On reading REALLY BIG BOOKS

A lot of my most memorable reading experiences have been really big, heavy, just plain super long books. For example Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Infinite Jest, The Power Broker, A Pattern Language — all multi-month reads but IMO worth it.

Probably in large part because I’m more likely to think twice before starting such a lengthy reading endeavor, and also more likely to abandon part-way through if it turns into a slog (sorry Bleak House!) pretty much all the 1,000+ page books I can recall reading have been great.

Curious what your favorite long reads (ha no not a magazine piece that takes an hour to read; maybe we need a new term…mega-scripts? thunder-tomes?) have been! What should I tackle next?

Moby Dick is def my fav long book, by the end I wanted it to keep going. It’s funny because not that much happens in the grand scheme of things, its length comes from Melville doing endless tangential digressions into whale lore. A++ would recommend

Anna Karenina is also fantastic, in contrast its length is used to discuss all the characters’ lives over a long period of time. Once it’s done you feel like you really know everyone. So much satisfying character development.

I also like long books just because it takes so long to read them that they become like a reliable friend who’s always there for you. It’s nice to know that when things go haywire irl, the long book will still be waiting for you as a steady and peaceful little world to escape back into.

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Yesss. Those parts are SO GOOD. I feel like it’s kind of a trope for people to complain about the weird digressions but as long as you’re in the mindset of, like, savoring beautiful and often hilarious language and insights, and not jonesing for cliffhangers, those parts are to be savored for sure.

Great point. Yeah if you’re consistently reading a really good book like a chapter or two a day for weeks / months it becomes kind of like furniture for the mind (a phrase that seems familiar though I can’t think where it comes from) — a sort of background presence that may subtly filter how you perceive or think about things, for the duration of that reading experience or perhaps lingering even longer.

Also makes me think of spaced repetition…reading long books probably lodges them more deeply in your memory kind of by accident, just by virtue of the recurring (and greater total) exposure. Maybe we can also think of a book you’re currently reading as being kind of loaded up in RAM — not necessarily in active use, but present, its world or way of seeing / thinking available to you for a time.

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As a teenager I used to be able to read long multi book fantasy novels, and I read through them so fast! I think part of that was having more free time and they are easy to read.

I started Ulysses last year and got 3/4 through, want to finish but just have some more time sensitive reads that need attention. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been picking up mostly short stuff lately bc I know I can get through more reads quicker. Although I did spend a year doing longer reads Stalin’s Daughter/Purity/Years of Rice & Salt/a fantasy book. I think to get me through a long read it has to be really plot driven or just interesting info.

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My mother described “War and Peace” as “a room that you can step into”. I think that’s a good description of the book itself, and the experience of reading a really big book.

I suppose that could be true of a series as well.

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+1 for Anna Karenina - didn’t feel like a big book at all (except for the 100+ pages about Russian farming in the middle…) Great book tho.

I cannot recommend Godel, Escher, Bach highly enough. Literally changed my life. It’s a beast though and rewards reading in the style of at text book with exercises and worksheets

(also - THUNDER-TOMES !?!)

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@spike LOVE that. Yeah, long books feel like locations! That’s what they call world-building, I guess. Come to think of it, TV shows can feel like that too, if they run over a long period of time.

@saraha I’ve always wanted to read Ulysses. I tried but didn’t get past the first few chapters. I feel like I have to train for it by first reading all the books it alludes to, haha.

@tomcritchlow I loved the farming sections the most! Learned so much about how to manage an estate. Plus great nature descriptions. To each their own :smile:

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This one has been on my list for quite a while; I read the first few chapters but haven’t gotten through it. Seems like an ideal one to spin up a lil reading group…may have to give that a shot here at some point!

Should I use this in a blog post title? :rofl:

Is this kind of like the whale taxonomy sections (etc.) in Moby Dick? Speaking of very long books that include description of things that could sound dry but are actually fascinating…this one is also on my list!

I feel like McPhee is a master of elevating the mundane through a combo of being extremely perceptive, approaching a subject generously, and writing really really well.

I’m re-reading “Les Misérables”, and it definitely feels like a room that you can step into - I love the digressions on what was the fashion in Paris at the time, and the author’s thoughts on the revolution. I remember skipping these parts 20 years ago, and I’m really enjoying them now. Also, Paris hasn’t changed that much since Hugo’s time, so whenever I can I go walk by the streets mentionned in the book and I find it extremely cool to be where those fictional events would have taken place

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The biggest “book” I read was all seven volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in college (with a class, which believe me really helped). Because it’s such a project, and because we only had a semester to do it so we had to read a lot, every day, it started to change how I saw the world. I would “think” in similar ways as the books. I noticed similar things. I became very aware of how my thoughts were just long run-on sentences; In Search of Lost Time is famous for having sentences that go on for multiple pages, which is difficult at first but eventually you realize it’s much more natural (same could be said about Ulysses’s last chapter which similarly has no punctuation).

If I had read it alone, I think it would’ve been much more difficult. But reading with a small class and a professor who really knew Proust, I was able to appreciate finer details and untangle the meanings behind key scenes. I’ve never picked it back up since college, but I think I will again. If it’s a room I can step into it, it would certainly be a dark one: it would take some time for my eyes to adjust but eventually I’ll be able to find my way around.

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