On Monday, you indulged me and divulged (or tried to) three of the books that have been tops for you at some time in your life. I went over the lists of those books, and the "why" behind them and was struck by a mundane fact about them: for the most part, they're really fat books. How's that for a profound conclusion, lol? Even if I add up the smaller books plus the ones whose size I don't know, the number of Really Fat Books outnumbers them.
It's no wonder they're fat: their authors needed room and space for stories jam-packed with action and characters, plots and sub-plots. Quests were big in our books, as were secrets, and magic, and exceptionally strong characters, whether it was Stephanie Plum or King Arthur. Rebels and/or misfits were popular. Humor factored in. (Though that was mentioned specifically by only a few of you, I detected its presence in many of the other choices, too.) Entire new worlds were invented by the authors of many of "our" books, and even if the world wasn't new, the perception of it was. These were not books that were easy to write, that came quickly, that the authors just slid out of their pens in their spare time.
You picked books whose authors weren't afraid to make their characters love big, risk much, and suffer along the way. It could even be argued--with a smile--that P.G. Wodehouse made Bertie Wooster (and those around him) suffer as much as possible for maximum comic effect. Certainly nobody could deny that Jeeves was "long-suffering," lol.
The irony of the fact that so many of us adore big fat delicious novels is that publishing isn't all that encouraging of big fat juicy books. (Which are not the same as overstuffed, "padded" novels.) In the genres, publishers want a book per year, or--if you're a category romance author--more. Big fat books still do get published--think J.K. Rowling, John Irving, Diana Gabaldon, or Stephen King--but they take determined authors who are willing to make sacrifices in order to take the time they need to finish a book of that size, scope, and wonderfulness. And by "sacrifice," I mean they make whatever sacrifices they must make in their own lives, rather than sacrifice the book they're writing.
But it isn't just the authors of fat books who suffer from the time and money crunch--it's also hard for authors of skinnier books to grab enough time from the publishing schedule to raise the quality of their books as the years go by. I remember the editor who admitted to me a few years ago that the latest book by one of her best-selling authors wasn't very good. "I pushed her to get it in before it was ready," the editor told me. Having read the novel in question, I could only think, "Yeah, no shit." Much less successful writers also feel the whip of publishing schedules that have no connection to the writer's creative ebb and flow. (I'm not talking about myself. I have a patient editor.) I don't expect anybody to pity these writers, but I do think their dilemma illustrates that the words "publishing" and "sanity" don't belong in the same sentence.
When it does happen--when the publishing devils shut their yappy mouths and sit on their hyperactive hands and let great writers take the time they need to write great books, and maybe even pay them while they're doing it-- then there's rejoicing in Reader Heaven. And that's where all of us were, during the magical days and nights when we devoured those books we listed yesterday.
Thanks to those authors for big fat unforgettable books, or for short skinny memorable ones, and thanks to you guys for humoring me!