A while back, I wrote a piece on The Fiction Desk about the kinds of books that I thought made ideal fodder for book blogs. Something that struck me then, and has become more important to me since, is the length of books.
While there’s no point in talking about some kind of ideal length for fiction (Q. How long should a book be? A. Exactly as long as it takes), I do wonder whether novellas hold a certain appeal specifically for book bloggers.
Despite their increasing importance to the industry, bloggers don’t (or rarely) get paid, and so the time they can dedicate to their book coverage is limited by work and family commitments. On top of this, it’s important to keep blogs going with fresh new content, and if your content is book reviews, those hours can really add up. Novellas may be the perfect format: often as substantial as longer novels, more “newsworthy” than short stories as they’re standalone products, but still short enough to fit into a blogger’s schedule.
Looking around the blogs I frequent, I’m seeing a lot of coverage of shorter books: John Self over at The Asylum has been covering Melville House titles, as has Trevor at The Mookse and The Gripes, whose recent coverage has also included Aharon Appelfeld’s 144 page Badenheim 1939 and the 103 pager The Invention of Morel from Adolfo Bioy Cesares. His Futile Preoccupations, a new blog to me, recently posted about Madame de, a novella by Louise de Vilmorin. These are all classics (and all very well reviewed by the bloggers in question), but I wonder whether it shows a more general enthusiasm among bloggers for shorter books, which publishers of new titles might be able to take advantage of.
From my own experience, I know that I’m far more likely to read (and therefore cover) a shorter book. Sometimes this means going through the stack by the bed and pulling out something I have time for; other times, like my review of Sum, I’ll deliberately seek out a title I know won’t take me a week to get through. For my personal reading (I only cover new books on the site), if I’ve got a free afternoon, I’ll often pick up a title I know I can get through in one sitting, just for the luxurious pleasure of sitting down and reading something cover to cover.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that blogs are a more interactive medium than traditional press. A while back, the aforementioned John Self picked up and championed Colony by Hugo Wilcken, talking about it on Twitter and on his blog. Other people picked up the book and joined in the conversation, reviewing it themselves. (I tried, but couldn’t quite get into it.) John’s “WilckenWatch” was a nice example of word of mouth. Colony is around 350 pages, and I wonder whether there would have been as much response for a 650 page novel, and whether there would have been more for a 100 pager.
I’d never argue that the novella format (or any format) is better than any other, but I’m wondering more and more whether it might not be particularly well suited to the blogs; enough that perhaps the novella might grow to be seen as a more marketable format in future.