Are novels getting longer? I wondered as I stared at loads in Owl Bookshop, Kentish Town the other day. Films are, I think. Don't they average 2hrs now instead of the old 90 minutes? I'm not sure because I rarely watch new films. I rarely read new novels either. So I looked at loads of them laid out on tables in the shop like a man who'd just fallen to earth...what's it all about?
On the covers were testimonies to what I was missing out on...all those thrilling, engrossing, heartbreaking, joyous, profound work of genius...all those 'books of the year'...had I weakened the cover blurb may have snared me, but I didn't. I was looking for the novelty of it. The books I normally look at are a lot grubbier; their titles discernible through creases in their spines, the pages often yellowed with age, their odour somewhat musty. But you know what? I'm sick right now of musty old books. Yes, I am. This means I'm more likely to buy new copies of old books, not new copies of new ones.
Why I only read 'old' books is a mystery even to me. By old I mean at least a couple of decades, usually four to five. So thinking about that, is it because novels didn't used to be so long back then? I know big ones have always been written, I mean on average. Under 200 pages is the right length for a book. I must being going mad. Am I imaging all this? Next time I'm in a charity shop I'll take a ruler to check dates and sizes.
Novels with too many words in annoy me. I tried reading one recently called The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk but only got as far as page 36...too many words...too much information, as they say. It made me hate novels, just like a friend who only read non-fiction did, telling me they were all made-up nonsense. I'm beginning to think he was right. Mind you, he read books on conspiracy theories, so...
Why anyone would want to take in so much detail about non-existent lives is beyond me...other than I know great novels are supposed to illuminate the mysteries of real life, or something...that and tell a good story. I like a good story, but it has to get on with it because it's all lies, right? Give me a cracking crime yarn that comes in at under 200 pages and I'm happy. The Great American Novel hasn't been written by Mailer, Wolfe or DeLillo...it was penned by Raymond Chandler and it's called The Big Sleep. End of story.
Talking of American novels, I pulled Charles Bukowski's Hollywood off the shelf today. It's been sitting there for over a year whilst I started dozens of unsatisfactory works, like the forgotten thing that it was, whilst I threw books across the room in disgust. That's the thing second-hand buyers know all about; buying a book because it's cheap then shelving it with the rest where it's easily be forgotten. The thing about cheap books for me, though, is that they really are the only ones worth buying because the chances of a novel meeting my requirements are slim.
Sometimes I consider buying a new novel just because it is relatively expensive and the financial outlay will force me to finish it. But what's the point of just finishing a book for the sake of doing so? More to the point, for the sake of getting my money's worth? I have even done that. Bought a new book, I mean, for that reason. And still not finished it.
As I said, smelly old books are annoying me at the moment. I've got loads of them. They stink. I just threw some out and stuffed others in a bag to go to charity. I've even read a few of them. I desire something clean and fresh. So I picked out Bukowski's Hollywood because despite being nearly ten years old this copy's clean, with only one faint crease down the middle of the spine. It starts with the sentence 'A couple of days later Pinchot phoned'. I know, having read one chapter, I'm going to enjoy it. There are no superfluous details. It's witty and sharp. I loved Pulp and Post Office too.
If you want to recommend a good novel (old or new) that doesn't waste words, feel free.