Sitting on my bookshelf right now is Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, The Luminaries (832 pages), and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (771 pages). I decided to start with Tartt’s book, as it is shorter and Catton’s book is a historical novel, which I am not as fond of as other genres. I’m guessing it will take me at least 3 weeks to read The Goldfinch, maybe more, mainly because it’s too heavy to carry on the subway. If I had bought the e-version this would not be an issue, but I like to collect first editions and this one felt worth adding to my collection.
Earlier this month, Garth Risk Hallberg sold his 900-page debut novel for $2 million in a bidding war. The book has also been optioned as a film.
It is exciting to see this spurt of big books being published, but given the sad state of the US publishing world, I wonder how many people will actually read Hallberg’s book. Some journalists are postulating that big books are the antidote to Twitter, that there is a new satisfaction in reading something that takes longer than 24 hours to finish, but I’m not sure I agree.
Clearly there is a pride in reading a big book, but how many of you are willing to sit down with a novel over 700 pages? Or a debut novel, with an author you don’t know much about, and read 900 pages?
I went back though my reading history and identified the “big books” I have read over the years. The first one was Moby Dick (544 pages), which I had to read in high school. After college, I read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (770 pages) while living and working as an English teacher in Slovakia. One of the pleasures of that read was that I lived alone and didn’t have much of a social life, so I was able to read for very long stretches. In my twenties a book club I was in took on Ulysses, but it tore apart the group, with most of us (myself included), struggling with the book to the chagrin of the two who enjoyed it. Most recently I read Bolaño’s, 2666 (898 pages). I loved that book, but remember that I had to intentionally set aside time to read it, and only took it on after two friends told me how much they liked it.
I’m all for publishing big books, and keeping this literary tradition alive, but I wonder how many people are reading these big books and not just talking or tweeting about them….So, I’m curious, what is the last book over 700 pages you all have read and when? And if you haven’t taken on a tome recently, why not? Please leave a comment.
Happy Thanksgiving — to a weekend full of reading!