Bad Economy Good For Long Novels?

Consumers prefer longer works of fiction during economic downturns, suggesting a literary parallel to the 'Hemline Index."
By: Mark Leach
Oct. 19, 2008 - PRLog -- When the economy takes a turn for the worse, cultural tastes can reflect the downturn in surprising ways.

For instance, we like things longer. Economists have long known that skirts get longer in bad economic times (the so-called “Hemline Index”). Taller models and actresses become more popular, too. Even songs gets longer.

The Oct. 18 edition of “The New York Times” reports that Terry F. Pettijohn II, a professor of psychology at Coastal Carolina University, has found that during uncertain times people tend to prefer songs that are longer and slower, with more meaningful themes.

“It’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ and ‘That’s What Friends Are For,’ ” said Pettijohn, who studied Billboard No. 1 songs from 1955 to 2003.. “In better times, it’s more likely to be faster, upbeat songs like ‘At the Hop’ or ‘My Sharona.’ ”

Could an economic downturn also nudge consumers to prefer longer works of fiction? The anecdotal evidence is compelling.

* Waco novelist Madison Cooper made news in 1952 when “Time” magazine declared his 1.1-million-word “Sironia, Texas” to be "the longest novel by an American writer ever to be published." In other news in 1952, the Federal Reserve changed monetary policy to be more restrictive in response to a post-Korean War inflationary period. The economy soon slipped into a recession.

* The 565,000-word “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand was published during the Recession of 1957.

* In 1973, a quadrupling of oil prices by OPEC coupled with high government spending due to the Vietnam War lead to stagflation in the United States. That economic crisis was still going strong when the 850,000-word “Poor Fellow My Country” by Xavier Herbert hit the market in 1975.

* Vikram Seth’s 591,000-word “A Suitable Boy” arrived in bookstores in 1993, when the economy was continuing to struggle from a decrease in industrial production and manufacturing-trade sales that had begun in early 1991.

Perhaps soon we’ll see a college professor or other researcher announce a literary parallel to the Hemline Index. Mark Leach, author of "Marienbad My Love," the world's longest novel, suggests the creation of “The Marienbad My Love Index.”

"A 17-million-word novel may be just what consumers want in a down market," he said.

Consider this recent item posted at the web site of “The Washington Post”:

Some Suggestions for Unemployment Line Reading Should Obama/Biden (what's a 3 letter word starting with J? J-O-B-S!) get Elected-
Book Title Author # of Words Language Volumes
1 Marienbad My Love Mark Leach 17 million English
2 The Blah Story Nigel Tomm 11.3 million English 23
3 The Story of the Vivian Girls Henry Darger 9 million English 10
4 Artamene Madeleine and Georges de Scudéry 2.1 million French
5 Knickers Simon Roberts 2 million English
6 À la recherche du temps perdu Marcel Proust 1.5 million French 13
7 Mission Earth L. Ron Hubbard 1.2 million English 10
8 Sironia, Texas Madison Cooper 1.1 million English 2
9 A Dance to the Music of Time Anthony Powell more than 1 million English 12
10 Clarissa Samuel Richardson 969,000 English 9

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"Marienbad My Love" by Mark Leach is a love story for the end of the world. The novel features a protagonist who attempts to film a science-fiction-themed pastiche to "Last Year at Marienbad." A free ebook download of "Marienbad My Love" is available at
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