Thursday, May 19, 2011

On reading long books

As the publishers of edited material (Select Editions, formerly known as Condensed Books), our opinions on long books may be presumed to be something of a thumbs down. But this is not necessarily the case in general. I mean, my personal favorite book is Moby-Dick, which isn't exactly a James Patterson, read-in-one-sitting work. What is worse to me than length per se is simply books that are overlong. I can't imagine thrillers that clock in over four hundred pages. How much thrill can one book maintain, and for how long?

Mark Connell at talks about this from a different perspective, his own preference for short books being turned around with a bit of effort on his part.

"You finish the last page of a book like Gravity’s Rainbow and—even if you’ve spent much of it in a state of bewilderment or frustration or irritation—you think to yourself, 'that was monumental.' But it strikes me that this sense of monumentality, this gratified speechlessness that we tend to feel at such moments of closure and valediction, has at least as much to do with our own sense of achievement in having read the thing as it does with a sense of the author’s achievement in having written it. When you read the kind of novel that promises to increase the strength of your upper-body as much as the height of your brow—a Ulysses or a Brothers Karamazov or a Gravity’s Rainbow—there’s an awe about the scale of the work which, rightly, informs your response to it but which, more problematically, is often difficult to separate from an awe at the fact of your own surmounting of it."

Read The Stockholm Syndrome Theory of Long Novels.

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