1638 Novel Bloat
A million years ago in Westchester, DeWitt Wallace was in bed recovering from war wounds. With time on his hands, he founded The Reader’s Digest which compressed magazine articles from other publications and later books into relatively quick reads, interspersed with Very White Humor, and closet conservative commentary.
Half a million years ago in Lincoln, Nebraska, Cliff Hillegass started Cliffsnotes, super compressed versions of classic literature and later a much wider selection of fiction and nonfiction. These saved many a student’s bacon at exam time.
These companies remain in business, though they’ve gone through all kinds of corporate spasms and seizures. They’re not the gold mines they once were. But they’re still saving bacons.
Which brings us to the current state of the American popular novel. Overweight. Waterlogged. Fatter than an elevator full of people on their way to their first Weight Watchers meeting.
Novels have become long and convoluted even more so than when famous authors like Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis were being paid by the word.
Insomniacs have Lunesta and National Public Radio to ease them into sleep. Novels don’t need to go there. But they do. Especially those that are part of a series.
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” has more than 600 pages. The typical James Patterson Novel runs more than 400 pages. Not as fat as, say, “Atlas Shrugged” or “Goblet,” but still plenty long.
Some people say the books are getting fatter because people pay a lot for them and want their money’s worth, especially with hardcovers.
But this is not exactly a new trend. “War and Peace” runs 12- hundred dreary, difficult and often poorly translated pages.
MTV has trained us to reduce our attention span. The typical music video has a scene change every ¾ of a second. The average 20 second TV commercial has more than 20 scene changes. Stuff passes your eyes and brain faster than you can grasp what you’ve seen. But it does leave you with an impression. What impression? Well, there were a lot of nice looking women and nicer looking cars.
Or Swiffer Sweepers will cut your dusting time down to near nothing.
Why haven’t novelists caught on to this trend? Is it the “Money’s worth” thing? Are they a bunch of windbags? Do they feel they have to twist you around a plot or a character’s psychological state or bad childhood to keep your eyes on the page?
Yes, yes and yes.
Is any of that desirable? Depends on what you read and why. The point is this: people read action thrillers or horror thrillers or sexcapades or romance or mysteries because they want thrills, frights, bedroom scenes or love-conquers-all. So why not give them 150 pages instead of 400 and cut out the page-eating plot twists and psychoanalysis of minor characters?
Or maybe just highlight the good parts.
To this point, you’ve read almost 500 words. If you just read the highlighted parts, the count goes down to 63.
--RIP, Peter Thomas one of the most familiar voices in news, narrations and commercials. You may not know the name, but you know the voice. Thomas was 91 when he died late last week in Florida.
--Developers in Brazil want to build an erotic theme park -- but no “sex on campus.” “Specialty” theme parks are nothing new. We discovered that in 2008 with this Return to Moote Pointe.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2016