Can You Dip In & Out of Long Books, Or Will You Lose The Plot?

I have a funny relationship with books over 500, possibly 450, pages long. If they are done well there is nothing better than being immersed in a fictional world for hours and hours. However there are two flaws with long books, one is the fact that they can take forever to get into (yet the build up is worth the wait on the whole) and also there is the fact that when I first pick up a monster of a book I can’t help but think ‘how many smaller books could I read instead?’*

That raises the question that I want to ask all of you. Can you dip in and out of a massive book, or will you lose the plot and therefore resent the next several hundred, possibly a thousand (though I don’t think I have ever read a book that big oddly), pages or more you have ahead?

I am asking this because there are two books I am contemplating reading at the moment that fit the bill. The first is Ford Maddox Ford’s ‘Parades End’; this arrived in the post the other week to coincide with the new BBC adaptation and has tempted me. I was wondering if it also might be an idea to watch the show and then read that much of the book, or vice versa. Or could that kill it all the more? The second in Stephen King’s ’11.22.63’ which a Liverpool Book Group has asked me to join reading with them by the end of September.

Obviously I wouldn’t dip into them both at the same time but if I choose one would it work? At the moment this would be most practical as I still have rather a lot of Green Carnation submissions to be getting on with, but once that is done I am wondering, if it worked, if it could be a new way of me getting through those bigger books, and maybe even some classics like Dickens? I know it is working for Dovegreyreader’s Team Middlemarch with George Elliott. What do you think?

*There are of course exceptions, generally any ‘sensation’ novel of 450+ pages I can read without even a thought, as autumn appears on the horizon I am wondering if it is time to dig some out maybe.

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35 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

35 responses to “Can You Dip In & Out of Long Books, Or Will You Lose The Plot?

  1. rosario001

    I always have at least two very different books on the go. I firmly believe I enjoy books more if I read them shortish (say, half an hour or so) periods at a time and then refresh my mind with something completely different. I find that especially good with long books. In fact, at the moment I’m alternating Wolf Hall and the Stephen King!

    BTW, the good news is the Stephen King gets going pretty much straight away!

    • Well as you know I had to sadly write off the Stephen King, for now at least.

      I am always baffled by the idea of reading several books at one time, and indeed used to be strongly opposed to it, now however it seems to just be the way I read. Lots of very different books on the go at once.

  2. I just had that problem with a Kate Morton book, thinking of both your questions. This time I ended up sticking to the one book until finished, but generally I’ll keep another book on hand when reading a long one. And I’m always factoring in how many other books could be read instead, there are just so many books I want to read that to not think like that would be impossible. However if that long book was on the list too, you have to concede that you’d have to read it sometime. I do tend to forget the plot if I read a book over a long period of time.

    As you’re thinking of reading only one, I’d say that sounds the best option for now. Two might make for a bogged down feeling.

    • Well since I wrote this post the shocking thing is that I am now reading about five different books… yet oddly, its working!!

      I tried one Kate Morton book, she isn’t for me, it was alright I just forgot it very quickly. It was her first though so she may have gotten much better.

  3. David

    Hmm… generally I prefer not to dip in and out of any novel. If I have more than one on the go inevitably one will hold my interest more and the other will get sidelined. However, I do know what you mean about long books and resenting the amount of time they eat up, especially if they are leisurely paced. Actually, pace is the key concern for me before embarking on a ‘tome’ – is it going to be like John Lanchester’s ‘Capital’ whose 577 pages I whipped through in three days, or is it going to be like Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ whose 1349 pages took me three months to read? Of course, one of those two books is pretty forgettable, the other is a masterpiece of modern literature, but still, I did sort of resent those three months spent on it. As a result I do tend (unless I’m familiar with the author’s work already) to put off reading those 500+ page books. But when I do read them and immerse myself in their large casts of characters and multiple storylines I usually love them.
    But, back to dipping – when I was at university and would spend a couple of hours travelling each day I would often have one book for the bus and one for home. My bag was heavy enough with stuff (sketchbooks, library books, paints, lunch, hairdryer…) without lugging around a tome and so for the bus I’d often have a thin paperback while at home I’d have something weightier on the go. I remember at one point my ‘home’ book being William Riviere’s excellent ‘Echoes of War’ which is a fairly hefty 634 page novel (and highly recommended), but much as I was enjoying it by the time I got home I was too tired to read much and I ended up just dipping in and out of it, reading it a few pages at a time, and it definitely suffered – I’d lose track of who characters were and what had happened 200 pages back.

    PS: the hairdryer was for drying paint with!

    • That is a really interesting point that you make there with the comparison of Capital and Vikram Seth and one being a much longer read (the idea of three months to read one book petrifies me) and all the more rewarding really interesting. Food for thought indeed, and I have always wanted to read one of Vikram Seths books. I shall have to give him a whirl.

  4. I think it can be done, but pace is important. I joined the Team Middlemarch readalong because of one of the issues you mentioned: being able to work in other smaller books at the same time. However, I had trouble working out a rhythm that kept me connected to the story. I turned out the reading schedule was too slow for me. I picked up the pace and set my own goals (“read 100 pages by next Friday,” that kind of thing). I was able to make steady progress while also enjoying other books.

    Good luck!

    • Ahhhh interesting thoughts there Laura on the read-a-long of Middlemarch. I had tried to join in with Ulysses on DGR before and the pacing was a problem, I wanted to be ahead of where I was an then just ended up getting confused. So I stopped. It clearly works for lots of people though so I am not slating it.

      Interestingly I will be reading Middlemarch in the not too distant future as part of Classically Challenged but myself and AJ agreed that we can have a deadline to complete each of the books but how we read them is up to us pace wise. Currently I am trying to read Jane Austen rather quickly.

  5. adele geras

    I never dip in and out but stay the course however long and don’t read anything else as well. But in the case of Parade’s End it’s four novels so you have some natural breaks. I’m watching the programme. Then might tackle FIRST Of the novels and see how I like it. Problem is: they’re published together in a bunch. I read three Mapp and Lucia books one after another in one volume and will do the same for the last three…but that’s no hardship and I have no probs with lengthy books but I am a very quick reader!

    • Oh thanks for telling me that Adele, that gives me a little more hope with Parades End. Though that said since I posted this, sorry for the delay in responding things have been rather a rollercoaster of late, I have gone off reading it. Have some other big classics on the horizon though.

  6. I only ever read one book at a time, so the length really doesn’t matter that much-it’s just my goodreads annual counter increases faster when I read shorter books! I tend to alternate heavy and light books though.

  7. I find myself getting muddled if I read more than one novel at a time. However, I frequently have a volume of short stories on the go that I pick up if I need a break from the novel I’m reading or if I need a smaller size book to travel with.

  8. I find it’s much easier to dip in and out of older books. I think this is because they were basically written to be read in installments in the first place, so the author is usually careful to remind the readers of past events when needed. Dickens is very good at this.

    I usually have multiple books going at once. I switch between them until one or the other seizes my attention, then I’ll read that one through to the end.

    I think it’s like watching television has become. These days, television shows have plot arcs that go on for the entire series, sometimes longer, and we all manage to keep track of many different ones at once.

    • Interesting thoughts there with the television analogy, I think you are right. Plus I have my reading thoughts notebooks so I can always try and keep up with what I am reading when and how far I got through those.

  9. I don’t read as many huge tomes these days as I may have done once, although I don’t know why that is – as I can read fairly quickly. When I have a large book (over 500 pages) I tend to leave it for when I have some days off work so I can really get going with it. I generally only have one book on the go at a time, so therefore I don’t lose my way anyway. I have heard Parade’s End is pretty hard going – look forward to hearing what you think of it.

    • Oooh Ali you have hit the nail on the head there. Sometimes with these blinking big books you really have to get into them and as you say that can actually take quite a lot of time. Good point! I hadn’t thought of that and you are spot on.

      I am not reading Parade’s End after all, oops.

  10. 11/22/63, although quite a chunkster of a book, is quite a quick read. It’s one of Stephen King’s best and the time travel is absolutely engaging. I don’t normally read books that thick very quickly but I finished 11/22/63 within a few days. I’d highly recommend it as the one to read over Parade’s End.

    • This was a title that the Liverpool Book Club I was hoping to join, maybe next year, were reading and so I bought it but just didn’t have the time. I still have a copy though, so may get to it eventually.

  11. Normally I wouldn’t dip in-and-out (and I didn’t for 1Q84 or Middlemarch for example) but some long books I have found more difficult to read exclusively, a good example of the latter would be Mann’s Dr Faustus.

    • I have to read 1Q84, that said though it is really several books isn’t it? Middlemarch I will have to give a whirl in one go but knowing me it will have to be broken up, I am hoping that won’t take anything away from it though.

  12. I hate to dip in and out because I lose the plot (ha!) and this spoils the reading enjoyment for me. Having said that, this is becoming a bit of an issue with me as I find I’m avoiding longer books as I think I won’t get through them. Perhaps someone has some suggestions as to how to get back into larger works!?

  13. gaskella

    As a rule, I read straight through. But if a chunkster falls into convenient sections I may split the read. I just received a copy of James Herbert’s new one – 700 pages, but I know I’ll read it quickly, as I do with Stephen King.

  14. Well Parade’s End is disjointed enough that you can’t hold the plot even if you don’t stop reading it.

  15. Pingback: Long Books and Short Stories «

  16. The only time I go back and forth between books is if I’m reading something dense like Dickens (but you wouldn’t know about that, would you? :) and feel like I need to temper it with something lighter. Even then, I make sure to read a little of both each day or else I’ll lose the thread.

    I just read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (just under 1000 pages) and although I have several other books I need to read right away for book groups, I just soldiered through it. I was afraid to put and down and get distracted with something else and be unable to get back into it.

    • I will know about the joys, or not, of Dickens soon enough though so nurr! Hahahaha. Reading a bit of both daily is a good idea.

      Was Pillars of the Earth good as I did really fancy reading that for a while.

  17. I’m reading Parades End at the moment but I am treating it as four different books (in case I wanted to dip in and out again). However I found myself unable to dip into something else, Parades End is the best thing I have ever read. I have even stopped watching the TV show until I finish (and I’ll probably finish it tonight). You will not be able to put it down. It has broken and mended my heart all at once and as someone who dislikes war books it is a fascinating description of something so horrific – very much about the everyday mundanity of being a soldier and what they went through and then how they were perceived on their return. I could actually talk about Parades End forever.

    • Oooooh thats interesting Alice as I have put Parades End to one side but now you have said that you have loved it that much I am intrigued. Drats. Really though with Classically Challenged I think those will do as my big books, just in terms of brain power probably, for now, next year though…

  18. I agree that pace is the key with long books. From my knowledge of Ford Madox Ford, I would guess it’s not a straightforward read so it might not be easy to swap between it and other, shorter books.

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