A week ago I walked through the new books section in my local library and pulled out a few titles that interested me. Before I moved on to the check-out desk it occurred to me that the two books I held in my hand and the last two I’d borrowed all had one thing in common—they were approximately 200 pages or less.
It’s not uncommon for mystery readers to finish a book and think it should be at least a hundred pages shorter, perhaps two hundred. This comment shows up in reviews official and unofficial, and in general conversation. The same comment less often but predictably shows up in reviews of other forms of fiction and nonfiction. But apparently no one is listening. Editors and publishers have embraced the idea that readers buy their books by the pound, and therefore, the more pages, the better. I disagree. Length has nothing to do with a good story. My reading choices at the moment are an eclectic mix that underscores how much quality can be packed into two hundred pages.
I spent an enjoyable evening with The Cellar by Minette Walters. I haven’t read anything by her in a while, and was glad to find she hasn’t lost her touch. A well-to-do African family immigrates to England, bringing with them an orphan girl as their daughter. Only she’s not their daughter, and she lives the life of a slave—until the younger son in the family goes missing.
Next up I learned I could change my life (in two hundred and six pages), according to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I believe in taking good advice when I encounter it, so I went to my closet and kept only those things that truly sparked joy. I now have three pairs of khakis, four pairs of black pants and two black skirts and numerous blue tops and black turtlenecks. I have one black-and-white jacket and three blue jackets/sweaters. Fortunately, I have six months to make it through the entire process, by which time I will be wearing nothing but khakis and turtlenecks.
Less of a contrast than you might think because of the personal tone is my current read, Essays after Eighty by Donald Hall. To my great delight, the author offers writing and editing advice that is as pure and as succinct as any I have ever come across. The essays are leisurely, thoughtful, and captivating.
Next is Hemingway in Love: His Own Story, A Memoir by A.E. Hotchner. I haven’t begun this yet, but I’ve read the blurbs and cover copy a number of times and I suspect I’ll enjoy this book immensely.
Four books. Each two hundred pages.
I could add to this list, but it’s not necessary. Anyone who reads widely can name any number of books that come in at two hundred pages or less. My point is only that sometimes, and oftentimes, less is more.