Does Size Matter?

Wolf HallUntil recently, book size wasn’t something that I noticed. If I wanted to read it, I wanted to read it. And very often the larger the book the better. After all, there’s nothing worse than finishing a good book too quickly and then finding yourself in the post-good book void.

But it’s in finding myself with fewer and fewer hours in the day to devote to reading (yep, growing up sucks) and my pile of books to read ever growing (partly due to my good fortune to be able to review books, but mostly due to my penchant for purchasing books before I’ve had time to read the ones already in the pile), that I’m starting to wonder if size does matter.

My always-spritely, avid-reader grandmother is now 93 and is starting to become frail. This year my mother’s instructions for her Christmas book present purchase was not which book she’d like but that I should select something that wasn’t—a consideration I’d never before encountered and which saddened me greatly—too heavy for her to hold up.

When I worked as a bookseller, parents desperate to get their children reading would screw up their noses at books even slightly more than wafter thin that might seem, like a mountain, insurmountable to their reluctant reader. Once one woman wanted a refund on a stack of mass market books she had bought to take on holiday because they would be ‘too heavy’ and take up ‘too much room’ in her suitcase. Why this hadn’t occurred to her when she selected, purchased, and then carried the books home, I don’t know. As someone who’d sacrifice clothes, toiletries, and underpants before I’d take out books, I was, well, a little incredulous.

But as I find myself having to choose my next book carefully, I’m starting to size up my books as much for their page length as their compelling content. I’m selecting books that I can get through quickly, in part to make myself feel as though I’m accomplishing something. Mostly, though, it’s because I’m so physically and mentally sapped that I’m flat out staying awake for more than a few pages and am unlikely to remember what happened at the beginning of the book by the time I’ve gotten to the end.

I keep telling myself that I’m saving the longer books for the holidays—say, for example, Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning tome Wolf Hall—but as a freelancer my holidays are few and far between and Wolf Hall and its counterparts are likely to sit gathering dust for some time. Which makes me wonder if every other time-poor ‘adult’ (and I use that term loosely because I’m not yet convinced that I am one) is in the same boat? Do we live by the mantra that size—specifically, the smaller the better—does matter?