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Sunday, September 04, 2011

It's better to have a short book that you actually read than a fat one that you don't

I've read two books in the last week: Submergence is a novel about a British agent taken hostage by Al-Qaeda in Somalia. Its author J.M. Ledgard says its aim is "to alter the perspective of the planet we inhabit". The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes is about a man in his sixties trying to distinguish between the things he remembers of his young life and the things that actually occured.

They're both, in their different ways, terrific. You can imagine Ledgard being a cult favourite for years to come. The Barnes book could be a big popular success because its central premise is so compelling. The thing they have in common, and the reason I've been able to read the pair of them in a week, is that they're both short. Submergence is 208 pages, The Sense Of An Ending only 160. You could read either of them in an afternoon and evening. I don't know whether this indicates that the publishing business is starting to favour brevity. It wouldn't be a bad thing if it did. Most books, like most films and most records, don't need to be anything like as long as they are.

Funny that I should read these books so quickly in the same week that the new management of Waterstone's announced that they're stopping their famous "three-for-two" offers on books. As I write this I'm looking at the spine of a fat paperback I picked up in one of these offers some while ago and still haven't read. I don't think I'll miss the three-for-two. I tend to buy books because I feel like starting them on the day I buy them. It's difficult to extend that feeling beyond one book. And if the other ones are still sitting there unread a year later it's no comfort to know I got them cheap.