So it wasn’t just me.
This fall, I wrote a Bookmark column for Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel, complaining about the too long books that the publishing industry has been churning out lately.
I wasn’t dissing all long books. Like most of us, I’ve read my share of 500- and even 800-plus pagers, and enjoyed them.
What I was whining about was the slew of new, so-called “epic” novels that, while not bad, seemed bloated, as if their authors were stretching to make it to the 500-page mark.
Lots of you, it seems, share my literary dismay.
“When I look at an 800-page book these days, my heart sinks,” Francine Marie Tolf wrote in an e-mail. “I can’t even open it, no matter how much it has been raved about.
“Like Connie, I, too, devoured Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Dickens when I was young. I loved these authors. But I am guessing that most, if not all current writers of 500- to 800-page books are not in that caliber of talent. Give me a 250-page book that leaves me wanting more!”
Kathy Wilson, who’d just finished reading a 519-page psychological thriller, wrote how she “slogged through over-the-top details which added absolutely nothing to the plot or final conclusion — various psychological analyses, house descriptions (interior and exterior), fashions and hairstyles (male and female), yada, yada. I think I would have had a far more enjoyable experience by eliminating 200 pages.”
Mary Carolyn Youngquist took aim at publishers who seem to be putting sales ahead of quality.
“A good story just doesn’t quite cut it anymore,” she wrote. “Today’s formula writing, highly influenced by ‘what sells,’ has worked for some time. Well-crafted stories have helped readers unpack family baggage, deal with the ravages of war and murder, revisit social issues, re-examine political and religious philosophies and ‘discover’ diversity.
“But mainstream publishers seem stuck. Here’s hoping writers can step beyond political correctness, put their boxes aside and explore with their readers the great beyond. Great reading is like exploring. It can make us wonder in many dimensions and, in the process, discover new possibilities.”
For her part, Kathy Jursik pleaded for tighter editing.
“Books don’t need to be 450 to 500 pages!” she wrote. “Like you, I am a devoted reader, but I am also a fan of good editing. I have gotten to the point where I check the page count of a book that interests me, and if it is over 450 pages I dismiss it out of hand.
“In the world of book editing, less is better. … I hope that this trend reverses itself. In my senior years, I have learned the value of patience, but not for needlessly overlong books.”
Shirley Bunde also chimed in about her disdain for big, fat, sweeping novels that don’t have the writing power to sustain their lengths.
“Bloated is an accurate description of so many books where, as you say, length seems to be the point,” she wrote.
But she went on to write — sweetly and succinctly — about just how meaningful a good book can be:
“The books that remain with me and which I save for rereads are those with well-crafted sentences and plot. They may even be rather short in length but rich in content. They remain my ‘friends for life!’ ”
It’s the rare book that makes it to the friends-for-life status for most of us. But I’m pretty sure that the ones that do earn the moniker “epic” on the strength of their storytelling, not their length.
Connie Nelson is a features editor at the Star Tribune.