Do Granta, Vintage and Penguin weigh their words?

April 9, 2013 § 3 Comments

Consciousness about respecting the environment often seems to be detached from any true principle of thrift. Although more books are printed on papers that come from sustainable forests, such books seem to be getting bigger. Are stories getting longer?

A look at four books which have a cover size of approximately 51/2 x 8 inches*:

1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics 1995)

Weight: 250g; Total word count: 135,040; and story pages 320 (422 words per page)

2. The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller (Granta Books 1999)

Weight 250g; Total word count: 73,890; and story pages 242 (305 words per page)

3. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Vintage 2003); paper from sustainable forests;

Weight: 270g; Total word count: 128,152; and story pages 386 (332 words per page)

4. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (Penguin 2009); Forest Stewardship Council Certification;

Weight 430g; Word count: 202,270; and story pages 565 (358 words a page)

If the following three books had been typeset as Sense & Sensibility:

Alone in Berlin 479 pages, instead of 565

The Land of Green Plums 176 pages, instead of 242

Norwegian Woods 289 pages, instead of 386

To get an average word count, three pages of full text were counted and then divided by three. In all cases, the total word count will exceed the actual word count. However, the discrepancy will be greater with The Land of Green Plums, as many paragraphs were preceded by a number of lines of blank space.

Both Sense & Sensibility and Alone in Berlin had a number of explanatory pages. These additional pages were not included in the story word count but do add to the weight of the book.

Although a domestic weighing scale is not 100% accurate, we may still safely conclude that too much paper is being used to produce books.

*I tend to think in the imperial system but find weights easier to write in the metric.

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§ 3 Responses to Do Granta, Vintage and Penguin weigh their words?

  • Thank you. How interesting. I love this investigation, at a tangent to the usual assessment of a book.

    • Peripheria says:

      The trouble is that it is hard to lay out results in a readable way.
      I also wonder, something you might have a better idea of, what books are bound in such a way that they last a long time. Some books (usually second hand) fall apart as you read them, but others are fifty years old and more and remain intact.

      • It might be the difference between books that have been stitched together and those that are only glued..although some publishers seem to use better glue than others.
        I’ve been noticing the quality of the paper. Some (new) hardbacks use worse paper than pulp fiction of the 1950s. It’s not unusual to find a hardback that cost £25 only 3 or 4 years ago, with paper so browned that it’s no longer a pleasure to read. I had thought that hardbacks were supposed to last a bit longer than that!

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