DRMacIver's Notebook

When is it OK for a book to be long?

When is it OK for a book to be long?

I have a very strong preference for short books. In How do you read so many books? I suggested the following rules of thumb:

  • If the book is under a hundred pages I’m probably just going to read it. I can do that in two hours, no problem. I can always stop if I hate it.
  • If the book is between one and two hundred pages it’s worth spending a bit of time determining if it’s worthwhile, especially if it’s not that well written.
  • If the book is more than three hundred pages I am very unlikely to read it if it’s badly written. If it’s well written then I hold it to a higher standard of value but am still willing to read it.
  • If the book is more than five hundred pages then I basically want someone signing a promise in blood that it’s worth my time to read it.

I've noticed that there are some exceptions to this rule where I'm perefectly OK with longer books. The main one is textbooks. I don't expect textbooks to be short, but that's OK because I don't expect to read them cover to cover either.

There are some non textbook examples as well. I really liked Rewriting the Rules despite its 400 pages. I'm currently reading and enjoying Watching the English despite it being more than 500 pages and nobody having signed that promise in blood I asked for.

It occurs to me that there are two defining characteristics of an acceptable long book:

In contrast I really like the concepts from "Seeing Like a State" but I felt like the book did not justify its length because almost all of the length was composed of making the same point over and over again.