Do the Pages Fly?

I’m not sure I’m going to make much sense here… but if even just ONE person nods their heads while reading this, then I win…

I’m busy reading a book. It’s hard SF. It’s a recent (within the last ten years) publication. The pages fly.

I just finished reading another book. A Pulitzer Prize winner. Published two years ago. The pages didn’t fly.

Now I’m scratching my head. Both of these books are written beautifully. The second, the PP winner, is a masterpiece. Beautiful imagery, lyrical prose at times, existential… the writer is laconic in style, taking his time to tell the story. The first book… the hard SF… is equally laconically written. A single scene can cover, near as I can tell, ten or more pages… with a great amount of detail. I will look at a page number, and the next time I check, I’m at least ten pages down the line… and that’s a considerable chunk of reading, I tell you. BUT IT DOES NOT FEEL LIKE THAT. I live in both of these stories, so why is it that the pages fly with the one story, while with the other, they don’t?

And don’t tell me it’s because one is paperback and the other is electronic. I’ve got a better comparison than that. I use Goodreads, and while I was reading chunks of about 6% at a time of the PP winner, with this paperback it’s only about 4% at a time. So even that theory doesn’t stand up. Much.

Oh I don’t know. Maybe I’m just going crazy. Either way, I love both books. But seriously, if anyone can define what constitutes a page-turner for them, pray tell!

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About Laurel C Kriegler

A born and bred South African, I was educated at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, where I graduated with an Honours Degree (post-graduate) in Economics at the end of 2001. After spending several years gaining work experience in the UK, I returned to South Africa to get married. It was during the ensuing period that my pursuits of writing and editing took hold.
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5 Responses to Do the Pages Fly?

  1. Maybe it’s the type of detail. A Feast For Crows is the same page count as Acheron. Acheron I can read in three days, but a GRRM book takes about three weeks. I enjoy them, but at times it does feel like more of a slog because there’s so much detail I don’t see the point of.

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    • Hmmmm. Sounds like I’m going to have to cave and read a GOT book (if that is one…) to see how I take it… Interesting observation. That said, I read LOTR, and there’s a TONNE of description in there… šŸ˜€

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  2. jccassels says:

    I wish I had an answer for you. I think engagement like you’re describing is a personal and purely subjective thing. There are rules writers can follow to try to engage the reader like that, and two writers can follow them to the letter, but one story is a page-turner, and the other, not so much.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone recommend a book to me, claiming that it spoke to them, they couldn’t put it down, or some variation on the pages flying theme, but when I try reading it, it bores me to tears. It’s not a bad thing that one person’s page-turner is another’s DNF. Obviously, one book spoke to you on a visceral level while the other, while technically well-written, didn’t have the same impact on you.

    Writers have been trying to capture that lightning in a bottle for centuries.

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  3. KathLDK says:

    A big part of making the pages fly for me, is that it’s a case of getting in the zone, so immersed that the words disappear and zooom, off they go.

    You said yourself, in the PP book there were beautiful phrases and it was very artistic and incredible (and if it’s the book I think you’re talking about, then I agree), but sometimes when a book is that beautifully written, it calls attention to the words. You sit back and think, “Gosh, that’s a beautiful way to say that.” And that makes you stop. It pulls you out of the story and you’re back to sitting in a chair, looking at some words.

    On the other hand, the other book might be densely detailed, but it calls less attention to its artistic words and the detail is more about the world-building, in that genre. So the more detail there is, the clearer a picture of the world you’re getting; you’re pulled further and further in, and the words are pushed further into the background as you’re entirely immersed. Your reading speed picks up, and you whizz through it.

    Both are good books; but it’s like a good meal: a delicious pizza is devoured quickly while a gourmet dish is slowly savored and appreciated. Both are enjoyable meals, enjoyed in different ways.

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    • That makes a lot of sense. Now here’s a question, then. We all laud books as being escapist, therapeutic, beneficial etc. So WHICH books are the best in that sense? Genre fiction, or literary works? From where I sit, it sounds like genre fiction, with it’s alternative world building, lives lived etc, is the better as opposed to the beautiful words and imagery employed in the literary craft. I’m NOT saying one is worse than the other… mind… but that they fulfil different roles… and that it’s for the most part the genre fiction that wins out in terms of the therapeutic angle of reading. Of course, one can LEARN from ANY book one reads…

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