On Reading Long Books

Paris, MontmartreIn 6th grade, there was one kid in our class who spent the entire year reading the newest Harry Potter book.  The book was one of the super long ones from when the series was popular enough to warrant people lining up at midnight to buy the new book and stay up all night (and day. and night again.) to finish it. I don’t know if this kid did that, but he did little else besides read the book that year.  During math class, it was under his desk.  He placed is firmly on top of his notebook in Language Arts.  Curiously, teachers never got upset.  One afternoon in March, he stood up in the middle of a spanish lesson and proudly proclaimed ‘I finished it!’

After finishing Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann, I felt like standing up and letting the world know that I finally finished the 600 page book nearly a month after I began.  My mother recommended the book to me back when I started university because it had just come out and someone mentioned it to her, in passing no doubt.  I saw it was available to borrow on the library and I took it out, the length irrelevant as I didn’t have to lug the book around.  Except for the mental baggage the story would soon occupy in my mind.

Bookbinder in Skansen

I’m sure whether I enjoyed or despaired for Anthropology of an American Girl.  The story engaging at first.  The overwrought descriptions were vaguely touching and the characters interesting.  Then they stalled.  There were hints of character and plot development.  Soon, however, the early characters disappeared completely as if they were introduced to add an extra hundred pages and give the reader a good arm workout.  After the first two parts, the plot made a 180 degree turn.  It was two books taped together, the prequel and the sequel in one hefty volume.

Reading Anthropology of an American Girl made me reflect on how I’ve grown scared of longer books at university.  Not because lugging around various canticles of the Divine Comedy has permanently ruined my shoulders — though I do fear some lasting damage — but because diminished reading time makes finishing a book more satisfying than enjoying the plot.  Averaging two books per month is only possible when the books weigh in at a respectable three or four hundred pages.

Yet I’m missing out on so much! What about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt?  Or perhaps American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld?  The library’s admittedly sparse e-book collection is not my only limitation in book selection.  The mental space a book occupies guides me to and away from certain stories.  I don’t want to spend the year engaging with one world, I want to dip my toes into a variety of them, enjoying the process and having fun hanging out with and meeting new friends characters.

I read Anthropology of an American Girl but, unfortunately, it’s not the story that will stay with me, it’s how gosh-darn long it took to tell the story.  Though, I must say, it appears that I’m not alone.

But hey, I finished it!!

Do you enjoy reading long books?  Or do you prefer books that take less time to read?


2 thoughts on “On Reading Long Books

  1. craftymemories

    I don’t like books that drag on forever. Yes, while it’s great to paint a vivid picture of characters and setting, but when the plots don’t tie in together, I’m like “what’s the point of that chapter again?”. I stopped reading leisurely at Uni because there was just too much to research and I simply didn’t have time. But now, I’ve set myself a goal to read one book a month. They’re usually 300-450pages long but as long as there’s a good plot, I’d enjoy them.

  2. emilygotta

    Don’t ever read Henry James!

    I have definitely felt the same when it comes to longer books and do find myself getting irritated when I feel it all could have been said in fewer words. I’m still somewhat tempted by The Goldfinch, but we’ll see.


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