The Money Illusion | Scott Sumner | SantantangoWe do have films that are dozens or even hundreds of hours long. They're called "TV Shows."
This post is completely off topic, but something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. What determines the length of novels and films? Novels are usually around 200 to 500 pages, and films are usually around 2 hours. I understand that the length of films is somewhat constrained by the desire of theaters to run two showings after dinner, but I don’t think that’s a complete explanation. The same is true for “art films.” Even art films based on novels, despite the fact that an ordinary novel would take 5 to 10 hours to show on film, especially at the pace of art films.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve generally enjoyed “mega-novels” more than novels of ordinary length. I just finished “1Q84,” which is now my favorite Murakami book. In recent years I also read and greatly enjoyed mega-novels like 2666, The Man Without Qualities, and Lord of the Rings. I still haven’t read many of the longer classics (War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, In Search of Lost Time, etc) but am told these are also outstanding novels. Why aren’t there more long novels? The only disappointing long novel that I ever finished was Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy, and even that was pretty good until the third volume.Thousand page books seem great for the same reason hundred year old furniture all seems sturdy: the stuff that wasn't built to last hasn't. We never see the cheap, breakable chairs from 1912, and we tend to forget about the boring, disposable 1000 page novels. (If, indeed, they ever get printed in the first place.)
Maybe I’m attracted to books that allow me to escape into other realities. It took me so long to finish 1Q84 that by the end I felt like I was partly inside Murakami’s imaginary world.If Murakami can build that world in 944 pages, good for him. That's an impressive feat. But if an author can make me feel the same emotions in 500 pages, or 50, or 5 that's really impressive.
A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I used to prefer long novels and series. Now I like the opposite. Not because I don't have patience for longer books, but because the opportunity cost is high. If I coudl read one 1000 page book or three 330 page books, ceteris paribus I'll diversify my entertainment and go with multiple, shorter books.
Colin Marshall expresses a similar view, even without having seen the shorter version:I submit to you that, while some paintings are best expressed on rectangles with between one and three meters diagonal, most others, by pure logic of probability — are not.
I submit to you that, while some stories are indeed best told in 90- to 120-ish-minutes, most others, by pure logic of probability — are not.
Where then are the billboard-sized masterpieces. Or the football field-sized masterpieces?
For some loosely related commentary, check out Julian Sanchez's discussion of the differences between self-contained and "extended universe" fiction, specifically as it related to the recently-announced Watchmen prequels.