In Praise of Short Books by S.C. Langgle
You don’t have to look any further than two of the most popular book series in the world, Harry Potter and Twilight, to notice one of the past decade’s major trends in novels for younger readers: books for these age groups are getting longer. Like, doorstopper long. When Stephenie Meyer first queried Twilight, many agents told her that at over 100,000 words, the novel was too long for a young adult debut. Well, we all know how that affected (or, rather, didn’t affect) her success! And while the first Harry Potter book is a little under 80,000 words, the increasingly longer length of the following books certainly didn’t deter readers! And once publishers saw that readers were not only willing, but eager to devour longer books, authors weren’t encouraged to cut down or break apart their longer stories as often. As a result, many young adult books of well over 300 pages are now being published, whereas the average YA book of the 80s and 90s was more likely to be somewhere between 100 and 300 pages.
Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not! It’s great that so many young people are reading and aren’t daunted by big books. However, I can’t help thinking back to my favorite books when I was an actual teenager (the 90s), and how much shorter they were. And thanks to a really cool website called Renaissance Learning (www.renlearn.com), I can give you exact word counts to prove my point! As a teenager, my favorite author was Francesca Lia Block, particularly her series called Dangerous Angels about a dark, magical version of Los Angeles. The first book in this series, Weetzie Bat, published in 1989, is only 15,000 words! And the final book in the series, Baby Be-Bop, which I have a very vivid memory of reading in one highly emotional sitting, is 22,900 words. Another writer I love who specializes in short YA is Kathe Koja; my favorite of her novels, The Blue Mirror, is 27,000 words. And another favorite from my teen years is M.E. Kerr, particularly Deliver Us from Evie, which is about 34,000 words.
In fact, looking back at my reading over the years, I’m struck by how many of my favorite books were quite short, especially when I was a teenager. I think this is partly because even though I love to read, I am a slow reader, and I like to take my time and absorb things. Shorter books were (and still are) the only ones I could really read in a sitting, and somehow that experience of sitting down and going through a journey with characters you care about, all in the span of just a few hours, intensifies the emotional resonance of the book for me. I also appreciate that I can read shorter books multiple times and take the time to tease out all the different layers of meaning. Finally, I think many short books (the good ones, anyway) can be even more powerful because of what remains unsaid, because of the spaces left for the reader to fill in herself, and because each thought or scene that is included takes on a greater importance.
Of course, I love many longer books as well, and this post is not meant to bash long books at all! I believe that great books come in many different lengths, and that each story will take as long as it needs to take to be told. However, I do think that in the post-Twilight and Harry Potter era, less of these short, emotionally rather than plot-focused books are published, and those that are sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve. I think that especially for today’s teenagers—and really, everyone in our busy, distraction-filled world—these shorter books can serve a valuable purpose and can offer something to return to again and again. Personally, I still reread the Weetzie Bat books almost every year!
So what does this post have to do with my writing? Well, as you may have guessed, Alice in Everville is a short book. It takes place entirely over one day, and a few parts of the story are conveyed through poems and song lyrics, which lowers the word count a bit. So how long is it, exactly? I will tell you it’s longer than most of the books in the Dangerous Angels series. But whether it’s the right length for the story it tells? Well, you’ll just have to read it and decide for yourself!
A poem can seem like a labyrinth, a maze of words you can lose yourself in. The key is to find a thread to hold on to, to guide you in your reading, to lead you into and out of a labyrinth of words…
Alice Little thinks she’s read every word the world-famous poet Sylvie Plate published before her untimely death…until she discovers a coded message hidden in Sylvie’s final collection of poems–a message that may explain the poet’s mysterious demise.
All she has to do is decipher the code and she knows she can convince her beloved English teacher, Miss A, that Sylvie’s message is real. Unfortunately, she only has one manic day at Everville Mall to do it. And between keeping track of her fountain-splashing, havoc-wreaking sister, finding a new copy of Sylvie’s poems, and…oh yeah…dealing with the blue-eyed, guitar-playing, majorly swoon-worthy Jaden Briar, who keeps popping up everywhere she goes, Alice wonders if she will ever finish deciphering in time.
Blog Tour Stops
February 27 – Jennifer @ My Life With Books www.jenkjovus.com
February 28 – Misty @ The Book Rat www.thebookrat.com
March 1 – Jessica @ Books: A true story www.booksatruestory.com
March 4 – Kathy @ I Am A Reader Not A Writer www.iamareader.com
March 5 – Penelope @ The Reading Fever www.thereadingfever.com
March 6 – Jamie @ Writers, Write, Right? www.jmanni32.blogspot.com
March 7 – Alexis @ The Book Hideaway www.thereadinghideaway.com
March 8 – Haley @ Life and Lies www.haleymathiot.blogspot.com
March 11 – Michelle @ Book Briefs www.bookbriefs.blogspot.com
March 12 – Author post @ www.sclanggle.blogspot.com
Author S.C. Langgle is giving away a $20 dollar Amazon gift card (International), 2 Alice in Everville ARC’s (US only), 2 finished copies of Alice in Everville and 2 ebooks of Alice in Everville (International). Enter with the Rafflecopter below!