By Brandi Furman Books are getting shorter. That statement can sum up the sizable change in the publishing world as of late, from novels to biographies, print to e-book. The past was a world of encyclopedia salesmen, going door to door with books thick enough to fill entire bookshelves by themselves. These colossal textbooks and novels go back to the days of Stephen King’s 1000 page thrillers to historical biographies averaging at 800 pages plus. It’s not a difference that would be blaringly obvious to readers, but look at this timeline:
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1880 - 824 pages Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, 1936 - 1472 pages The Shining by Stephen King, 1977 - 688 pages Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 2012 – 432 pages The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 2010 - 384 pages Night by Elie Wiesel, 2006 - 120 pages
Now I am sure that when it is laid out in text, it’s easy to see that novels are markedly shorter today. In the past it may have been the language they used, or even a cultural expectation that length will improve the reading quality (only if you enjoy a 100 page description of a single event). I certainly think that this is far more a societal difference than literary. It is simply proven that you should not judge a book by the pages it holds; Night by Elie Wiesel is an excellent example of a power packed short novel, the amount of emotion and concept that Wiesel brings to 120 pages is astounding. According to the article by Michael Levin for Huffington Post, historical biographies in days past were averaging 800 pages, while more current books are dwindling down to a skinny 200 pages dropping by an average of 84%.
On the whole, I’m sure there are many reasons to this phenomenon. Suggested by Daniel Goleman’s book “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” lack of focus is a societal deficit that has resounding consequences. Goleman suggest that because our lives have been invaded by technology and our minds are attuned to not only instant gratification of internet searches but the hours we spend alone with our iPhones and computer screens are leaving us socially impaired. Our attention is the main discussion, “the cognitive muscle that lets us follow a story, see a task through to the end” that is where we are losing interest in drawn out stories.
Fellow writer Daryl Nelson for Consumer Affairs agrees that technology is the destruction factor here; he quotes Michael Levin, founder and CEO of BusinessGhost, Inc., “It seems as though everyone is developing what’s being called ‘culturally induced ADD’… we are losing the ability to handle sustained thought.” He continues to blame technology for the fact that publishing, in all mediums, is diminishing in size. It is suggested that because our socially and technologically created expectations demand for information to be instant, a drawn out story (no matter whether it is classic or fantastically written story) we just don’t have the time or care to read it. This is a contributing factor to why book sales are diminishing and e-books are reigning.
If time and patience is the issue, maybe a short story will survive? The platform of the day is e-books and they are mainly surviving due to the fact that we all have our phones glued to our hands. Even e-books are short these days, but as described in the article “Shorter E-Books for Smaller Devices” by Jenna Wortham, it may not be the story to blame. The new niche in e-books are “stories and articles that are longer than a typical magazine article but shorter than a novel.” Amazon released a new catalog called Kindle Singles, “written works … short enough for a magazine or long enough for a paper book” this new product has yet to be defined as a success.
All in all, I find it sad that people today don’t appreciate long novels like they used to, I still hold my Tolstoy and Grapes of Wrath very near and dear to my heart. There’s a certain type of person that can not only find time but patience to dedicate to a well done piece of art in the form of a book. It’s understandable that our brains have been introduced to so much technology and speed of information, we’ve become lazy and expectant of the products we consume. This will surely affect the publishing industry, but with all change come new possibility.