Those Blinking Big Books…

One of the books that I missed out from my earlier ‘February Incomings’ post (which if you don’t like seeing the latest loot arriving with bloggers – I do – you might want to avoid) was a book that I found when I was in hospital last week. I want to call it a book exchange but I think they leave off that title as it might infer that you simply cant wait to go back, which wouldn’t be true (and I am back in tomorrow) really even if the staff are lovely. Anyway I had to go and have a look, simply for it being a place where they have lots of books , and came away with one I would never have expected…

I have only read one of Henry James’ novels before and that was ‘The Turn of the Screw’ a book that I freely admit left me rather underwhelmed and didn’t have me rushing to read anymore of his works, especially as they are so blinking big. Well for some reason when I saw this copy of ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ I felt that I should have read it and as I hadn’t maybe it was time. The thing is big books tend to scare me off before I have even turned a page and yet I do feel that I am missing out on them.

There are several factors in my slight avoidance with bigger books. The first is that I look at them and think that I might get bored. I am not sure on which authority or previous reading experience this is based on but it seems that is the way my mind is programmed. I look at anything over 500 pages, occasionally anything over 400, and think ‘oh I bet I would get bored of that’. Maybe its time I put it to the test, I have spotted ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts on my relative’s shelves and hankered to read it. Something about the cover does that though I am not sure why.

The second factor, and probably the biggest, is that I always wonder how many smaller books I could read to every large tome. I know reading isn’t a race but I do like to feel like I am getting through Mount TBR even if I am adding to it all the time. Its also a case of time. I mean one massive book surrounded by work, trying to be sociable (not that its an effort) and other constraints mean I don’t have the effort or massive time that needs devoting to such a book. But then surely not all huge books need massive amounts of attention do they? Nor do small ones mean they don’t get any and I do believe I give all books the same detailed attention and thought regardless of length.

Maybe I am simply creating excuses? That could be the crux however thanks to The Green Carnation Prize it looks like I am about to have to gear myself up for a long read as one of the first submissions we have had (the publishers are onto the prize really early this year which is very exciting) almost broke the postman’s back…

In fact ‘Cedilla’ by Adam Mars Jones (which doesnt look huge in that picture, but note how the matress underneat is caving in) is the book I have decided I am going to crack on with next. I mean at the moment with all that’s going on and the fact I will be bedridden for a while really it’s the perfect time after all isn’t it? What are your thoughts on longer books, do they scare you or are you drawn to them and their promise of a whopping great story you can become completely lost in?

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Those Blinking Big Books…

  1. I know what you mean. I’m slowing working my way through Trisram Shandy, which is quite big and a classic. It may take most of the year. I need to finish it before Murakami’s new 1000 page book becomes available in the U.S. this October. I’m hoping someone will have a midnight release party I can go to somewhere. We could all dress up like our favorite Murakami characters.

    • I have to say I will be queueing up for the 1000+ pages of Murakami. I love the idea of dressing up as characters from them. I would want to freak people out and dress as the cat killer in Kafka on the Shore, he freaked me out in the book.

  2. Big books scare me too! Portrait of a Lady I have started four times and never managed to finish…hopefully you’ll have better luck! I find James’ writing incredibly long winded.

    Hope the hospital visits aren’t getting you too down. I’ve been thinking of you a lot and sending you every get well wish in the world. I bet you’re getting a lot of reading done, which is a silver lining…if you’ve never read the Anne of Green Gables series you should get them, they’re such a great comfort read and so uplifting. I am reading them at the moment and it’s like sinking into a big comfort blanket every time I open the pages!

    • I didnt have better luck, I had the theory of ‘no time like the present’ and gritted my teeth… just not for me at the moment I dont think.

      I havent read any of the Anne books, I shall look out for some.

  3. So glad someone else understands the avoidance of big books! I’m the same, for many of the same reasons.

  4. I tend to avoid big books, too. They seem like more work to me, and a book has to be really amazing to hold my attention for 900 pages. I get restless and tend to set them down and read something else that moves along more quickly. I have two large books sitting around at the moment, both of which I began but then set aside in favor of something else — The Kindly Ones and 2666. I set The Kindly Ones down two years ago, fully intending to pick it up and continue the next day, but I never did. I did something similar with 2666 last spring. I have been thinking I should pick them up and try again, but there’s always something else to read that seems more appealing at the time.

    • I have just given The Kindly Ones to my uncle as I didnt think I would get to it for ages and its so much more his cup of tea. I have, so far, never been that bothered about 2666 though I have seen lots and lots of people who have loved it.

  5. Annabel

    Their size can be intimidating and to accomodate this mentally, I do record the number of pages read alongside the number of books. Although quantity is no indicator of quality, it’s still harder to start reading chunksters for all those reasons you list too.

  6. I *used* to love big fat books. Mostly, it was because I have such a hard time committing to a book, that committing once to something fat meant I could relax into one book for a long time. That’s also why I rarely read short stories.

    But now? I’m skeptical of really fat books. It seems as though, the longer a book is, the more likely it is to sag somewhere. This seems especially true of genre fiction. Does a mystery really need to be 600 pages long? Elizabeth George, I’m looking at you.

    • Hahaha your directed comment made me laugh and I have never read any Elizabeth George. In fact I am not sure I have even heard of her.

      I think its the sagging that really bothers me to be honest. Yet I would love to be held by a book for 900 pages, I used to often be as a child, I dont know what changed.

  7. Personally, I love a big doorstop of a book as I can really sink my teeth into it and i know it’s got me when I dream that I’m living in the place where it is set (this has happened to me quite a few times regardless of the size of the book but I think if it IS a big book, then my mind dreams about it as it’s so used to going there on a daily basis!)

    What about short stories? What are people’s views on those? personally, I avoid them like the plague. The don’t len themselves to being dreamt about!

    • I would love, love, love it if a big book took over my head to the point that I was daydreaming about it. Can you recommend any in particular?

      I didnt used to like short stories, I really do now. I think the skill in writing them is incredible and they can be a perfect mini read on a mini trip somewhere.

  8. Sometimes I find long books intimidating, but some of my all-time favorites are very long, too, so I try not to be discouraged by them. I think I read a relatively large number of big books, but I make sure to read lots of short ones in before and after!

  9. I love big books! If they are done well, they have the most developed characters and the best plots. But then again, a big book that isn’t well done is a never-ending torture of sorts. I read fewer long books last year than ever before and it makes me a bit sad. I hope to at least get through a few epic stories this year.

    • The thing is… risk and weighing it up, you are right ‘done well, they have the most developed characters and the best plots. But then again, a big book that isn’t well done is a never-ending torture of sorts’ its just if you want to take the risk.

  10. I love the feeling of being engrossed in a big, long book but I don’t tend to read them so much at the moment, sadly. This is mostly because most of my reading takes place on the tube or the train, and anything over about 500 pages is just a bit too unwieldy for reading in those circumstances. I think I need a holiday so that I can read something longer without having to worry about wrist strain and/or knocking out a fellow commuter.

  11. Mary

    I read “Portrait of a Lady” many years ago, and found it very moving and sad. Henry James does write in rather a long-winded way, and according to E F Benson in his book “As We Were”, he was also extremely verbose in conversations too.

    Benson wrote that he was staying with Henry James once at Lamb House in Rye, and that while there, James spent some considerable time dictating a book in progress to his typist. Eventually one morning Henry James took him to one side and said:

    “An event has occured today’, he said, exactly as if he was still dictating, “which no doubt to you, fresh from your loud, your revrberating London, with its mosaic of multifarious movements and intenstive interests, might seem justly and reasonably enough to be scarcely perceptible in all that hum and hurry and hubbub, but to me here in little Rye, tranquil and isolated little Rye, a silted-up Cinque-port but now far from the sea and more readily accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians that to sea captians and smugglers; Rye, where, at the present moment, so happily, so belessedly, I hold you trapped in my little corner, my angulus terrae ..” On and on went the rich interminable sentence, shaped and modelled under his handling and piled with picturesque phrases which I can no longer recapture; and then I suppose (not having a typist to read it over to him) he despaired of ever struggling free of the python-coils of subordinate clauses and allusive parentheses, for he broke off short and said “In point of fact, my dear Fred Benson, I have finished my book”.

    I loved this story!

    • Thanks Mary for that story that was really interesting and thank you so much for taking the time to share it with us. Sadly I didnt love the book very much when I tried it, but maybe one day.

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