The Challenge of Length

My best friend K and I are doing a “buddy read” of Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, which turned out to be just a solo read for me since she backed out. And yes, we wanted to readit because we know that the movie’s coming out next month. Before seeing the movie trailer, I’ve never heard of this book and didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to read it with my friend.

What’s the big deal about this book? Not much, except that it’s 768 pages long. Readers of fantasy authors such as G.R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss are possibly laughing at me right now, mocking my cowardice at tackling a book that’s not even a thousand pages long. And hey, I’m all right with being mocked; it’s only a book, why does it matter if it’s 300 or 500 or 1,000 pages?

I think it all boils down to one thing: the anxiety that we are going to put all of our time and effort into this thing — be it a book or long anime series or tv show — only to find out that it sucks. That we wasted our most precious resource, time, only to get minimal return on our investment.

So, why even start at all? There are plenty of other things that won’t demand a lot of time, things that can be watched and read in a matter of hours; go through them and move on. As tempting as that sounds, I feel that there’s still a space in my life for these big books and hundreds-long anime series and why I don’t think I’ll ever give them up.

(1) Some stories are just too epic. And by “epic,” I am making a reference to the Homerian stories of a cast of hundreds, spanning periods of years and decades, not the colloquial/internet usage of the word. Like, you know, my favorite anime, One Piece. There’s no way you can tell the story of Luffy and his crew in fifty episodes. No way. I would actually have been disappointed if they decided to stop at 300 episodes or thereabouts. The world is just so complex, with so many moving parts, that it does take a long time to get to everything. Are some parts mere filler and don’t really bring anything to the story? Sure, but unless we get to the ending and know that it was fluff can we be totally sure. Who’s to say that the author isn’t using filler as a future plot twist?

(2) Let’s also be real: I’m sure that longer series are good (and profitable) business decisions for certain authors/creators. Do you think George R.R. Martin continues to extend The Song of Ice and Fire series for nearly two decades merely to taunt his readers? <s>Yes.</s> I’m sure his publishers were thrilled that the books took on new life with the tv show; so what incentive does the author and the publisher have for ending the book series now that more people are getting into it? And I’m fairly sure that if J.K. Rowling didn’t say that the Harry Potter books were going to correspond to his school year, we would still be looking forward to more HP books right now.

(3) I also think that for the author and certain readers, there’s a certain cachet into claiming that you’ve written or read such a long work. If most people are afraid to tackle it, don’t you then get some credit for wanting to do something unusual? I confess, for certain books, this is part of the reason why they’re on my to-read list. Sure, I’m curious about Murakami’s 1Q84 (despite it being a multi-volume monster). He’s not my favorite author, by any means, but other people have been able to read that novel, what’s wrong with me if I can’t?

What are you feelings about longer books and series? Are you a fan, or would you rather spend your leisure hours on works that take less time to consume? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “The Challenge of Length

  1. Great post, it’s been something I’ve been thinking about lately. There isn’t much I’m following this season, so I’ve been working through things on my to-watch list. Currently finishing up Yamato 2199, which is only 26, but I’m thinking of trying a longer series next. Maybe LOTGH, Monster, Rose of Versailles, or Juuni Kokki. The thing about these series is that all of them have gotten very good reviews. If I hadn’t read so many good things about these series I probably wouldn’t consider watching them, but when something is considered a “classic” or “popular” it means that a lot of different people thought it was good, so its less likely I’ll find it bad.

    Same thing with literature, I usually only try very long books if its a classic, or very popular. Not that I wouldn’t like to try more longer works, since when they’re good they tend to have a better payoff than shorter works, but the chances that I read/watch a long work and it turns out to be a dud are too high for me.

    In other news, I just found your blog today. I love anime blogs which aren’t just about episode reviews (although I like those too^^), and I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles!

    • Thanks for commenting!

      You make a good point about anime series that are longer usually have better than average reviews. (Though I can also argue that there are many shonen series like Naruto which are just…okay). I think we anime fans, especially the ones who blog or read blogs, also have the advantage of having fairly similar tastes across the board, don’t you think? There will always be outliers, but most other anime fans whom I interact with online will probably not recommend that I watch and waste my time on a long and terrible anime series.

  2. Usually I am good at deciding whether I like a series or not after several episodes. The major failure/exception would be Bleach, after 100+ episodes the series became too unbearable to watch and so I dropped it. Naruto was better but I still got annoyed at fillers and other stuff so that one was dropped too. I got lucky with Legend of Galactic Heroes, it’s a good show (though probably doesn’t appeal to the mainstream), and it also has good rewatch value. The longest one that I really hated was Fate/Stay Night at 24 episodes. Now there’s supposedly going to be a remake so maybe that’s proof the first production was crap. That, or they want to ride on the momentum of Fate/Zero and milk more money. I’ll just watch from the sidelines in the meantime and monitor the reaction to the remake. Or I could move on to other things…

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