The Good, Long Novel

Nicholas Goldberg: In defense of long, bug-crushing, Kleenex-box sized novels

In the old days, a good, long novel was a very big book. At the time, I was a very young reader, and when I was six, my grandfather bought me a big paperback copy of the Great Gatsby to read.

As you can imagine, it was a long and boring read.

Then, like most six-year-olds, I decided to write one of my own. And the result was a 2,700-page novel, just about the length of our bookshelves.

The problem is that I was doing it wrong.

In these days of electronic delivery of books, long novels are becoming increasingly rare. And when they do appear, it is often only as short form.

So, for example, a recent study by the British bookseller Waterstones showed that novels written in longhand (handwritten in notebooks and bound with leather) have been on the increase since 1980 but that shorter novels that use some electronic technology (e.g. ‘laid on’) have been on the decrease.

This is no surprise because of the old dictum that “a good book is a rarity; a popular book is an everyday event”.

And there is clearly a connection between the two, since novels written in longhand are usually regarded as being more authentic, closer to the author’s thoughts. But many prefer their physical books – many people actually prefer the old-style novels that are a great deal larger, because they can accommodate more pages.

So, what is the good, long novel?

A book with a large, sturdy format

The idea is of course to have a book that is large enough to accommodate a good portion of the novel in it – but that size is not an either/or thing – all this depends on the kind of book.

Most novels are not that large. ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is 848 pages, and a good chunk of it is devoted to explaining the back story to the main character.

In fact, the largest novel ever written is probably ‘David Copperfield’,

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