What’s wrong with long books?

“I am guilty of never having read Anna Karenina, because it’s just so long.  I’d much rather read two 300-page books than one 600-page book.”

Here is the link, which details the recent publishing attempt to mutilate Moby Dick and other classics.  Of course I’ve yet to read Terra Nostra (785 big pp.) by Carlos Fuentes.  Why not?  No one is doubting that many long books are good books.  Doesn’t the Modigliani-Miller theorem teach us that nominal variables are irrelevant?  Can’t you, on your own, turn Anna Karenina into a larger number of shorter books?  Just a few months ago I bought a collection of five Eric Ambler novels, in one volume, and ripped it into five separate, easy to transport pieces. 

As usual, I can think of a few hypotheses:

1. The detachable book is in fact the wave of the future, we just haven’t seen it yet.

2. The blog post is the detachable book.

3. What people enjoy is finishing books, and the resulting feeling of satisfaction, not reading them.

4. What people enjoy is starting books, not reading them.  Starting books is a bit like going shopping, but after the actual reading starts ennui soon sets in.  The books of the future (present?) will allow readers to feel they are starting a new product every chapter.  (Is the real secret of blogs simply that readers always enjoy the promise of starting something new?  How many of you spend hours with the MR archives, still highly relevant and of course always stellar in quality?)

Here is a meditation on reading Pynchon, commentary here.  I’m now pawing through Against the Day — slowly — and so far enjoying it.

Here is my earlier post on this topic, I believe that today I am contradicting my earlier self.  Of course that is obvious to anyone who has read through the archives.


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