Sunday, February 11, 2018

Slow-Paced vs. Fast-Paced Books: What They Say About Their Readers

Earlier this year, I mentioned I wanted to read another 1,000-page book. Then, to start off the year, I checked out a bunch of graphic novels. Maybe I’m preparing myself or maybe I’m procrastinating. Either way, I like to think that I enjoy all sorts of fiction. Sure, I have some preferences, but just because I enjoy lengthy classics and studied for an MA in English Literature doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy commercial fiction as well.

As I was reading Les Miserables last year, I got to thinking about slow-paced books versus fast-paced books. And it seems like, in the writing community anyway, writers are discouraged from writing slow-paced books. After all, according to what I’ve seen, it’s the writer’s job to hold the reader’s attention and keep them turning pages.

But, that hasn’t been my experience as a reader. If one applied the same principle to half of the classics out there, they would wouldn’t exist the way they do. Even with all the abridged classics out there, determined readers still seek out the unabridged versions. It’s almost as though some readers scoff at the length and the negative attitude that they can’t get through it. One-thousand two-hundred pages? Challenge accepted!

What does that mean for the reading industry if some readers like slow-paced books and others like fast-paced books?

Slow-Paced Books: What are they?

A fine line often lies between slow-paced books and boring books, but a slower novel does not necessarily equate a boring one. Though most slower books are often associated with monstrous books like Les Miserable (aka “The Brick”) at 1,200 pages, some slow-paced books can fall within the 300-page range.

Slower books take more energy and concentration to read. When I first picked up The Name of the Wind, I almost quit after the prologue because I wasn’t reading it at the right time. I was sitting on a chair, watching the movers haul our furniture in the house, occasionally getting up to direct them to the right room.

After less than a page, I gave up on this fantasy and picked up Wonder, a 200-ish page Middle Grade novel. It turned out to be a much easier read, and I could easily come back to it despite constant interruptions. A couple days after the movers had left, I settled down in the living room with some peace and quiet to read The Name of the Wind. I finished it within a matter of days.

I had to apply the same amount of concentration while reading Les Miserable (a great book for traveling despite its size) and The Wake.

Petition to stop readers and reviewers from saying and writing “This book was boring! And I read Moby-Dick.” What does that even mean? Moby-Dick is tough, but it’s far from boring.

What do slow-paced books say about their readers?

Readers who enjoy slow-paced books probably enjoy intellectual stimulation.

After I graduated from the University of Nottingham, I spent about six months reading fast-paced YA novels. I was tired of slow, long literature. *gasp* But it didn’t take long for me to miss the intellectual challenges of university, so I started checking out some more difficult books, starting with Moby-Dick.

In the end, it took me seven months to read, but I enjoyed it. And not just for the bragging rights—for the content. I was fascinated that Melville could connect something as base as whaling with religion, art, biology, environmentalism, literature, you name it. Even somebody who’s not into whales could probably find something that applies to their field of study within the book’s pages.

Readers who live fast-paced lives may enjoy books that are slower.

And it was around that time that I realized that I like reading slow-paced books. Often times, my life is so hectic, I need a breather. Sometimes a long, slow book is just that. Having moved every year for the past six years, reading the same book for a couple months actually feels like some stability. (This month we’re approaching one year in our house! Whoot!)

Slow-paced books generally tend to have more development.

That isn’t to say that fast-paced books can’t be well-developed. I would consider A Darker Shade of Magic to fall under the fast-paced category, but the world and character development is excellent.

That being said, many slow books go off onto tangents that are completely unrelated to the plot. Often times these tangents are annoying. Do readers really need to know everything about how to slice up a whale? But sometimes these tangents are fascinating, like how Ishmael (Moby-Dick) thought the dragon from legend of St. George could have been a whale. (Whether I support that theory—I don’t—is another matter entirely.) Another fascinating tangent include the settings within The Books of Pellinor. Sometimes, the setting is vital to the plot, and other times, the narrator was just capturing the beauty or the destitution of the place.

Fast-Paced Books: What are they?

In a society that moves quickly, fast-paced books are designed to be page-turners. A book that hooks the reader, forces them to procrastinate on everything else, and makes them stay up late to finish the book is often considered the ideal fast-paced read. Of course, some books may be fast-paced and still not be read in one sitting because the reader has another life, in which case, the book is finished in two sittings or within a matter of days.

For me, right now, a fast-paced book is one that I can finish in one or two sittings, within a day or so. I feel like I’m always looking for the next good book that will pull me into the story and make me want to finish it as soon as possible. The last book that was a real page-turner for me happened to be The Beast of Talesend.

Unlike slower books, fast-paced stories don’t really have time to stop and admire the scenery because the characters are probably trying to outrun a dragon, defuse a bomb, or something exciting like that.

What do fast-paced books say about their readers?

Fast-paced books tend to connect more with the reader’s emotions.

That’s not to say that slower books can’t evoke emotions, but fast-paced books focus more on doing so. Graphic novels are great at evoking emotions because they’re also visual.

Many readers pick up fast-paced books to be entertained.

It’s not a shallow thing; it’s just the way some readers are. I often pick up books to be entertained. Not all books have to be intellectual. Besides, I’d rather pick up a book to be entertained than to watch a movie or show. That way, I still get to use my imagination without somebody else doing it for me. What’s the fun in that?

Fast-paced books tend to be a form of escapism.

When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I used to read fast-paced novels for leisure all the time. It was the way I took my study breaks and turned out to be particularly motivational while studying for exams. I’d study for half an hour to forty-five minutes, then read a chapter. Then, I couldn’t read another one until I studied again.

What about readers who enjoy both?

I’m going to be completely honest, I’m both. After a novel that progresses at a leisurely pace—and sometimes during such stories—I like a story that will drag me off on an adventure.

A thicker book might inspire thought, and a page-turner might inspire emotion. Too much of one or the other isn’t ideal. A sense of balance is needed.

In all, this isn’t to say that just because you enjoy a fast-paced story over a slower one means you’re a bad reader. Quite the opposite. Sometimes people need a break from slow-paced books. And vice versa. But in a world where everything, particularly technology, is progressing so quickly, leisurely pastimes fall by the wayside. It becomes harder and harder to find somebody who enjoys reading slower books just for the sake of the book.

But when you find somebody who likes to read the same type of books that you do, keep them close! Start up some bookish conversations. Share book recommendations. Reading may be a solitary activity, but don’t be afraid to connect with fellow readers. After all, what is the purpose of reading if not to discover to put the book down every once in a while and really live.

Let’s chat! Did I leave any elements of either pace of fiction out? Which types of books do you prefer—fast-paced or slow-paced ones? Do you enjoy plot-focused stories or character-focused ones?


Literary references: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, Alison Croggon’s The Books of Pellinor, and Kyle Robert Shultz’s The Beast of Talesend.

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