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?