I don’t know how I didn’t discover this until now but Stephen King released a second version of The Stand in 1990 that adds four-hundred pages of new content! That’s right, he added back ~80,000 words that had been cut from a book that is already the longest piece of pop fiction most people will ever read. Interestingly enough, he says in the preface that the pages were cut for cost, not editorial, purposes. The accountants literally weighed the thing and decided how much they could afford to produce for the price they could charge.
Normally, I don’t look at book length as a warning sign. There’s no hard and fast number of pages that indicates when a writer is suffering from diarrhea of the fingertips, obviously, because a story needs to be exactly as long as it needs to be. Saying that I Am Legend is better written than The Cryptonomicon simply because the latter is four times the length of the former would be a hilariously stupid way to make a determination of quality. On the other hand, I have this feeling that the popular fiction industry, in both book and film form, has been steadily adding size to its products since the 1990s in a misguided effort to give consumers a feeling they’re getting value for their money.
Take two John Irving novels by example: Last Night In Twisted River and Until I Find You. I’m a big John Irving fan so, yes, I’ve read every novel he’s ever written and these two represent my favorite and my least favorite among his works (Yes, including Garp). At 600 pages, Twisted River is 250 pages shorter than Until I Find You. Is that the reason it’s better? No, of course not. Every page of Twisted River, every scrap of plot, every piece of character development is necessary to make the story complete. And, remember, at 600 pages, this is not a short book. And the problem with Until I Find You isn’t that it’s 850 pages long, it’s that every scrap of plot is not necessary to tell the story. As a matter of fact, I often found myself editing the story in my mind as I made my way through it. And I had the time to focus on editing out scenes in the book because the narrative was meandering and unfocused.
That brings me back to how I feel about the 400 pages returned to The Stand. I’m excited. I loved The Stand when I read it back in the early 80s, although I do remember being put off by its size at first. I would walk by the bookstore in the mall and there would be this huge hardcover book with the most awesome cover I had ever seen – a couple of characters lifted from Hieronymus Bosch representing the struggle between good and evil – written by an author I had discovered only a few years before when I first read The Shining. But it was looooong. So I basically read everything else by King I could get my hands on and then reluctantly circled back to The Stand.
Here’s what I learned reading that book: When you enjoy how a book is written, when you’re reading for the pure joy of reading rather than racing toward the end to find out what happens, the length doesn’t matter. Actually, in that situation, more is better. The Stand was one of those rare books that I dreaded being done with. Now it’s been over three decades since I read it last and I have a chance to read it again with 400 lost pages returned to the mix. That’s an exciting proposition.
It also helps that these are pages that were there originally there and have been added back by the author to correct accounting based editorial decisions. These aren’t George Lucas style “improvements” stapled awkwardly on after the fact. And I have faith from the quality of what I read in the book the first time that the new pages will only enhance the story.