too long to read, or too hard to put down?

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Daily Beast's Marc Wortman asks, are books becoming too long to read? At a mere 630 pages, Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs is nearly the shortest of the recent tomes he uses as examples:

Those weighty 11 printed books and the two linear feet or so of valuable shelf real estate they take up amount to an advertisement for compacting them into an e-book. [...] All 11 were produced by reputable writers, scholars, and thinkers. They almost certainly merit a careful read. But the same could be said for many other recent very long BIG books, often books that come out nearly simultaneously on the same subjects, from biographies to policy issues to histories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, all this reading is only for those who have the leisure or professional obligation to read at length.

He asks exasperatedly: "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.

The opportunity cost of massive tomes is exemplified by Slavoj Zizek's 1000-page, $70 opus on Hegel, despite paeans to the philosopher like this:

"In the first 30 pages, Žižek free-associates his way through Alan Turing, Hans Christian Anderson, Hercule Poirot, Kafka, Kant, Wittgenstein, and God. We couldn't put it down."

See Verso's description of the book and this excerpt on Buddhism and the self for more. If one can't put the book down, though, perhaps one should avoid picking it up in the first place.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 22, 2012 12:12 PM.

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