In praise of good long books

My town had by all accounts a very succesful community read this year — an event in which everyone (who wants to) reads the same book. A variety of discussions and events are built around it, and it lasts for months. I’m a member of the library trustees, and as we discuss what to pick for next year’s read, several people from around town have suggested that whatever the book is, it has to be shorter.

The book we read in 2021 was 500 pages. Yes, that’s longer than the average book. But I can’t get my head around the complaint that a book is “too long” based simply on the amount of pages. My response to the “shorter book” suggestion is “Can’t people just pretend they’re reading three books in a row?” Usually that’s met with polite smiles. People think I’m making a joke. I’m not. I really mean it. Because what do you do when you finish a book? You start another one. So what’s the difference if a book is 300 pages or 500?

Reading a good long book in front of a fire on a winter day, what could be better? More good long books!

I’m not afraid to admit the fact that I love a long book. I’m anxiously awaiting the latest Elizabeth George (release date Jan. 11!). Her books are generally 600-900 pages, and the new one, “Something to Hide,” clocks in at 704.

I also anxiously await the next J.K Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) C.B. Stryke book. They roll in at 900-plus.

I couldn’t put down Liane Moriarty’s “Apples Never Fall,” recently. Literally (almost). I read it over a 24-hour period. Granted, it was a modest 480 pages.

I recently bought an “e-book” that’s actually all 14 of P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh mysteries, so it’s like reading a 7,000-page book. I’m on page 1,167.

My love of long books doesn’t just go for mysteries. I love Dickens. Now, there’s a guy who packed a lot of pages. And my well-worn copy of “Jane Eyre,” while only 495 pages because the type is wicked small is definitely a good long book.

When a book is good, I don’t want it to end. That’s how it should be, right?

I know publishers, especially these days, count pages like every single one is money out of their pocket. Becasue it is. Paper is expensive. The more pages, the more expensive it is to print the book. That’s why Elizabeth George and J.K. Rowling can get away with writing books that are three times longer than the rest of us. The publisher knows the books are instant best sellers and they’ll get their money back.

The three books in my Bernie O’Dea series were all 95,000-96,000 words — a little more than 300 pages. My writing process is to get around 120,000 “first-draft” words down (or more if the book I’m writing now is any indication), but I don’t fool myself that makes it a good book. I know the much shorter book is in there somewhere and I have to go back and sculpt it out, shedding words as I go.

I’ve read plenty of books were the author (or their editor if they’re smart enough to have one) didn’t do that. That’s what makes a “long book,” no matter how many pages it is. So do unlikable characters, boring plots and bad dialogue. Among other things.

I love a good long book, with the emphasis on “good.” If a book pulls you in the way it’s supposed to, you shouldn’t want to leave. I relish a winter weekend where I have nothing to do, so I can sit in front of a fire and do nothing but read a good long book. Or a summer day on the porch.

When my mechanic explains to me why my car goes through so much oil, intellectually, I know what he says makes sense on some level. But as hard as I try I can’t grasp that level. I roll it around in my head, trying to get it to hit that place where the lightbulb goes on and it all makes sense, but it never does.

The “too long book” thing is similar. I realize there are people who don’t enjoy reading as much as some of us do. I don’t understand the belief that a book of a certain number of pages, no matter the topic or quality, is “too long.” What happens when you finish reading a book? You look around for another one to read, hopefully one that’s as good. So how is reading one that’s the same thing as reading two or three books a problem?

I understand that one of the points of a community read is to get everyone reading and talking about books. Some people think it makes sense that a shorter book will make people like books more. I’ve tried to roll that one around, get it to hit the lightbulb switch, but it hasn’t. Yes, I get that people don’t enjoy reading. But I still don’t understand the number of pages affecting their enjoyment one way or another. Yes, I understand it obviously does. That it’s less that they have to endure or whatever. But I still don’t understand it.

In any case, I’m not going to waste any more time thinking about it. I’m too excited about the new Elizabeth George. Guess I’ll have to take a break from the 7,000-page P.D. James-fest. Then, when I’m done with them, I guess I’ll have to find something else to read. I can’t wait.

About Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Twitter at @mmilliken47 and like her Facebook page at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for email updates at She hosts the podcast Crime&Stuff with her sister Rebecca Milliken.
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8 Responses to In praise of good long books

  1. jselbo says:

    So so so agree. Last year I got an ANNE PERRY compilation – three novels in one book – it is so fat and satisfying. It’s paperback, I worried that in the middle I’d have to bend/break the spine a bit so I could read a full page (worried that some would be trapped in the tight crevice), but turned out not to be a problem. And the way Anne Perry ends her mysteries – well – they don’t really “end” as in “tied up” – she just continues into the character’s next puzzle presenting itself and picks up on relationships etc. I do love the idea of a WHOLE TOWN READ – that’s amazing.

    • Maureen Milliken says:

      That’s why I like her, and Elizabeth George, and the P.D. James 14-book compilation I’m reading now. The characters and situations continue, and they develop, too. It’s like one wicket long book.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Agree and disagree. Sometimes it depends on the book package or way we read. I have seen a few books lately that looked like they might be fascinating but were literally too heavy to read. They would be fine on a device but as physical books too daunting. And I still prefer to read physical books. In general, though, if it is a great book, longer is better. As for drafts…my first Burgess had to go on a 100 page diet before publication. Some of the books I have read lately could use a bit of dieting as I scream “where was the editor?”


  3. Alice says:


  4. John Clark says:

    I focus less on length and more on the ‘Grab’ factor. Many of the YA fantasy/dystopian books I read are between 400-400 pages. Given that life is finite and I’m 73, if I’m not hooked by page 20, I move on to another book, hence length then becomes like having a 16 ounce cherry cola as opposed a 12 ounce drink.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I love long books, too. I feel cheated when a novel is barely longer than a novella, And, as the author of long books (over 400 pages each), I’ve never had a reviewer complain about the length, although one did thank me for being so generous.

  6. Julianne Spreng says:

    A short book can be too long if it’s not well developed. But diving into a large tome knowing that I will be occupied for a while is pure heaven. Steven King is a known for his long books. I have a copy of THE STAND that was edited and one that is an author’s cut with lots of additional material. The first is much better. The added material is interesting but doesn’t really improve the story.

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