Readersforum's Blog

May 24, 2012

Are Books Becoming Too Long to Read?

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Are writers including every nugget of research done on Google, and are publishers churning out these humongous volumes in order to justify their existence and bulk up e-book prices? Marc Wortman asks.

We read books by the word. But lately publishers seem to sell them by the pound. For a book to win recognition as BIG these days, it must be weighty. Quite literally. Is it time for publishing to go on a diet?

“Art is long, life is short,” so goes an ancient aphorism. Of late it seems to mean a lifetime isn’t long enough to read a good book.

Here’s a list of a few recent books I’d love to read—but probably won’t have time to: Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs (630 pages); Jean Edward Smith’s Eisenhower in War and Peace (976); Steve Coll’s investigation of ExxonMobil, Private Empire (685); Robert Caro’s fourth volume in his life of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power (736); John Lewis Gaddis’s Pulitzer-winning biography, George F. Kennan (800); Pulitzer history-award-winner Manning Marable’s Malcolm X (608); and, finally, Daniel Yergin’s The Quest (804), sequel to his Pulitzer-winning The Prize, a history of the energy industry and its role in global conflicts.

That’s a total of 5,239 pages. If you need to catch up, like I do, by reading Caro’s first three installments and Yergin’s earlier oil history, add 3,712 more. Now we’ve got 8,951 pages. Let’s subtract 15 percent for footnotes, bibliography, index, acknowledgments, and other publishing apparatus (though I enjoy looking through them). You’re left with 7,608 pages of reading. At a brisk two minutes a page, that’s about 250 hours of reading. Or, put another way, I’d have to spend four concentrated, unbroken hours reading these books each day, day after day, and in a little more than 60 days I’d have finished 11 books. Eleven.

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