books and brevity.
There was recently a ~discourse~ on Twitter regarding novel word count, particularly the word count one must aspire to in order to become commercially viable. According to the editor who originally posted their hot take, the answer is 80k. However, NaNoWriMo’s enthusiastic endorsement is that novels are 50k, or more. MasterClass says “80,000 to 100,000 range,” but acknowledges “anything over 40,000 words can fall into the novel category.” Basically, there is a lot of grey area and it varies by genre and who you’re talking to.
Word count intrigues me because many of my favorite books are slender things, easily slipped into my purse, intense reads that overtake you for an entire afternoon. Chloe Caldwell’s Women is 144 pages, Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingnessis 104, Lauren Elkin’s 91/92: A Diary of a Year on the Bus is 112, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is 99, Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know is 109, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is 111. I could go on, but these women are all writers of great skill and renown and are publishing beautiful, brief works that I am glad to have in the world.
In traditional publishing, I suppose the thought is that a book must look imposing on the shelf, it should take up space, perhaps even be hardcover. If the reader perceives they have been slighted in the physical quantity of an author’s words, they may be less likely to buy it. They have come to expect a certain amount of pages. Thus, editors and agents are less likely to take a calculated risk on shorter books or novellas from unestablished artists. Literary fiction from women is already one risk, after all.
Meanwhile, my own book’s pre-order page just launched: Abigail Stewart’s The Drowned Woman is 130 pages.
I write short stories and short novels — and I hope people will take a risk and read my work.
Meanwhile, I am reading The Brothers Karamazov for the first time, a bulky thing of 900 pages and not an easy date to bring to the bar. It’s a book that requires me to sit with it and be subsumed for a half hour or more to make real progress, not to be read in the single expanse of a sunny afternoon. But I am trying to tackle a few of the classics this year and the brothers are one among my stack.
It has been a chaotic month of reading, so far, and I’ve DNF-ed a few things and nothing has held my interest, but I am feeling hopeful that a few of the books I picked up recently will be promising: Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys, I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg, I also pre-ordered Woman Running in the Mountains by Yuko Tsushima, Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, and Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black by Cookie Mueller. Plenty to look forward to!