Great American classic novels
Word count is one of those things new writers worry about but deny worrying about because we’re not supposed to be worrying about it. According to Wikipedia’s entry on word count, the typical word count of a novel is at least 80, 000 words. I’ve heard through the publishing world grapevine than most agents and editors will generally take a query for a first novel more seriously if the word count is between 80, 000 and 100, 000.
Instead of sleeping, I compiled in an Excel sheet novels I read growing up. They’re mostly classics because those are the only ones where word count is easily obtained. More contemporary fiction would require more digging. I wouldn’t say I personally love every one of these books, but I would regard them as classics, as great novels in themselves, even if the particular author wasn’t that impressive of a writer.
Author — Book Title — Word Count
(in case it wasn’t obvious)
|Alan Paton||Cry, the Beloved Country||83, 774|
|Alice Walker||The Color Purple||66, 556|
|Amy Tan||The Kitchen God’s Wife||159, 276|
|Joy Luck Club||91, 419|
|Ayn Rand||Atlas Shrugged||561, 996|
|The Fountainhead||311, 596|
|Betty Smith||A Tree Grows in Brooklyn||145, 092|
|Charles Dickens||A Tale of Two Cities||135, 420|
|Daniel Defoe||Moll Flanders||138, 087|
|Emily Bronte||Wuthering Heights||107, 945|
|Erich Remarque||All Quiet on the Western Front||61, 922|
|Ernest Hemingway||The Sun Also Rises||67, 707|
|Frank Norris||McTeague||112, 737|
|Fyodor Dostoyevsky||Crime and Punishment||211, 591|
|George Eliot||Middlemarch||316, 059|
|George Orwell||Nineteen Eighty-Four||88, 942|
|Harper Lee||To Kill A Mockingbird||99, 121|
|Harriet Beecher Stowe||Uncle Tom’s Cabin||166, 622|
|Henry David Thoreau||Walden||114, 634|
|Honore de Balzac||Pere Goriot||87, 846|
|J.D. Salinger||The Catcher in the Rye||73, 404|
|James Fenimore Cooper||Last of the Mohicans||145, 469|
|Jane Austen||Persuasion||87, 978|
|John Knowles||A Separate Peace||56, 787|
|John Steinback||The Grapes of Wrath||169, 481|
|East of Eden||225, 395|
|Joseph Heller||Catch-22||174, 269|
|Kurt Vonnegut||Slaughterhouse-Five||49, 459|
|Welcome to the Monkey House||99, 560|
|Leo Tolstoy||War and Peace||587, 287|
|Margaret Atwood||Alias Grace||157, 665|
|Mark Twain||The Adventures of Huck Finn||109, 571|
|Life on the Mississippi||127, 776|
|Maxine Hong Kingston||Woman Warrior||70, 957|
|Milan Kundera||The Unbearable Lightness of Being||85, 199|
|Nathaniel Hawthorne||The Scarlet Letter||63, 604|
|Oscar Wilde||The Picture of Dorian Gray||78, 462|
|Ray Bradbury||Fahrenheit 451||46, 118|
|The Martian Chronicles||64, 768|
|Toni Morrison||Song of Solomon||92, 400|
|Virginia Woolf||Mrs. Dalloway||63, 422|
|William Faulkner||As I Lay Dying||56, 695|
|William Golding||Lord of the Flies||59, 900|
Average word count of the Great Novels is 136, 604 words. That’s like the literary institution’s recommended word count for first novels plus a long novella! But the arithmetic mean isn’t very helpful here because we’ve got some doozies on this list.
Median word count is 99, 341 words. That’s longer than Wikipedia’s estimation of the typical novel length, but just about right as a target word count for budding novel writers.
Longest novel on the list is Tolstoy’s War and Peace (surprise, surprise) at 587, 287 words. Note that Ayn Rand’s cult classic Atlas Shrugged isn’t that far behind, at 561, 996 words.
Shortest novel on the list is Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, one of my personal favorites, at 46, 118 words. Most of Hemingway’s novels make pretty slim books too.
Word count on the Bible, Old and New combined: 774, 776 words according to Source A and 788, 280 words in the King James according to Source B. But the Bible’s word count isn’t relevant here because first of all, it’s not by one author unless you want to go there with me and say it’s God and in that case, well, it’s God, so yeah.
Then again, considering the oeuvres of certain writers, like John Steinbeck, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, and even Amy Tan, they’ve already written way more than 700, 000-ish words.
Need A Life:
I can’t believe I just sat here and compiled that list. By the way, I came up with each book off the top of my head, either by author name or by title. I wrecked my brains from the excursion. I need to go do something like shop for shoes or eat ice cream now…. Ugh.
Word count on past PEN/Faulkner Award winners:
|Chabon, Michael||The Amazing Adventures…||216, 020|
|Banks, Russell||Cloudsplitter||260, 742|
|Franzen, Jonathan||The Corrections||196, 774|
|Cooper, Susan||The Dark Is Rising||82, 143|
|Danticat, Edwidge||The Dew Breaker||60, 082|
|Phillips, Caryl||A Distant Shore||103, 090|
|Packer, ZZ||Drinking Coffee Elsewhere||68, 410|
|Robinson, Marilynne||Gilead||84, 845|
|Cunningham, Michael||The Hours||54, 243|
|Kennedy, William||Ironweed||67, 606|
|McMurtry, Larry||Lonesome Dove||365, 712|
|Kingsolver, Barbara||The Poisonwood Bible||177, 679|
|Guterson, David||Snow Falling on Cedars||138, 098|
|Hegi, Ursula||Stones from the River||197, 517|
|Canales, Viola||The Tequila Worm||42, 715|
|Jin, Ha||Waiting||89, 297|