Bookish Paranoia or The Future of Big Books?

When I was at work the other day (I’m a part-time bookseller), one of our regular customers came in and lamented that he hadn’t read any door-stoppers in recent memory. He said the weather had been too nice for it. He needs bitter cold and short, dark days to get in the mood for a 600-page-plus book. I’m now wondering how much of the reading population’s mood for big books is set by the sun.

There are practical reasons to let the weather dictate the size of your reading choices. Toting around War and Peace while lounging poolside seems a bit inconvenient. Who wants to haul Reamde along on spring break? When it’s cold and dark, there’s no better place to be than wrapped up in a Snuggie on your couch, finally tackling Bleak House – but when it’s light and warm and park-a-licious, it makes more sense to carry a book that won’t make you break a sweat.

But this winter was practically nonexistent in my corner of the world. If it’s true that the earth is heating up and our winters will become more and more mild, will readers spend more time outside with lighter (both in weight and subject matter) books? Even subconsciously? Will big books go the way of the dodo for the percentage of the reading population that needs dark and cold to commit to a chunkster? Or will the growth of e-readers negate any effect warm weather may have on the number of big books people pick up? After all, you can fill your Nook to the brim without making your purse hard to pick up.

Of course, not everyone reads with the seasons. I’m not that way. Being in the mood for reading a huge tome is more dependent on my personal circumstances than it is on the weather. I need to be in a relatively stable place- no children teething and getting up at 3 a.m., no job-hunting, no weeping over my inability to keep a houseplant alive. There has to be enough free mental bandwidth for me to handle a narrative of that length.

But there’s competition for that mental bandwidth aside from my own neurosis. There’s Twitter and Facebook and reading blogs and blogging myself and all the other things that come with having a digital presence. Twitter presents its own possible obstacle to big book reading- as we all get better at speaking in only 140 characters at a time, will we retain the patience to read 1,000 pages of someone else’s thoughts? When 1Q84 and 11/22/63 came out last year, much of the conversation around them concerned their length. Digesting books of that size isn’t the norm.

So what’s the future of big books? Maybe a sunnier environment and circumstantial distractions won’t turn out to be a big deal- the readers of door-stoppers will always be the readers of door-stoppers and I’m just a budding literary alarmist. Even so, I’m going to go snuggle my volumes of In Search of Lost Time, and if I can get off the computer long enough, I may even read them.

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