Reading Long Books

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This seems to be the summer of long books for me. Or a year, maybe. It started early this year when I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Then, I read The Decameron by Giovanni Boccacio and The Once and Future King by T.H. White in June, and now I’ve finished Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.  All of these are close to, or above 700 pages long. It made me think about long books in general and I felt they deserve a post of their own.

Long books demand a certain level of commitment, and that’s why they are often put aside – it’s what happened to me with The Portrait of a Lady. It’s also easier to find a reason to stop reading a long book if you don’t like it right at the beginning – it’s long, you don’t have the time to waste on it. But sometimes, you read a long book in a heartbeat, without event noticing its length. This happened to me with The Once and Future King and The Decameron. I can’t really say which one I liked more because they are completely different and from a different time period. The Decameron is in a way a collection of short stories so the reading experience is a bit different from reading a novel. I loved it for what it is – a view into the medieval world. I loved The Once and Future King for what it was as well, and I’ve already talked a lot about it. (Review 1Review 2) Now, the other two books are another story.

I must admit, and it saddens me to do it, that I didn’t really enjoy Wolf Hall. I was certain I was going to love it, but it left me disappointed. I felt its length while I was reading it and towards the end I just wanted it finished. The style didn’t suit me. I mostly don’t have a problem with slower reads (I remember when I read Murakami’s 1Q84 – another long book – and was surprised to learn that a lot of people found it slow because I read it quite quickly and thoroughly enjoyed it) but I just couldn’t get into this book. I felt detached from the character(s) and from the story itself. A similar thing happened with The Portrait of a Lady, though I liked it much more than Wolf Hall. In this case, I could relate to the characters. It kept me interested, but at points the descriptive style was too overbearing. I know, the Victorian style is like that, but I’ve read a lot of Victorian novels and I didn’t find them as slow as this one; some of them even made me cry which is not that easy to achieve. It’s an interesting portrayal of human psyche and I appreciate it for that, but it didn’t completely suit me. Why? It’s hard to say, and it’s a question that is almost impossible to answer. It’s hard to explain exactly why something “works” for you. The story isn’t enough, it has to be presented in a way that captures you. And sometimes, I think it’s important to read a book at a right time, a period in your life when it can speak to you best. In a way, you have to find a piece of you in the book you’re reading, even if you didn’t know that piece existed at all – be it your feelings, your interests, experiences you had or the ones you wish for, or even your fears. There’s certainly more to consider, but the truth is – once everything aligns, the number of pages doesn’t matter at all.

What is it that makes a book drag you into a completely different world and forget about the time spent reading it? Well, if any of you have some answers, I’d be glad to hear them.

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5 thoughts on “Reading Long Books

  1. Many of my favorite novels are short. I think this is especially true of books that emphasize style and artifice (books like AS I LAY DYING and THE GREAT GATSBY, OF MICE AND MEN, WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS, or THE BELL JAR). But there are some long novels that I go back to like ANNA KARENINA and MOBY DICK. For the most part, I think I agree that long books are definitely not automatically better than short ones and often long books are a challenge for the writer. If there is not enough story to justify a tome-length, then style and verve alone cannot carry the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment! 🙂 I agree, the length of the book doesn’t necessarily mean quality or more imagination. Everythin has good and bad sides but a good novel is a good novel no matter the length. Anna Karenina is a great long book, I really like it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love long books, but they have to be well-written AND generally in a genre that excites me. I might stick with an okay book for 250 pages, but if I’m going to commit to 400 pages or a series (1200 pages) it has to be my version of great!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true. And that’s why I prefer standalones – I’m afraid I might get disappointed as the series progresses. (I have the same problem with TV series, even more than with books – they go on and on and lose focus.) But, of course, there are great series out there as well. There really are no rules. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wolf Hall wasn’t something that impressed me either, I tried to appreciate it but just didn’t see what all the hype was about, whereas War and Peace was magnificent and I really enjoyed it, less so the war bit which didn’t have the impact that I expected it would. I don’t think there is an answer to your question, it is an enigma up there with why does somebody only want my attention when I’m settling in to read?

    Liked by 1 person

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