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Why Are Long Books Intimidating When We Read A Similar Number Of Pages Per Month?

A photo of a copy of Shogun beside the stack of books comprising of Eleanor and Park, On The Holloway Road, and Before Ever After

This question entered my mind as I looked for perhaps the thousandth time at my copy of Shogun, which has been lingering on my To Be Read pile since early Spring and on my shelf for years previously. I won’t be reading it. I keep placing newly-acquired books on top of it.

At present I’m reading Gone With The Wind, the second longest novel I own, and although at the time of writing I’ve only just started it, I can see myself taking my time just because it’s long.

What I find particularly interesting about our general reluctance to read long books is that many of us read just as many (or more) pages per month. It’s just that those pages are separated into a few shorter books.

I wonder if we are okay with shorter books because on an unconscious level we trick ourselves into thinking the overall page count is less.

I also wonder if ‘book count’ has something to do with it. I admit to seeing the page count for Gone With The Wind, once I’d entered it into my year database, and realising that my overall count for 2013 may take a hammering due to it. But then do I think the reverse of novellas? That novellas will create a falsely high count? Of course I don’t; the thought never crosses my mind.

A more likely response – does our fear of filler content play a part in our reluctance? A long book is naturally likely to be accompanied by lots of description, and possibly telling rather than showing – and if we’re not enjoying it, it’s a long way to the finish line.

When I asked my question on Twitter, Scott referred to having found success upon choosing the ebook version. However, having a Kobo with a page count you can’t turn off, I couldn’t take his word for it. In a physical sense, ebooks must be easier. You can’t see the stack of pages ahead and you can’t feel the weight of them. But if your ereader presents a page count, and especially if it shows the original number (as opposed to the dynamic count based on your font settings), seeing a number could be just as off-putting.

I’m confident enough to say that it is, in part, a variety of the above – but I’m not at all confident in suggesting that that comprises every reason.

Why do you think we have ‘issues’ with reading long books when we’re happy to read the same number of pages via shorter books?



August 14, 2013, 7:33 am

Interesting question, Charlie! For me, I think the daunting element of a long book (especially a classic) is not the page count, so much as my wariness about committing myself to one story for such a long time. What if I don’t like it? I can’t reassure myself that it’ll just be a day or two, and then I can read something else – which I can do if I read three different books with the same overall word-count. Reading a long novel is like embarking on a long trek with no idea what the lie of the land might be.

Funnily enough long books in general don’t bother me too much; it’s long classics that I dread. In the final year of university, I decided that I *had* to read War and Peace because if I didn’t do it then I might never do it again. And I forced myself to read one or two chapters every day.

I wonder if it might help reading very long books on a Kindle precisely because the physical aspect of the weight and size is taken away? Re. page count, however, I actually prefer to keep track of that. It’s a way to urge myself on. If I have no idea how much of a very big book I’ve read, I tend to start thinking it will go on forever, and begin to lose hope. :-)

Tanya Patrice

August 14, 2013, 7:59 am

I no longer care about the number of books I read each year, which was the number one factor for me that made me think twice about reading a long book.

Bt lately, I have noticed that when I’m really busy, I can only read a few pages each day, and that can make a long book seem to be less interesting – even though that might not be the case. It’s just that it drags out over such a long period, that I don’t enjoy it as much as I would if I had read it in a shorter time frame.


August 14, 2013, 11:16 am

You make some really interesting points Charlie. I think it could be a variety of reasons why readers are putt off by long novels. I remember myself making the comment that in the same time it took me to read Game of Thrones I could have read two or three other novels! For me I think the main reason I am put off is it feels like a bigger commitment to a story when the novel is of course longer. I am more likely to give up on a long novel I’m not enjoying, while as I might put the effort in to finish something short.


August 14, 2013, 12:07 pm

I’ve often thought this same thing! LOL It’s so psychological. I definitely think for bloggers the “book count” thing plays a huge role!


August 14, 2013, 12:55 pm

Interesting topic!

I think, were I not reading enough in a month, a long book may put me off – which is silly because I should be enjoying reading not trying to reach a reading count.

I also think there is a worry of struggling through it. As if half way through there will be a monstrous middle ruining the brilliance of the beginning. With more pages there is more room for disappointment.

In addition, if anyone has issues concentrating, a long book can be extremely intimidating.

Laurie C

August 14, 2013, 1:32 pm

I can’t seem to keep track of the number of books I read, so I don’t know if that would be the reason I don’t pick up as many long books as I used to. Could be the same idea, though, that I have too many books I’m committed to reviewing to pick up a huge book for pleasure. Also, that I’m older now and have less reading time in the average day than I used to, so reading a long book will take a REALLY long time.


August 14, 2013, 2:42 pm

Great post Charlie :) I think it’s all psychological. I like long books! If I person has limited reading time I can see why it would be hard for them to sink into a really long read though.

Jenny @ Reading the End (formerly Jenny’s Books)

August 15, 2013, 3:18 am

I know I’m influenced by fretting about writing reviews for the blog. If I spend ages reading one long book, then I’ll just have that one book to review at the end, and I’ll still have to spend a bunch of time sorting out other blog posts. Sometimes I’ll pair a great big long book with several quite short ones, like YA novels?, and read those all in the same month, so I can still do the same number of posts.

vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas)

August 15, 2013, 10:05 am

I have done better with longer books since I got my kindle: tho’ one can still see the percentage read, it does psychologically reduce the size quite a lot to not have the physical form in one’s hands (big books also *hurt* my thumbs! ;-)) My biggest problem, however, is the worry that I lose the threads that hold my engagement to long books. There’s so much else going on, it can be easy to lose track of what has happened after a reading break.


August 15, 2013, 9:13 pm

I actually love reading long books and in fact most of my favourite books are the longest ones on my shelves! There’s something that really appeals to me about becoming fully immersed in one fictional world and one set of characters for long periods of time, so the length of a book doesn’t usually put me off reading it. I’ve noticed, though, that since I started blogging I do feel under more pressure to get through more books every year and that does sometimes make me think twice about picking up a longer book.

I hope you enjoy Gone with the Wind – and Shogun, if you do ever decide to read it!

Literary Feline

August 15, 2013, 11:18 pm

I love chunksters! It wasn’t until I began blogging that my wanting to read bigger books took a steep decline. I am not a fast reader and so to have review material, I tend to gravitate more towards shorter books. It’s a shame really, given how much I do like the door stopper books when I read them.

I definitely think reading bigger books on an e-reader is much more convenient. Not having to deal with the awkwardness of holding a giant book and struggling with the heft are big pluses. Plus, my e-reader fits so much more nicely in any sized bag I might be carrying around with me.

Katie @ Doing Dewey

August 18, 2013, 7:49 pm

I used to read long books all the time, but since I’ve started blogging, I’m much more likely to avoid them. I just don’t have enough time to read them quickly enough to keep posting reviews regularly. Hopefully as I’m getting ahead on reading compared to writing reviews, I’ll have more time to read long books again :)


August 18, 2013, 9:28 pm

Leander: That’s a fantastic point, I hadn’t thought of that, though I know it does occur to me when choosing books. I think it definitely does get worse with classics, there’s so much pressure to feel you ought to enjoy them or at least engage with them in some way, and it is the case that it can be easy to put ‘long books’ and ‘classics’ together. Yes to the forever reading aspect. In a way it’s good not to know how many pages you have left, but that leaves you without the motivation that comes with a lesser pile of paper on your right side (assuming you’re reading a book that is left to right of course!)

Tanya: I envy you that, not caring sounds very freeing and yes, it must make a lot of difference on this subject! I understand that completely. I guess when you haven’t the time to spend with the book for long enough each sitting to lose yourself in it, you’re naturally going to view it differently and possibly even have a different opinion of it than you might have had otherwise.

Jessica: It’s a trade-off, isn’t it? And you do have to enjoy the book, possibly more than your enjoyed those shorter ones altogether, for it to feel worth it. I think we definitely notice plot holes and the like more with long books, because you realise so many pages could’ve been cut!

Rhapsody: Yes, I know when I was younger book count was irrelevant. It rested on the size only (and less interest in reading for a long time).

Alice: It is silly overall, but as avid readers it all makes sense. Strange phenomenon. Yes to the middle section. I’m actually finding that a bit at the moment, with Mitchell (not monstrous perhaps, but duller). Good point about concentration. Also reading difficulties, no doubt.

Laurie: Your second sentence, definitely. I’ve actually a small pile at the moment and I’m striving to get through Gone With The Wind so I can move on to the ARCs. In this particular case it was a desire to read a classic in summer, knowing that summer is almost over so I had to do it now if I was to do it at all. Then again, that deadline of sorts stops me procrastinating. There is a lot to it that’s commitment.

Jennifer: That makes me wonder about the whole liking versus commitment/timing aspect. I wonder if it’s one thing to like long books, but that there’s the possibility to give up on them, say when blogging with a lot of other books to read.

Jenny: Yes! This! It’s not imperative to blog but when you’ve got a good routine a long book isn’t very compatible. And then there’s how long the review will have to be to cover enough to ‘work’ and how much you’re going to have to write. That’s a good idea. The short ones would make up for it. We’ve given ourselves quite a lot to consider when we became bloggers!

Vicki: Percentage – I didn’t factor that in. I find percentage itself helps, as long as I’m nearing 50% at least. You just have to remember not to visualise the print edition in your head! It’s good when long books mostly stick to one plot. It does make a certain sense to wander, as there’s time, but yes, it doesn’t necessarily help the reader.

Helen: That’s an important point, becoming immersed for so long. Which is partly why avoidance is funny, in a way, because so often you finish a book and wish it were longer, and here’s a long book and couldn’t it be shorter? Blogging is brilliant but it does have a lot to answer for where the foundations are concerned! (Then again that seems to happen with everything once taken to the next level.) I’m liking Gone With The Wind a lot, though I’m still waiting for (I’m supposing this happens) Rhett and Scarlett to spend more time together. Regarding Shogun I’m thinking I had better like it!

Literary Feline: Interesting, even if not surprising, that a good few have made the link between blogging and a decline. Yes, it gets worse when you’re a slow reader, I’m right with you there! Good point about bags and ereaders, a long printed book is a commitment for home and possibly wherever you take the car, only. And when you like reading that definitely has to factor into when you decide to read the book.

Katie: This exactly. The backlog of reviews does leave you feeling ‘free’ to read longer books, too.



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