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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Power of the Big Book Compels You

I've been a disgruntled reader for a while now (Damn you, Ellroy!) and it kind of bothers me.  Reading is one of the great joys of life, I believe, one of the things that separates us from the beasts.  We have this amazing thing called language, and can communicate ideas and images almost magically with just a few black scratches on a white page.

And yet, I find myself reading old books published decades ago by writers who are no longer alive.  The new stuff?  Some of it is good, but a lot of it isn't.  Bookstores are filled with novels that have too much irrelevant detail, are too long, too concerned with filling the page with ink but not good, economical writing.

I suppose we could blame the printing press and the easy availability of paper.  It's hard to imagine Benedictine monks hand-copying, say, all 1088 pages of Stephen King's Under the Dome (which Amazon says weighs 3 pounds in paperback).  Maybe they would, but they better have a team of monks working on it and carve out a whole season for the effort.

This piece is mostly about non-fiction, but I think this paragraph applies to any book:
Why do so many writers feel compelled to write big books?
In part, it seems that big now equates with importance and value. That substitutes form for function, and frequently evidences a writer's ego—or perhaps an editor’s laziness—and indifference to a reader's limited time and attention. Life is a busy place, but don't tell that to those who write big books.
 Yep, sounds about right.  I'm no so sure about what the piece is saying about how ebooks and ease of online research contributes to the problem.  I think "Big=Important," Author ego, editorial laziness, and indifference to readers is sufficient explanation.

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