from Atlantic Monthly
The New Novel Menace
by Ellis Parker Butler
As soon as I can afford a hair cut and my shirt comes back from the laundry, I am going to call a meeting of novel writers and get up a code to put a stop to this new menace to our prosperity, the 1224-page novel. The selfishness of the man who wants to can all the baked beans in the world is nothing when compared with the graspingness of a man who writes a novel like Anthony Adverse and keeps people reading for weeks and weeks on one book.
My code will forbid anyone's writing a novel of more than three hundred pages, ten-point type. Anyone writing a longer novel will have his license taken away from him. After that he will be allowed to publish nothing but books on Technocracy and Political Economy, or perhaps a few lives of the Gish sisters.
For one man to publish a novel of 1224 pages, which immediately becomes a best seller, is manifestly unjust to all the rest of us fiction writers, especially when the type is small. If novels of this size are to be published, they should be stupid, so that a reader will quit at page 150 and not be held for days and days when he might be reading quite a lot of $2.50 novels.
If this sort of thing goes on, we shall soon have 2448-page novels, and then 4896-page novels, and, by and by, we shall have one novelist writing a 4,896,000-page book and taking up all of everybody's reading time. Then the rest of us would have to compile anthologies of selections from that novel or starve.
These 1224-page novels are hard on the patrons of lending libraries, too. You bring home this Anthony Adverse, and it has a slip pasted in it that says, 'The rental of this book is twenty-five cents a week'; and in a couple of days the volume has five bookmarks in it, and all the members of your family say: 'Are you reading this now? If not, I'll take it' -- and by the time you have a chance to reach page 1224 the rent of the book has run up to $7.75, and there are still two members of the family reading it. And all of them have sore wrists.
It is disheartening for an author, who has always done right by his fellow authors and written small books, to have a monopolist like Mr. Allen come along and preempt all the reading time of the public. My best book had only 37 pages, and one of these had only three words on it. Anybody could have read that book in 15 minutes, 14 seconds, thus having time enough left to read a $2.50 detective mystery book the same evening. This is what I call being fair to one's brother -- and sister -- authors.
My book was printed in large type, with spaces between the lines wide enough to drive a flock of sheep through. If Anthony Adverse had been printed this way, it would have filled a Five-Foot Shelf and stuck out two feet at each end -- possibly two feet and six inches. A ten-foot book is too much book. Even a nine-foot book is too much book.
I hope the authors will take this matter to heart and hurry up with our code before 2448-page novels and 4896-page novels ruin our profession. I should just like to remind them of what happened to the Chinese drama when playwrights were permitted to begin this sort of thing -- writing plays that lasted 30 days, so that an audience could come at the beginning of the month and sit there till the end, seeing one play. Before long nine-tenths of the Chinese playwrights starved to death while two or three wrote dramas that had the first act set in the days of the invention of bird's-nest soup and the last act depicting the burning of Chong Foo's automobile.
This thing must stop. The trend is trending altogether too widely. I warned folks when Parsifal was played; and I warned again when Eugene O'Neill put on his intermission-for-food drama -- and look at the opera and the stage now. And look at Amos and Andy, going on and on and on. My friends, remember the dictionary: they let one man write pages and pages of dictionary, and who writes dictionaries today? Yes, we authors must have a code.
For Article Two of the code I propose that no novelist be allowed to use more than two continents. It is not fair for a writer to use Europe, Africa, and North America -- including Cuba -- in one novel. Probably Mr. Allen, excited by his success, is already writing a new novel and spreading himself over Europe, Africa, both Americas, Asia, Australia, and Polynesia. That is not fair. I want to call a halt for that sort of thing. There is no use talking; we must have a code.