I’m in the middle of a really good book, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. You might have heard of it. It made a big splash this summer when it came out, mostly because he refused to allow his debut novel to be in Oprah’s book club (he changed his tune this year). I was skeptical that it would be all that it is hyped up to be, but so far it is hitting the mark.
All except in one aspect, however; the chapters are unbearably long. I have a lot of required reading to do in my life, so when I squeeze in some personal reading, I like to set short, attainable goals for myself. For most books, it’s a chapter or two. But in Freedom, the shortest chapters are forty or fifty pages (big pages with small print), meaning it takes an hour or two just to do that. If I only have half an hour to read, I won’t even be able to finish one chapter. I don’t like leaving in the middle, so that means I won’t read. I’ll probably go to YouTube for entertainment.
I understand the reasons behind long chapters. In my personal writing, I hate deciding where chapter breaks should be. In Freedom, there is a pattern of changing perspectives and media, but within each section there are no further breaks. Even though I understand it, it drives me crazy.
The lesson I take from this, then, is that chapter breaks are important to readers. Some people take it to an extreme, of course (Dan Brown), but chapters give a book a predictable rhythm that allows readers to measure their progress and take breathers. It’s important to give the reader space to put down the book, cook dinner, and come back without worrying about remembering which paragraph they left off on. So Mr. Franzen, please, please, next time put in shorter chapters so I can enjoy the novel completely!