Let me tell you about pages per day (we’ll talk about pages per sitting, pages per hour, pages per drink, and pages per nap another time). I figure that I can read up to 300 pages in one day. This is pushing it. Really pushing it. A more comfortable range for me is something like 200 to 250. So far I’ve maintained this pace, reading a novel a day. It should be noted that this is novel reading, not secondary text reading. Theory is usually so dense that my pace falls off a cliff. I am only mortal after all.
However, it’s not so simple as looking at page count as not all 300 pagers are created equal.
There seems to be some rule in publishing that says that if a book is short (say 200 pages or less) that it needs to be padded by large margins, spacing, and font. This figures as no one wants to spend $20 bucks on something that has the approximate weight of a paper airplane. We want to feel that we’ve got our money’s worth. To quote Boris the Blade in Snatch, “Heavy is good. Heavy is reliable.” Heavy books double as self-defense weapons. This is why we like them.
However, on the other side of the spectrum, say anything over 350, publishers start borrowing their spacing techniques from a contortion artist in a glass box. They take every element that the short book tries to expand, and shrink it like a scrotum hitting ice water. The font, spacing, and margins all get so crammed that they have no sense of personal space. This is because huge books intimidate people. When the reading public tends towards magazines and newspapers, a book that weighs the same as a two year old isn’t going to fly off the shelves. Plus, a 700 page is so heavy you’ll probably only pull a muscle if you try to throw it at someone.
So, this makes 300 pages (or so, hell if I’m being scientific here) the sweet spot towards which all texts migrate with gravitational-like regularity. So I’ll say it again, not all 300 page books are created equally.
I can tell within five seconds of flipping through a book how my day’s going to go. There are the obvious signs, the text’s girth, heft, length, etc. (size matters) but nothing makes my ass spasm with grief more than seeing that a 350 pager is really a 450 pager or with joy at seeing a 200 pager that’s really a 125er.
Look (don’t read. Just look) at the picture of Stephen Graham Jones’ Zombie Bake-Off: the font’s larger, this pagination screams relax! Relax mo-fo! My eyes can breathe this white space. The section breaks are ample and have an awesome graphic of a doughnut on above each. I flip through this book and say, cake. I can rock this in a day. Cake.
Now look at Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves (right). Look at this thing. It’s like a black hole rests just inside the fourth chapter and everything is being crammed towards some event horizon. The section breaks look like they’re under tectonic pressure. Just seeing this wall of text makes my eyes deflate into my skull. I know that when I open this book, that if I’m going to keep my pace up, I’ve got to make it through this thing in one day, which is akin to realizing that the marathon you thought was in San Diego is really in Nepal.
(Of course, both are excellent reads (in wildly different ways) but god damn.)
Part of me says this doesn’t matter. The same part says that it all has to be read anyway. And another part of me wants to murder that first part.