The Ever-Expanding Novel

Jeremy Anderberg notes that the average “popular and prize-winning novel” has consistently passed the 400-page mark for the past 40 years, while the average turn-of-the-century read was nearly half that length. He speculates:

I think it’s largely the changing nature of consumers. Hardcover books are often expensive, regardless of length. As a consumer, I almost instinctively buy paper books that are meatier, because I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. It’s also never been easier to lug around huge books with us at all times in our digital devices, so why not make ‘em longer. A publisher a hundred years ago might have scoffed at the cost of printing a long book, but now with e-books, the cost of publishing a 1,000-page book vs. a 150-page book is virtually the same (obviously it’s still different with print versions…).

Our lifestyle may also play a part. This is completely just conjecture, so bear with me. We, as a people, are far more sedentary than we were a hundred years ago. Does our tendency to sit on the couch for more and more hours a day play a part in how we consume media? Absolutely. Look at the phenomenon of Netflix binge watching. Could the same effect take place with books? We are into bingeing our media, and the bigger the binge the better, so we eat our hearts out with giant books that can completely remove us from reality and how sedentary we really are. If books were shorter, our escapes from reality wouldn’t last so long.