want to put it down but you have to for work If you have a gem you can devour it in a few sittings
You get to immerse yourself in a wonderful world (with the right book) for much longer which is nice You have to say goodbye to characters and places that you love much quicker
The plot and characters have more time and freedom to develop Just as your characters have developed you leave them
They can take a ridiculous amount of time to get going You are thrown in straight away which can be a little disorientating
Once you have read one you have much more space on your shelves for more Though you get through your TBR quicker, you cant actually tell… disheartening when  you have a few hundred plus
You only need a couple on a holiday or one on a long round trip train journey You need masses if you go away for a long time
They can be heavy and cumbersome and you begrudge carting them about They can be so light you forget to pack them when you leave the house or loose them in your over full man bag
When you have read one mammoth book you have a sense of achievement When you have read a great short book you can swiftly pop to the next

I know there are more pro’s and con’s to each – this is just the results of a quick ten minute brainstorm. It’s actually fairly 50/50 which surprised me even as I was writing them down. I also noticed looking at some of my favourite reads of all time that very few short books are in the mix, it’s the great epics that have captured me and not wanted to let me go which have stuck in my mind. Wilkie Collins ‘The Woman in White’, Michel Faber’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ etc, etc. So why don’t I read more? (I have actually noticed that since I finished The Passage I have read two much longer books maybe that’s just coincidence though it could be subconscious.) Maybe for the next few months I should read one long book for every two or three short books and see how I go?

What other pro’s and con’s have I missed? Are you ever put off a book because of its size? Do you like short books over long books or vice versa? Which do you think are better? Do you read the perfect mix? How long is too long, how short is too short? What’s been your favourite never ending read (you might give me some good reading suggestions of where to go next)? Do you have your eyes on a tome that you just cant get round to quite starting yet? What might be your next big read?



Filed under Book Thoughts

64 responses to “The Long & Short of It

  1. That’s really funny ‘cos I just wrote about exactly this in my comment under your review of The Passage.

    Big books scare me because of knowing that I could have fit so many more in the same time it takes me to read a doorstop book. I get a little panic on when I think about it. That said, some of the books that I am more desperate to read than anything else are huge tomes: Shogun, Shantaram, Gone with the Wind, Dickens (any Dickens will do here), The Crimson Petal and the White, Les Miserables. OHHHHH, why don’t I just read them? Whenever I have read a huge book I have always loved them.

    • It’s even funnier because I just commented on your comment saying pop by here and here you were!

      Shantaram is a book I actually very much want to read but its very size has just made me think ‘oh no, I could read so much more instead’ but which of those two scenarios will enrich me the more?

      I say read one every now and again, retrain the brain or something like that hee hee.

  2. No flies on me, Simon 😉

    Perhaps we should have a Shantaramathon at some point? That way we HAVE to read it!

    • Ooooh we could do, though I dont have a copy of it and am not buying books. Its one of those books where the library will have waiting lists of ten years… as long as it takes three punters to read it probably hahaha.

  3. Annabel (gaskella)

    I would add two to the cons of long books…
    1. They’re more difficult to hold in bed, and make more of a noise when you fall asleep and they drop on the floor.
    2. If you’re slightly OCD about book condition as I am, it’s almost impossible to read a chunkster paperback without creasing the spine.

    and also two sort of pros …
    1. They may not reduce the number of books on the TBR pile, but they do reduce the height.
    2. If you record the number of pages you read (as I do), they get reflected in that, making up for reducing the number of books you read.

    Although I don’t read many chunksters over 500 pages, I do tend to enjoy them, and am looking forward to getting stuck into The Crimson Petal and the White soon.

    • Yes I had forgotten the holding in bed factor Annabel, though weirdly thats the place I read least so maybe you can forgive me a little. I am ocd and spine cracking is something I just cannot abide.

      I don’t record the number of pages I read – how do you do that pray tell?

      • gaskella

        I log the number of pages on my master spreadsheet of everything I read, along with other potentially interesting data (year pub, male/female author, etc etc). Obvious, non? ;D

      • Hahahaha brilliant. I have an excel xpreadsheet for my books that I own and where they are but nothing like this.

  4. Great list. I was also mentioning recently that with long books, if you actually do manage to finish the whole thing, you might be more likely to say it was good. No one wants to say that they actually wasted that much time on a long book for no reason! Kind of like ending a long-term relationship and not wanting to say it was a waste of time because everything happens for a reason or something (yes, tongue firmly in cheek!).

    • You are very right with that Lija, I think that we also give up on bigger books more easily if they dont impress us instantly and sometimes they need to build everything up hence why they are so hefty. I know exactly what you mean about reviewing a mamoth book better than you might otherwise because of the time given (mind you I didnt do that with The Passage it genuinely is brilliant) you might also be tougher though in anger.

  5. farmlanebooks

    I tend to prefer long books over short ones, as they normally have the oomplex plots that I enjoy. I like reading one long book at the same time as a short book as I find that I read much slower if I only read long ones (there is no incentive to read the last 50 pages of a book when you still have several hundred to go!)

    The main problem I find is that I can only read one long book a month and so they pile up faster than the short ones. I think I already have all my chunksters lined up for the rest of the year!

    • I definitley think they have more breadth to have a complex plot. I think its a great short novel that can pack that in with less pages. I always find that quite something.

      You’re completely write about how the chunksters pile up, I have special shelves for them hee hee.

  6. Deb

    What do you think would be the approximate page count for “long” versus “short”? A lot of contemporary mysteries are well over 500 pages. I just finished one by Elizabeth George that was 600+. I never notice the length of a book if it grabs me and keeps me reading. I do, however, agree that one tends to feel more let down by a longer book that doesn’t deliver than by a shorter book that is equally unengaging.

    • Ooooh you have asked me a tricky tricky question there Deb. I would say short anything over 100 – 300 pages and long any thing from 500+. What the 300 – 500 pages are I havent decided in my own head yet!

      If you dont noticed the page length with a long book then that says a whole lot.

  7. There’s nothing better than a great, long book. And there’s nothing worse than a bad one.

  8. Darla LaRoche

    I love long books! I tend to pass up books if I feel they are too “thin”. I love to immerse myself in a new society, make lifelong friends with the characters, and feel like I share a history with them by the time I am finished. Some of my favorites are The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien by Oscar Hijuelos (I think you’d love it, it has a fairy tale aspect to it), The Forgotten Garden by Kate Mortaon, The Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar, Handling Sin by Michael Malone, and of course The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I also love The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Edith Pargeter who also writes as Ellis Peters. Even though you are only reading one big book for a length of time, you are still constantly reading!! I know what you mean about taking it along though, that’s why I finally bought a Kindle and read The Children’s Book by A.S, Byatt. I didn’t want to pack it in my carry on.

    • I want exactly what you say ” I love to immerse myself in a new society, make lifelong friends with the characters, and feel like I share a history with them by the time I am finished” from a long book I just find the effort a good deal of them put you through isn’t needed, thats quite possibly just me.

      I love the sounds of The Fourteen Sisters of Emilo Montez O’Brien. Brilliantly long title for a very long book. Shall look it up.

  9. I must confess that I tend to read longer works in fall/winter because of their lack or portability. 🙂 (Tomes just don’t travel to the pool well.) I also tend to approach my TBR mountain in the summer with unrealistic expectations for how much I can conquer before fall, and like you said, the shorter volumes are easier to “knock off,” but then I come back and remind myself that I don’t read for the sake of reading a certain number or for “getting them read,” but for the enjoyment of each book. That slows me back down and helps me regain perspective. Wolf Hall keeps staring me down from the shelves even as I type (the red spine really stands out), but I’m determined to save it for the fall. 🙂

    • Thank you Susan I hadn’t thought of the seasonal aspect to it and I should as thats when I did the sensation season. I would take a big book or two on a summer holiday though just for packings sake.

      Wolf Hall is amazing thats one of my favourite long reads of the last few years. Wonderful.

  10. I always find that it’s the rare mammoth book that doesn’t lag and sag at some point. I always find myself feeling that these super long books could have benefited from some serious editing, and that makes me cranky. I find my attention often begins to wane and I find myself dreaming of other books.

    • Steph thats been my general concenus feeling of long books, some get away with it and some really don’t. When you are captivated there is nothing better than a good long book.

  11. In my life, some of my favorite books have been the huge ones. Pillars of the Earth, Gone With the Wind, The Stand. They are epic, and you feel you are living IN the story after a period of time. Still, my hangup is the blogging. Bad, I know. But I need reviews to fill up the calendar (or at least I WANT reviews to fill up the calendar). I hate that is a reason, but there you go.

    • Some of my favourite books are long books too, if they are great they tend to be the GREATEST! It’s just that I dont tend to find them very often, or maybe am just not in the mood for them often enough.

      I hadn’t thought about if blogging has altered my reaidng habits… hmmm!

  12. I would have to agree with you. I love the longer books, but when staring at the tbr stacks I tend to reach for the smaller ones to start with, every time!

  13. I like both. But if I buy a short book I feel like I need to buy two;)

  14. I’m generally put off by a long book – but not forever, it’ll just take me a while to get round to it because it takes a long time to become rewarding (ie takes ages to get even half way through). I’ve been reading lots of shorter books recently and I’ve already surpassed the number of books I read last year – but because there have been quite a few short ones I feel I’ve cheated.

    • I am with you Charlie, I like them I just don’t go for them enough. Thats going to change though if my new plotting goes to plan!

      I hadn’t thought of the cheating aspect of reading lots of longer books lol I just gravitate to them.

  15. Bet

    I love long books, while agreeing with you that lugging them about is a chore. When I was reading the hardback War and Peace (which was hard to hold even in my living room)I had another book on hand that I could take with me to the Dr’s office, etc.

    One thing that I find can make reading a long book much less daunting is: short chapters, or at least short sections of only a few pages each. This is especially helpful for very long non-fiction books. I’m not sure I would have even started David McCollough’s John Adams unless it had been divided into shorter sections, but I am so glad I did.

    • My mother read War and Peace when she was pregnant with my little sister and had was on maternity leave. I will never have that marvellous excuse, shucks.

      Shorter chapters in longer books always help. I like it if when a chapter finishes on the right hand page the following left hand page is blank haha.

  16. Ti

    I am re-reading the uncut version of The Stand right now on my Kindle and the lack of heft is very welcome! That book is over 1300 pages long and like a brick if you cart it around. But if heft isn’t a factor, I will always go for chunksters over shorter books.

    I like the set-up that is required for a lengthy tale. I also like that fact that they usually slowly come together to form an ending, but of course that is not always the case.

    • I want to read The Strand thanks to everyones commentson The Passage. I might have to get my mitts on it for the flight to Brazil later in the year. It can be the first book on my new bookshelves (I won’t be lugging it back and forth lol).

  17. Hahaha, I love your pros/cons table! I’m still scared off by long books, but think I might take one away this summer…

  18. Dan P.

    I think that the density of the writing is a important factor a 600 page mystery or thriller is not the same as Proust or Ulysses. I have read books back to back that were opposite in length but in the time that they took to read it was the opposite of what would be expected by looking at size alone.

  19. I love both for a lot of the the contrasting pros and cons that you mention; it depends on my mood as sometimes I want to be really lost in a good long book and other times I want to read as many books as quickly as possible to manage TBR.

    As you know, I only have around 5500 books that I’ll manage to read in remainder of my lifetime and no specification whether they are long or short… I’m trying to squeeze in as many more as possible. From lack of time, longer books daunt me and The Passage is one of them – silly though as I’ve read A Suitable Boy, which is over double the length! Gone With the Wind, Dickens, Collins, are all long too.

    • I think mood is a huge part of any reading pattern, sometimes you just want short books to skip through, long books to work though or a mass of crime fiction to detect through.

      Oh I can’t bear the whole figures of how many books we have left, it worries me so!

  20. Great points and I feel much the same. I have a hard time investing in longer books, and it takes me foreverrr since my reading has been cut short lately. However, I am always completely pleased when I delve into a long book and it’s great. Wonderful payoff!

  21. Chris

    Simon, first of all I wanted to say that I enjoy reading your blog very much (just stumbled over it recently).

    I love the post about the long vs. short books.
    What I was wondering: does blogging change your preference towards shorter books? I mean there is a certain pressure to post, I guess?

    Personally, I do not blog myself but I follow a large number of book blogs and I find that my mental TBR pile grows faster and faster. And I try to (at least partly) read along several book groups and reading challenges and that certainly biases me towards shorter books since otherwise I could not keep up.
    Sometimes I think that’s bad since in principle I prefer longer books with complex narrative and character development.

    • I was mentioning to Sandy that I hadnt actually thought about if blogging has changed my reading pattern or approach to books and the TBR but there might be something in that. I am about to have a breask from work so will be able to read more (in theory) and so think I will turn to longer books. Interesting question and one I am not 100% sure I can answer initially. That might take another post of its own.

  22. I often pick out shorter books unless I have a large chunk of time to devote to reading a longer one. Usually I just read things an hour or so here and an hour or so there, and I find with long books if I can’t dedicate at least a few hours to them and them alone it’s really hard to get the momentum with the story. Plus I have a pretty short attention span, often in the last third of a book I’ll be looking forward to being finished so I can start something else, and so if I get stuck reading a longer book that seems to take AAAGES to finish I can get a bit annoyed with it. I’m really interested in reading The Passage now though after reading a great review from you and one at Novel Insights.

    • Time is definitley an issue Dominique, both for reading and dedication to grasping and characters.

      Do you really spend the last bit of every book thinking about the next? Oh dear, that would make me a little maudlin I think… or I would never finish every book ha.

  23. Simon, your concern is understandable. I’m not very daunted with the length of books because the longer ones almost always end up being favourites (A Suitable Boy, for example). The only thing is, since blogging, the pressure’s on to read as much as one can, not to keep up with everyone but to keep up with the ever-growing TBR!! You know what I mean.. I just want to knock down as many as I can and look at my TBR shelves and say, Umm.. nothing to read, time to visit the bookstore (or library). 😀

    • Like you Claire, I do find that longer books remain my favourites which is ironic as I dont gravitate towards them and you would think I might if they have good history. Weird.

      I hadn’t thought that I let the TBR and blog guide me but the more I think about it the more maybe I do!

  24. My favourite never ending read is In Search of Lost Time, it took me two years to read it (pre-book blogging days, I don’t know if I’d have the attention span to stick to it now, although I reread a bit of Swann’s Way from time to time) and I cried after having to leave that world behind. Proust had become a constant reassuring companion as I dated and married my husband, went to Paris for the first time and turned 30. That said, since then I’ve found I definitely prefer shorter books most of the time! Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Room with a View, those are great quick classic reads. But I do love long Victorian novels too, it just takes a while to allow myself to sink into them and stop thinking I have to rush everything.

  25. Some big books get tiresome! I got tired of Wolf Hall several times whilst reading and finished it (reluctantly). I know I am an isolated case on this one! Susan Howatch also writes fairly big books but I loved them. Almost all set in the background of the Anglican church and I found that fascinating!

    The problem is that there is always so much to read, limited time to get it done and before you finish what is on your TBR another gorgeous book is recommended and there goes all good intentions of not being greedy.

    • Interesting Mystica, I loved Wolf Hall. It’s not made it into my favourite books of all time but not far off. Havent read any Howatch, don’t know much about her, shall look her up.

  26. mee

    I love long books. Looking back, my favorites have been the long ones, like Middlesex for example. I think blogging plays some part, because if you go around the blogosphere it’s like everybody is reading at lighting speed, and heaps of book reviews coming out everyday, so there’s pressure to keep up. (Also if you spend too much time on one book you’ll have nothing to write for a period of time) But I imagine if I am left by myself, I’d be happy reading just one book for months (if it takes that long to finish). I try to take middle ground and not let myself get easily distracted, and pick a book that I really want to read regardless of the size.

    • I really, really want to read Middlesex actually Mee and I own it so will have to dig it out! Some of my favs are long books too but I don’t rush to long books at all.

      I have the best intentions like you do, it seems you are better at acting them out than I am. I am working on it.

  27. I like to mix it up. Maybe it’s because I’m currently reading Middlemarch on a weekly basis that has turned be off of big books for the time being.

  28. I’m not usually put off by long books, but I sometimes I’m intimidated by very small font…which is similar I think. Some fonts just make for slower reads!

    I have a hard time in bookstores sometimes, staring down so many rows of books I’m sure I will never get to in my lifetime. It really is a confrontation with mortality.

  29. JoV

    How timely! These days I am daunted by long books. Last year I read many long books but now that I get to know so many great classic authors, I opt for short books now like:
    Scott Fitzgerald, Reader by Berhard Schlink, Graham Greene’s several books, The Outsider by Camus, The Lord of the flies, Oranges are not the only fruits, Boys meet girls by Ali Smith, Penelopiad by Atwood, are just tip of an icebergs of GREAT books that come in slim package. and that is definitely my favourite read, Less is more!

  30. novelinsights

    Oh I know I’m a bit late to the party but LOVED the list. It’s in a TABLE too!! It makes me want to do spreadsheets but I will resist.

    Different books for different times. I’m taking all my chunksters on holiday I think….

  31. long books for me, period. I’m working on a long book and i notice that, of course, long books deliver more. Its undeniable true, but they pay a price for delivering more. Vogue is 300 pages, but Elle is 435 and offers more, but when it comes down to it, Vogue offers more artistic pictures but in so-little pages. 300 is not enough. Naomi Novik’s “In His Majesty’s Service” offers more because it is an omnibus of three, making it a beautiful long journey. Long books offer more, short books are for short moments. That is why I search for “omnibus” books that are 700+ because they offer more of an adventure.

  32. princesslilo

    But a short book can deliver as well, especially a series! I’ve decided to change my book to short books and later collect them into a big book. I’ve been impressed by the 2,500+ (and still going) volumes of Perry Rhodan, a pulp magazine book series told at 60 or 40 pages a WEEK. In a series of short books you can keep the readers wanting more only if you can deliver quickly. But a book like ‘Juliette’, possibly longer than ‘The Stand’, can tell a good story and take us through years of a girl’s life from 13 to 30. But, for me I am uncertain what to do. I am impressed by the world of pulp magazines and I am equally impressed by big books and I cannot lie! But see, I can’t tell a full story. My book is nothing but short stories but with a large cast of reoccurring characters. As a new author I do not want to charge $30 for a big book, and yet I want to be known as the author that wrote a lot of books. Long books deliver more but at a time consuming price, and short books can deliver a lot as well if they are told in a series of short books. What is short anyway? To me 300 seems average and 200 seems short. 500 seems regular but it’s the 1,000 page books that are rare, I guess. Might I also add that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a 700+ book that delivered so much of a story to me that I finished it in 2 days and was sad that it was over. I haven’t picked it up since but with the movie coming out I will read it to refresh my memory. A short book like Ravens by George Dawes Green told the most suspenseful story I’ve ever read in my life, and the only. At 300+ pages it was phenomenal. It’s a win-win but people want what is longer. However there is such a thing as too long. Marienbad My Love is a self-published ebook at 17 million words and the author said it is a collage of words. Wikipedia it, but I’ll be surprised if you read it. I’m not good at reading long books, that’s why I prefer short books and short stories. I don’t like to read! I’m slowly building myself up by using short works and progress into long books. I’m starting with ‘Halo: Ghosts of Onyx’ by Eric Nylund and it is impressive and short at 368 pages or shorter. I will read a Perry Rhodan book because it’s short, but a downside is that it is available in Germany only but I will learn to speak and read German just to read Perry! W.I.T.C.H. Is a somewhat diverse yet cool Italian comic book (scans at and the series is well over 100 issues but it has went from 60 page stories to 44 pages. One whopping comic book is “a drifting life” by yoshihiro tatsumi and the book is so impressive and it’s even educational! Sorry if I made your TBR pile bigger. I know you are talking about books, but I just want to add that short works like Perry Rhodan, Ravens and W.I.T.C.H. all have great stories told in a series of shorter works. Long books also give more and pack a kick because you can fit so much into them! But as an upcoming author I believe it is wise for me to go the way of Perry Rhodan and W.I.T.C.H. and all the other short book series. I’ve written just about 1 million words of short stories, all in one Microsoft Word document totaling 790 pages on A4 paper. Putting that out in it’s big form will be risky, but if one story fails one can move onto the next. That’s what I love about short story collections. If one is bad you can move to the next which is good, but short story collections are severely limited to short pages, like a 200 page short story collection. But I might as well bring up the ‘Space Opera Renaissance” which is at 928 pages, and that whopping 1,000 page collection of stories by V.S. Prichette (complete collection of v.s. Prichette stories). But I must also note I hate carrying a long book around. If I split my books up and turn it into a one-woman pulp magazine like Zoetrope All Story (although not a one person magazine, Zoetrope All Story has short stories by others) I may get famous or sink, but if I put out a long book priced at $30 I’ll really sink, especially in these times! Risks are everywhere but when it comes to book reading it depends on what the reader wants to read at the moment. For me, right now I want to read Halo Ghosts of Onyx. Sorry for such a long comment.

  33. Rocket Dog (Ergo Proxy)

    Wow, I really rambled on about nothing :/

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