Friday, February 28, 2014

Purposeless Length

So good to see Clive Thompson writing again. Collision Detection has been one of my favorite blogs to read for years and I was sorry to see him slow down almost to a stop for a couple of years. In this essay about 18th century books and smartphone screens, he talks about the mandatory 300+ page length of modern day non-fiction books. 


If you’re going to charge someone $25 for a hardcover nonfiction book and do it via industrial publishing, you have to make the customers feel they’re getting $25 worth, which means the book has to be loooooong … even if the author does not possess an argument requiring 300 pages. (Thus we find so many books that are really just magazine articles gasified to fill the container.)

I could not agree more. Maybe one in twenty five non-fiction books I read has a thesis that justifies its length. Between the blurb, introduction and conclusion, the time strapped reader can get all they need from the book. The remaining 200+ pages is the gasification Thompson is talking about. A serialized essay would be a much better way to go. Each edition would stand on it's own and the sum of them all would tell a larger story. 

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