Judging books by the Spine

April 11, 2013 § 1 Comment

When I look for detective fiction in crime sections in charity shops, I glance at the spines of books. If the spine is thick, I conclude that the book has been printed recently and it will not be one of the classic crime titles which I am looking for. The modern printed book is a chunky affair. Often spines impress themselves on my vision as being an inch thick and more.

The following two paperbacks have a cover size of about 10.8 cm x 17.7 cm (4 1/4 x 7 inches)

Harlan Coben’s Tell No One (Orion 2001) seems to be a representative size for a current best seller (crime fiction) and Edward Grierson’s Reputation for a Song (Penguin 1955) for a crime novel of its time.

Tell No One (210g) has a total word count of 80,272 (232 words per page) and is 346 pages long.

Reputation for a Song (110g) has a total word count of 104,808 (397 words per page) and is 246 pages long.

Tell No One is chunky not because its story is longer than that of Reputation for a Song’s but because fewer words are printed per page. So a thick-spined book will often contain significantly less words than a slim-spined book.

If there is no need for the book to be chunky, why are they made so? Have publishers concluded that people will buy chunky books sooner than slim ones? Do readers feel they are getting more value for money? Do they feel a glow of pride when reading a thick book? Do they believe they are reading hundreds of thousands of words? And do they scorn those who seem content with their paltry thin-spined book?

Perhaps that is nonsense. Why then are books so chunky?

* I make no claims for absolute accuracy but for aimed-at accuracy. To get an average word count, three pages of full text were counted and then divided by three.

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§ One Response to Judging books by the Spine

  • Inny River says:

    An interesting observation. Is the print bigger in the chunkier book? I find I’m at that age when one’s eyesight deteriorates and too small print is off-putting.

    I also wonder if it is to do with the modern attention span, if the words appear tightly packed on the page, does the modern reader think this looks like hard work? With a chunkier book with fewer words on the page, perhaps the reader will feel a greater sense of achievement by quickly turning over the more easily read pages?

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