Monday, August 16, 2021

Reading a book should not be hard work

Book fantasy

I read for fun. I read to be entertained when I read for fun. I also read for work, and I try to enjoy what I read for work too, and most of that time that is the case. I'm lucky that I get to pick and choose what I read for work so that it's mostly a pleasure. But what about when reading becomes hard work?

Most of the time, my sweet spot for books is between 150 and 250 pages. That's the kind of book-length I like because that's the kind of length where I have time in my day to get through a book in its entirety. I only have so many hours in a day to read, and that's after I'm done with my workday and I can settle down to read for pleasure. There are times when I will pick up a book that's short, say between 50 to 100 pages, because that's the kind of mood I'm in, and I want something quick and easy because I'm short on time. Other times I want to dig in and have something I can sink my teeth into.

Recently, I have been reading longer books. By long, I mean between 300 to 500 pages long. Books of that length takes me about six to eight hours to read if I did it in one sitting which obviously, is not possible, so the reading experience stretches over a few days. Usually two, sometimes three days.

Book with maple leaf

Why have I been reading longer books since my sweet spot is around 200 pages? Because there have been some books that have been recommended to me, highly recommended, and between a severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and wanting to push myself out of my comfort zone, I've decided to tackle them. It hasn't been a positive experience.

Don't get me wrong I do read long books. Some authors I love who write long books include the likes of Nalini Singh, Thea Harrison, Rhenna Morgan, Jayne Ann Krentz (in all her incarnations), and Deborah Harkness. I've even taken a bite off the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon in the past and enjoyed it. But these books are different from the bunch that I've read recently and have not enjoyed that much.

I was talking to a friend recently who is also an author. I haven't read her books. She's just my friend. She's prolific, and her books are long. Like 600 to 700+ pages long. I commented recently after reading a longer book that her books were very long and mentioning that I'd be intimidated by the length. She responded that if I noticed the length of the book I'm reading, then the author hasn't done his/her job in keeping the reader engaged. She's got a really good point.

Long road

Of the many long books I've read recently, most of them "felt" long. None of them gripped me and made me fly through the book. I know the feeling because not too long ago, I read a book that was about 350 pages long. I remember thinking, "oh long book" when I started it, but the pacing was so good that I flew through the book and devoured it in five hours. I just kept turning the pages and didn't stop until the book was done, and then I blinked, resurfaced and rejoined the real world. What a trip that was!

The other books I've been reading the last few days though? LONG. And I felt every word and every page. And I stopped now and then to check how far I'd gotten. And I'd stopped to check the time I see how long I had been reading. That is not a good sign. The sign of a good book is when I'm totally immersed in the reading experience and time flies. It shouldn't drag. It most certainly shouldn't be that each page is hard work, and I keep checking to see how much I've accomplished. That shouldn't even be the goal. I should be so immersed in the story that everything else fades away.

Woman reading by stream

Of the books that I've been reading recently, I finished three of them, one I gave up on because I hated the heroine with a passion and she ruined the book for me, and one I gave up on because by that time I decided that I needed to let go of the FOMO even though everyone was telling me that it was a good book (I didn't think it was) and I needed to move onto something that I cared about more and enjoyed more. I also kept thinking that I shouldn't be biased against long books and should give them a fair shot too.

Unfortunately, of all the long books I've read, none of them rated above three stars. Some just two stars. Maybe it's the book and not the length of the book, but one thing that I have found with books that are over 300 pages long is there are a lot more words got use. There's more padding and extra descriptions and scenes that do not move the plot forward. For example, in one book I read, which was cute enough, there was an entire scene dedicated to breakfast. What he cooked, what she liked, what they ate, what sauce she put on her pancakes, and how many pancakes she ate. It did absolutely nothing to move the plot forward. And don't get me started on her clothing and makeup. Boy, there were some detailed descriptions of her outfits. Upside, I could picture them clearly; downside, that was a lot of unnecessary words that did nothing for the plot. The same with her makeup right down to the color of eyeshadow and lip gloss and what type of smokey eye she applied. I appreciate some description, but I do not need it to be so detailed that I can see how many pleats there are in her skater skirt. Those descriptions and scenes were unnecessary.

I certainly felt that of all the long books I read, the entire story could have been told in a lot less words. One author I love writes action-adventure romance, and her books are around the 200 page mark. There isn't a single wasted description or scene in the book. Everything has purpose and moves the plot forward. The pacing is excellent and I feel totally immersed in her writing as I am reading the book. I'm engaged, connected to the characters, and most importantly, I care what happens to them. In a lot of the long books (and in some terrible short ones too) a lot of the time I don't finish a book because I get to a point where I simply don't care what happens to the characters. That has happened a lot of times in the past, but it has also happened recently with the longer books I've been reading. In my head, while I'm reading, I'm also subconsciously screaming "get to the point!"

Books on table

I know I'm probably in the minority because I've asked in book groups I'm in if people prefer long, medium, or short books, and most of them respond saying they like long books because they do not want the books to end and they want to keep reading. But what's the point if the book is not engaging, the scenes and descriptions unnecessary, and the plot is not moving forward?

I'm at that point after much effort over the last couple of weeks of trying to give long books a shot that I think I'm done with certain (favorite author) exceptions. Beautiful writing is beautiful writing. It doesn't matter whether the book is long or short, but there's always a chance with a long book that the words could be superfluous. I put in a lot of effort to examine why I felt the way I did about long books and tried to be analytical about my responses and reasons. I wanted to be sure that I wasn't making snap decisions that were unfounded and not based on reasons that I was unable to articulate.

Reading glasses on book

Long story short, I think I'd rather stick to shorter books knowing that authors need to be a lot more succinct and pack a lot more into the shorter word count than take a chance on authors who have a greater word count and find they don't use them wisely. There are lots of authors who write shorter books in lengths that I prefer to read. Of course, those have duds too, but I've become better at weeding them out through (slightly spoilery) reviews and asking questions in book groups if I'm certain about them.

So what about you? Do you have any preferences in your reading choices? Do you prefer a long book or a short book or do you not care?

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  1. Great post, for me I don't really care how long the book is, if it pulls me in I am more than happy to lose myself in the story and get to know the characters, I will pick up a book from a favourite author, because of the blurb, if it has been recommended or if an author has asked me to review I am more than happy to give them a go and for the most part I am more than happy with the story.

    I have found a few books that get a bit too descriptive which takes away from from the story that does drive me mad but for the most part I can skim over those descriptions and get back into the story and the characters.

    So for me I don't mind how long the book is :)

    Have Fun


    1. Of course, if the book is good, you don't notice its length.

  2. I am liking shorter books these days also, for many of the reasons you mention. However, I am pretty good a skimming too, but as you say, I shouldn’t have to if the story is engaging enough.

    1. I am terrible at skimming although I did do that recently with a book I didn't care much for.