Book Bloat

I’ve been considering book bloat.  Literary logorrhea.  Volume avoirdupois.  The fantasy and science fiction best-seller lists seem increasingly dominated by physically hefty books of  massive page counts, generally installments of on-going series.

Fine.  That is what sells.  Many publishers refuse to even consider a manuscript submission that weighs in at under 90,000 words.  A larger book can demand a higher price.  Series fiction ensures repeat business.  And authors enjoy a large canvas to paint in ever more detail of the their painstakingly crafted universes.

For that matter I enjoy reading some of these encyclopedia length series.  A large book, a long series, allows for greater immersion.  Of course I am reluctant to pick up a book if the cover indicates that it is ‘part one of an ongoing series.’  I’m already committed to enough of those.  And frankly, some of them smack of pay-check cashing or hint at the author’s drift, lack of focus, or growing boredom.  I fear many of these are begun without a definite end in mind.  That suggests a violation of the unspoken agreement with the reader.

And the page-counts!  World-spanning epics can use (and abuse) the room to explore a cast of thousands, to delineate entire histories.  But more intimately focused novels, bildungsromans and character-centric fiction also display book bloat.  Without the same eventfulness of the epics, these books are often in danger of descending into navel-gazing.

So I’m thankful for used-book stores, for old paperbacks from the days when publishers were willing to put out a 185-page novel.  I like the smell of the yellowing paper of an old Edgar Rice Burroughs novel.  (I just picked up “The Mucker” yesterday.  I’ve been looking for a copy.)  I like to know that – in between 1,000 page behemoths – I can still enjoy an entire story told  in a single, slim volume.

Oh well, just the grousing a pulp-writer in a world of slicks.

What series is currently absorbing your attention?