Does Size Matter?

December 22, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Posted in Books | 18 Comments

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  What about by the length of its chapters?

After finishing The Conqueror over the weekend, I started reading Loving Frank.  Content completely aside, the books are like night and day.  The Conqueror is broken down into four sections with five to six chapters each.  I wouldn’t consider any one of those chapters especially long (some of them may have felt that way), but I often found myself flipping the pages to find out when each chapter ended.  Loving Frank, on the other hand, has extremely short chapters of just a few pages.  In a way, this was like a breath of fresh air because it was easy to find stopping places when needed.  Overall, it feels chaotic.

Every time I pick up a book to read I look to see what the last page number to determine the half way point.  I’ve always done it and although I can’t specifically say why, I always knowingly do it.  Perhaps it’s for a sense of accomplishment or figuring that the mid-point can signal when the plot is going to take an upswing.  Regardless, it’s something of a ritual for me that eases me in to a book. This weekend, however, was the first time I really gave much thought to the distinctions I make with chapters and how I use them to pace myself.  This too appears to be a part of my reading ritual.

When I’m reading a book that I love, I often tell myself that I’ll stop at the end of a chapter when I need to pry myself away (usually when I need to go to sleep).  This works about 10% of the time the first time I make that decision, 50% the second time, 65% the third time, and if I haven’t put the book down after the fourth time I have this little conversation with myself, I won’t put it down at all.  I use the same technique when I’m tired and I really need to read more than I feel like to keep on schedule or if I’m not enjoying the book (can you say Melmoth the Wanderer?).  No matter how a novel is structured, I do semi-consciously keep track of that throughout each book, whether or not I’m enjoying it.  This works really well when there are moderate to large size chapters involved.  It’s not so convenient for chapters that are just a couple of pages and this is a little disconcerting for me.  This will not make or break a novel for me.  It will be more like reading a beloved novel in a slightly uncomfortable chair.  Does that make sense?

Am I alone in this?  When you’re reading a book, how much are you impacted by length of a chapter?  Do you prefer short chapters to long?  Vice versa?  Do you have other rituals during your reading?



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  1. I was just thinking the same thing with Holidays On Ice..although they were not chapters but short stories, I found myself flipping to see how many more pages I had to finish that story. Not because it was boring, but because of what you said in your post. I promise myself the one story and then I am off to do something else…or so I think.

  2. I like to read in bed before I go to sleep. I will flip ahead to see when a chapter ends to see if I should stop where I am or read another chapter. I’m not sure that I have a preference on short or long chapters – I think it depends on the book.

  3. I don’t mind short or long chapters. In fact, I rarely notice when the chapter changes if I’m absorbed in a book. This causes problems with viewpoint change chapters but usually I catch on. I don’t really read short stories because I don’t like those divisions, I’ll only read them if others vouch for their exceptional goodness.

    I’m with you on checking to see how long a book is. I’m always aware of what page I’m on and how far I have left to go, particularly when I stop reading. I didn’t realize this was odd until my mom started reading a lot again; she never knows what page she’s on and doesn’t understand how I can enjoy it if I’m always checking pages. It’s subconscious for me.

  4. “I look to see what the last page number to determine the half way point”

    I always go to the end and look for the page number to get an overall feeling of the book. I admit that I’m not keen on long chapters that ramble on for 40 pages. Anything between 15 and 30 is reasonable.I tend to read to the end of a chapter before I put down the book.

  5. What about books with erratic-length chapters? The Moviegoer was like this; the first several chapters were well less than 10 pages each, and then as the book progressed, some chapters were 30-plus pages long. That threw me off. So yes, I know what you mean about reading in an uncomfortable chair. I also (at least pretty much always) check the last page number when I start, so I can track my progress percentage-wise, particularly the half-way point. I don’t always know what page number I’m on, but I frequently check up on my fraction/percentage done.

  6. I always keep track of the halfway point, too. As far as chapters – I don’t mind long ones, if they’re broken into chapter sections, so that there is still a natural place to stop when I need to.

  7. >>Every time I pick up a book to read I look to see what the last page number to determine the half way point<<

    OMG! I do this all the time, and I’m not sure I even realized I was doing it until I read this. Too funny!


  8. It depends on the book, but generally I think I like short chapters, as it gives me more chances to pause, if I need to. Books with no chapters annoy me.

  9. I like small chapters too. It helps to keep the book down.

  10. I thought you were talking about me when I read this! lol I also prefer shorter chapters especially at night when I’m getting tired and I need a stopping place.

  11. I am so glad to see that I’m in such good company! I wonder what it was like for readers before they were able to reach out to others and share these things?

  12. […] Rituals, a Matt’s Musing Posted on December 23, 2008 by Matthew Jennifer at The Literate Housewife Review talked about breathing spaces of a book and her other rituals. […]

  13. jeez! I always lip to see How many more pages are left for the current chapter! as I like to get up and do something when that chap will be done!

    i like short ones.. 🙂 it gives me somekind of insame satisfaction 🙂

  14. I prefer short chapters like in James Patterson’s novels. I often have to stop many times while reading to take care of kids or something and it’s easier to stop at the end of a chapter.

    I will flip ahead to see when the chapter ends to see if I should just finish that chapter or read more or less, like before bed.

  15. I love short chapters. I really have no explanation for that, but I do!

    Jennifer, I really want to read Loving Frank. A friend read it and said it’s fantastic.

  16. Every time I pick up a book to read I look to see what the last page number to determine the half way point.

    I do this too, although I wait until I’ve already started reading the book. Why I do this? No idea.

  17. Jennifer,
    Very fun to see all your different reading rituals. Clearly you take pleasure in approaching a book with some standard tasks to tic off your list! 😉

  18. I always flip ahead to see how long each chapter is. Its something I’ve always done – kind of a habit. I prefer books with shorter chapters as well, because I get interupted so much and like you say, its easier to find a stopping place.

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