Barbra Streisand's memoir, My Name is Barbra, had a hefty 970-page count. It became newsworthy for its length. While some might baulk at the sheer volume, this begs a question. How does Streisand's tome compare to other celebrity memoirs? And what are the merits of such extensive works?

How long is a memoir?

On average, a memoir is up to 400 pages long. Around the same as the typical novel. This is generally agreed to be the sweet spot. It keeps readers engaged but it’s long enough to offer depth.

While Streisand's memoir may seem daunting, it's far from an anomaly. Quincy Jones reigns supreme in the realm of lengthy celebrity memoirs with his 1,536-page Q: The Autobiography. It delves into his eight decades of shaping the music industry. That's nearly double the length of Leo Tolstoy's epic masterpiece, War and Peace (864 pages). 

Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices (956 pages) offers a detailed account of her political journey. It’s comparable in size to Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (969 pages).

The merits of a lengthy memoir

Fans of longer memoirs could argue that the additional space allows for a more nuanced portrayal of a life. For instance, Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence (832 pages) delves into his pivotal role as Federal Reserve Chairman and also explores his reflections. This gives a more detailed picture of his experience. 

Similarly, Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom (768 pages) allows him to chronicle the complexities and struggles of his life fighting against apartheid. This provides a profound and detailed account. These extended narratives can offer readers a deeper insight into the person's motivations, experiences and the broader context shaping their life.

Shorter works can deliver powerful messages and captivating stories. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (180 pages) demonstrates that conciseness can enhance the impact of a narrative. It masterfully portrays the complexities of the American Dream and its tragic consequences. Ultimately, the value of a book, regardless of its length, lies in its ability to engage, inform, and evoke emotions in the reader.

Reviews and reader expectations

Reviews of the book suggest that Streisand delves into her personal and professional life with remarkable detail. She addresses rumours and offers candid insights into her journey as an artist and activist.

The Guardian reported that throughout the book “we are shown graft, intelligence, a winning, rare curiosity”. In this case, the page count doesn’t tire the reader. 

Some might be drawn to the promise of a complete and intimate portrait of Streisand. Others might prefer a more concise account. Ultimately, it adds another chapter to the diverse genre of celebrity memoirs. It offers readers a chance to delve deeper into the life and story of a cultural icon.

Barbra Streisand's My Name is Barbra joined the ranks of lengthy celebrity memoirs. It sparked a conversation about the merits and potential pitfalls of such extensive works. 

How to write a long work that’s still readable

Conquering a book is an accomplishment. Ensuring it's engaging and accessible requires strategic planning. Here are some key points:

  • Structure and pacing. Break the content into manageable sections with clear chapter divisions, subheadings, or even internal summaries. Vary the sentence structure and paragraph length to avoid monotony.
    Improve your readability in 60 seconds
  • Clarity and concision. Use clear and concise language, avoiding unnecessary jargon or overly complex sentence structures. Aim for an active voice to maintain reader flow.
    How to correct wordiness
  • Engagement strategies. Use anecdotes, humour, and vivid descriptions to bring the narrative to life. Consider fusing dialogue, flashbacks, or even internal monologues. This keeps the reader actively involved.
    How our tone analysis can help engagement
  • Readability enhancements. Utilise formatting features like bolded text, italics, and bullet points to highlight key points. Offer visual aids like maps, charts, or illustrations to break up text and provide additional context.
    Readability in visual text design

By implementing these strategies, you can ensure that your long book remains an enjoyable and rewarding journey for your readers.

Laura Kelly

Laura is a freelance writer and worked at Readable for a number of years. Laura is well-versed in optimising content for readability and Readable's suite of tools. She aims to write guides that help you make the most out of Readable.