Long-Form Nonfiction

Some would argue that we live at a time when reading books is passé. Books, they might suggest, are too long; no one has time to read all those pages. Magazines, hardcopy or preferably online, matter more. The articles are shorter; they come with pictures. They are a suitable format for these busy times.

If that proves true—and I for one, do not believe it—then what happens to all the content that would have been published in books? Is there a home for material that doesn’t fit in a couple of thousand words?

Yes, there is. Some of it gets published in a new format: long-form nonfiction.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, long-form nonfiction refers to essays that, as the name implies, are long—longer than typical 2,000 or 3,000 word magazine articles, but shorter than a book. Often based on in-depth reporting, this nonfiction is also longer than one might read in the middle of the work day, so better suited to reading in the evening or while commuting to that summer job. Long-form nonfiction readership developed online and more recently began to be published as ebooks. Having recently topped the two million sales mark, Amazon’s Kindle Singles have shown that there is a market for paid access to long-form nonfiction.

Now that we are between semesters, it seems like a wonderful time to dip into this genre. The latest issue of the New Yorker, dated May 21, 2012, contains Jeffrey Toobin’s Money Unlimited: How Justice John Roberts Orchestrated the Citizens United Decision, an article of particular interest to the legal community.
In more than 10,000 well-written words, Toobin explains how the Citizens United case, which came to the Court as a dispute regarding a small portion of the McCain-Feingold Act, turned into a decision that ended up being “a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues.”

The Justices requested a rehearing with argument on the broader set of Questions Presented and Toobin points out that that signaled how the Court would decide the case. As everyone today knows, the Court’s decision permitted unlimited corporate funding of elections. A subsequent decision in the D.C. Circuit opened the door to unlimited contributions to Super-PACS. And here we are today, with millions of dollars funding political campaigns.

For any reader interested in what happens behind the closed doors of the Court, Toobin’s essay will make fine reading.

So where might one find more long-form nonfiction? Stay tuned for part 2.

Carl Yirka