Why I’m Reading Shorter Fiction

This past summer I successfully read Dune for the first time after at least ten failed attempts. In part, I think those earlier aborted attempts were due to my failure to connect with the book, but there was definitely another factor that definitely had an impact:  the length. The version of Dune that I finished was nearly 800 pages long and required a serious time commitment on my part. Fortunately for me, I was working nights for a while and had some time on my hands but that was not my normal schedule. Though I enjoyed the book, I came to one inescapable conclusion: it was way too long.

Dune is certainly not the only culprit of this particular crime. Authors like George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson and L. Ron Hubbard all have books that come in over 1000 pages. This is absolutely ridiculous, especially when you consider that some of these authors have multiple books of that length in a single series. If I want to get the entire A Song of Ice and Fire story, I have to read like 5000 pages. And, oh by the way, that’s not including the two books that are still camping out somewhere in George’s brain! For comparison, the Bible has between 1200 and 1900 pages, depending on the version. That’s correct, the entire holy scripture of a particular religion would fit into that series two and a half to four times. That’s absolutely, certifiably insane.  (Again, that page count is still short two books, both of which promise massive page counts.)books-DSC03101

Since I often don’t have the time or energy to slog through these massive tomes, I’ve had to find another way to get my reading fix. Thanks to recommendations from friends, I have now switched to reading much smaller books. It started with Ready Player One which is one of the best books I have read in a very, very long time. I found its 384 pages to be refreshing, especially after finally finishing A Clash of Kings. Since then, I have found myself reading more and more books that are under 400 pages and loving every minute of it.

Where long books tend to flesh out every little detail, short ones like Ready Player One have to focus on only those details that matter, given the reader a far more well thought out and concise narrative. Authors like Martin and Herbert go on long, drawn out tangents about things that, while interesting, are not at all vital to the plot. Nobody truly cares what Tyrion is eating or drinking 99% of the time. It may help to build a world, but the world isn’t the story. It’s only the setting in which the story takes place. And in general, shorter stories have to be more on top of their game. With a limited page count, an author has to decide what really matters and what they can live without.

This sort of limit gives me what I think I was missing the most from large works of fiction. I wanted more. After finishing Ready Player One I found myself wanting further stories from that universe. It’s not that I wanted the existing story to be longer, but that I wanted more in the same style and in that same world. It’s that feeling of pining for more that I find missing from long works of fiction. By the end of a 1000 page book, I feel more like a marathon runner who just wants to cross the finish line and be done with it. After short works, I’m pump and energized instead of beaten down and exhausted.

To be completely fair, I have read some long works of fiction that are absolutely amazing. Lord of the Rings is still the best fantasy series ever written, at least in my opinion; and books like Battlefield Earth helped introduce me to more classic elements of science fiction, L. Ron’s other pursuits notwithstanding. There is absolutely a place in literature for these books, but they shouldn’t be the only type available. A variety of choices in the market only helps to improve it and to offer fans something that appeals to every different taste. It may also help bring new fans into the fold, who might otherwise be intimidated by some of these massive works.

As I have gotten older and there are more demands on my time, I just want to sit down and read something that doesn’t require a month long time commitment (yes, I read slowly). And while I might, at times, choose to read something of an extended length, I love the fact that I have a choice.

2 Comments

Filed under Andrew Hales, Books, Geek Life

2 responses to “Why I’m Reading Shorter Fiction

  1. Yes. Shorter can be good. Lieber and Zelazny are good, and they were all about the episodes. Writing short pieces is much more challenging to me, in any genre, than writing long ones.

    What you really want to do is just write a story until it is done and let the length be what it is. But I get the feeling some of the fantasy writers, in particular, have given themselves permission to just make it as long as they want it to be. Martin is a culprit there.

    And Dune is a tough read. I did not learn to appreciate it until fairly recently.

  2. Same. I’ve tried to read Dune a couple times, and it’s not that I get discouraged by the length… There’s just a much greater chance of me getting distracted somewhere along the line and not finishing, eventually needing to start all over again. Since college started I’ve mostly been reading comics and nonfiction, because the (contiguous) time commitments are so much lower.

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