Why are readers scared of long novels?

“Like the holy books, long novels are more often maligned than read. Critics complain that they are exasperating, or impossible, or not worth the time. But in the history of my reading life, I’ve encountered nothing like the caveat lectors surrounding Margurite Young’s Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. They felt less like user warnings or cautionary tales than being forced to gaze upon the skeletons of those who had previously made the attempt. When it was published in 1965, the critic Peter Prescott gave up after two days, even though his editor offered him four times the normal rate (everyone else had refused).”

Source: The Most Widely Unread Book Ever Acclaimed

We often say we’re unhappy when an enjoyable book ends. Well, it would take longer to end if it had more pages.

I’ve never understood the difference, in terms of time and effort, between having ten 100-page books on the nightstand and having one 1,000-page book on the nightstand.

But, I guess I’m in the minority. I read and re-read lengthy books all the time and think, on my best days, that I’m probably still sane.

–Malcolm

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8 thoughts on “Why are readers scared of long novels?

  1. I have found that many, but, of course, not all, long novels say in 1000+ pages what could have been said, and said more artfully, in 500.
    They often contain long descriptions of things or people that do nothing to forward the plot and are not needed for background information and ambiance.
    They make me feel that the writer doesn’t value my time.

    1. I felt that way about long novels I had to read in high school and college, you know the kind, those that go on for a couple hundred pages describing a mountain vista where nothing ever happened.

      1. ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ (Thomas Hardy) was the novel I was stuck with for my GCSEs. It drivels on for pages about sheep and hillsides. I am very fond of hillsides, and sheep, but in a novel I want something that is moving faster than a hillside, or a sheep.

          1. Ha ha! Yes. I used to teach creative writing and once had the most appalling, rambling little story from a student which began with an important letter arriving, and continued with the protagonist putting it in her pocket and going for a walk. She returned from the walk, took off her coat and put the kettle on. The she took the letter out of her pocket. The end. The lack of any plotting or satisfying resolution made me apoplectic! When I had calmed down and tasked her with this she cited bally Hardy in her defence “Thomas Hardy does that all the time,” she said. “Ah,” said I. “If Thomas Hardy was writing now he’d be jolly unlikely to find a publisher.” She changed tutor groups …

            1. Some time ago, maybe during Alfred Hitchcock’s short, often-trick-ending TV shows…or maybe later during the Twilight Zone days…there was a fad going around about writing silly slice-of-life stories where things suddenly ended. May your student was caught up in that. Of course, in a Hitchcock drama, the audience would have seen the letter saying something like “Get here immediately or I’m going to burn down the house,” and then the credits would roll.

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