Open Discussion Forum

Book length matters to the uninitiated reader

  • 1.  Book length matters to the uninitiated reader

    Posted 08-09-2019 02:19 PM

    Book length matters 

    TED is an acronym for an organization focused on Technology, Entertainment and Design* that seeks to share recent developments and big ideas in thesethree areas of rapid growth.

    TED is most commonly encountered in the short phrase, TED Talks, which are 18-minute short lectures/presentations by clearly brilliant people on topics that a large number of folks who are into lifelong learning (like me!) will find more than a little fascinating. (The TED Talks collection can be found online at and enjoyed at no charge.)

    So, you might wonder why a guy who is all about promoting reading is excited about video presentations. One reason is that there is a recently published list of 24 books, each of fewer than 200 pages, highly recommended by TED speakers as being particularly valuable.

    Wait a minute! Why are these speakers focused on what most avid readers would consider short books?

    The answer is similar to why TED Talks are limited to 18 minutes in length. According to TED Talks curator Chris Anderson, 18 minutes is "short enough to hold people's attention, including on the Internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it's also long enough to say something that matters."

    Using that reasoning, non-avid readers are far more likely to pick up and read a "short" book rather than one in the 350- to 500-page range. And this reasoning annihilates the implication that short books can be too easy and big books too hard. Really? Too easy or hard for whom?

    The complaint that reading books of any lengths is daunting typically comes from people (children and adults) who have not experienced what reading books can do for them. People who lack positive book encounters find it difficult to commit to wading into printed works that are wide and deep and filled with information, ideas, stories, characters, theories, conflicts, revelations, and on and on.

    Once while walking through a department store, I witnessed two kids who looked to be about 8 or 9 years old walking  behind their mother with

    Primary child reading one book while sitting next to a tall stack of others

    both of their noses stuck in their own copies of the newest Harry Potter book. It's hard to imagine an adult holding out the 251-page Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to an 8 year old and saying, "I loved this. Wanna give it a try?"  However, that or something quite like it, was precisely what happened to those two children. Offering such a book to a reluctant reader could evince a scowl, but maybe not. Particularly if the recovering reluctant reader had just finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

    Book length matters to the uninitiated reader who counts pages as if calculating how long they can stay under water. It also matters to the reading devotee looking for something substantial to add to their lives. Yet for those in both camps, the TED Talk speakers' short list of "short" books might represent just the right size to interest and educate.

     * TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.

    Mark Condon
    Vice President
    Unite for Literacy
    Louisville KY