• With Books, is Quantity Better Than Quality?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 5 comments

    I’m an unabashed fan of DeLillo’s White Noise, a book which seems to be getting a worse and worse rap as time goes by. But I haven’t read much else of Don’s (he and I are tight, so I get to call him Don), and I figured I’d read a couple of his shorter novels in order to better get a sense of whether or not I want to tackle his beasts. Underworld, for example, which clocks in at about a bajillion pages.

    So I read Cosmopolis, and then I read The Body Artist, and now I just don’t know what to do. Both were … okay. Cosmopolis even came pretty close to saying something worth a damn. But should I really dive into a book as long as Underworld if I’m underwhelmed by DeLillo’s shorter novels?

    On Facebook recently I asked, “Would you rather read six decent 150-page novels or one excellent 900-page novel?”

    Seems like most of you think I should’ve skipped the shorter DeLillo and just jumped right into the fat one. Here are your responses:

    Jonathan: “Depends. Which one has shiny vampires? In all seriousness, if there’s a 900-page novel out there good enough to carry me through to the end, that would be my preference.”

    Christopher: “6 x 150.”

    Richard: “I’m biased, as many of my favorite novels are the very long ones. I can’t even imagine falling hard for something just 150 pages.”

    Michelle: “900 pager. But I will say the Sookie Stackhouse series was a mighty fine read while in Vegas one weekend…sitting by the pool, eating fries and chain smoking…drinking margaritas. It seemed fitting to read some indulgent vampire sexy trash.”

    Laura: “Wow. Tough call. I say the 900-pager should’ve been edited down and/or split up into a trilogy, since I prefer shorter books (novellas, even), but I would certainly prefer to read something excellent than something only so-so.”

    Roman: “Wouldn’t you rather read an excellent novel rather than *any* so-so one, regardless of length? In fact, length is a bonus if the novel is great (e.g., Gaddis’s JR; DFW’s Infinite Jest, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Illuminatus!, War and Peace, most of Pynchon, etc. — you don’t want these fat books to end). I go out of my way to avoid reading ‘decent’ novels and find the good stuff.”

    Ethan: “Excellence over decency any day. (never really cares much for decency). A lot of my favorites tend to be the epic, arguably pretentious titles: 2666, Gravity’s Rainbow, V., Infinite Jest, Proust. War and Peace is supposed to be fantastic, despite the length, though I’m finding Brothers Karamazov a bit of a slog. I used to be intimidated by long works, but at some point something in my brain switched and the fear went away.”


    Discussion Question: Those of you who haven’t answered already, what do you think? Quality over quantity? What’s your favorite fat book? Your favorite skinny book?


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    Tim (@Twalk)

    I think I responded to this on Twitter as well, but my preference is for the great book, regardless of length. I can wholeheartedly recommend One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which is short, as well as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which is enormously long (and my favorite Big Book of recent years).

    By the way, try End Zone by DeLillo — medium length, absurd, trenchantly funny — from early in his career.

    David Duhr

    Oh man, Ivan Denisovich is quite a read. We should probably tell people to save it for a rainy day, though, since it will make you feel like hell anyway.

    Funny you should mention End Zone, as I believe a review of that will appear in the Sept Books Issue of TXO. If we have space, we’re doing quick write-ups of a few “Lost Books.”

    Thanks for chiming in again, Tim. DD

    David Duhr

    (I don’t know why I signed that comment)

    Laura Roberts

    Ah, now I see why you were asking. I also dig White Noise, but haven’t been able to get into anything else by DeLillo. I think some writers can be “one hit wonders,” the same way that musicians can be, so maybe that was his best work?

    David Duhr

    Ooh, that’s a fun idea: one-hit wonder writers. Like Harper Lee. Although she only wrote one book, so maybe that shouldn’t count.

    I doubt many people would put DeLillo on that list, but he’s on mine until I get around to Underworld, Libra, or any of the others.

    Who else? Maybe I’ll write a post calling for nominations.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x