Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Short vs. Long Books

Lately, I've been beginning to wonder if my brain is shrinking.  Well, not my brain exactly, just my attention span.  It seems like I can't focus on any book longer than 300 pages.  I don't know if it's just a phase, or a summertime thing (though I didn't have any heavy reading in the two classes I took this spring), or just Victorian overload.  But for the past couple of months I've just shied away from anything that looks long or heavy or the least bit challenging.  I keep hearing about how the Internet is causing everyone to have shorter attention spans.  I've been reading Chekhov stories for my upcoming Classics Circuit posting, and I can't even read more than a few of those in one sitting.  I am concerned.

I looked at my Goodreads list of the books I read in 2009, and it includes  some real whoppers:  Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, Vanity Fair, Wives and Daughters, David Copperfield, An American Tragedy, The Woman in White.  Plus several long contemporary books, like The Book Thief.  This year so far I've only  read two books longer than 500 pages, Native Son by Richard Wright and American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.  Both of them were actually really fast reads.  The longest Victorian I've read this year is Oliver Twist, and that's less than 450, and I did a lot of it on audio -- and it was a reread.

I've noticed this years' reading includes a lot of juvenile books (mostly award winners), short stories, and novellas.  Is this just a phase, or should I be worried?  I have a separate tag on Goodreads for Big Fat Books, and more than half of the books on that list are unread -- more than 50!  My own to-read bookshelf has quite a few chunky books, mostly Victorians.  I have several Dickens still unread, and almost a whole shelf full of Trollope.  (Trollope published more than 40 works in his lifetime, so I'm not holding my breath to finish his entire oeuvre. )  And there are all of those Russians waiting to be read -- I haven't even touched Dostoevsky.  I'm not even thinking about Proust, or A Dance to the Music A of Time, which is close to 3000 pages over four volumes.  

It's not as if I've never read any long books.  Some of the longer works I've read include Roots, Gone with the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, and Anna Karenina. Heck, I've even finished War and Peace.  (Okay, I admit it -- that was for college, and it was basically the entire reading list for my Tolstoy class.  And, um, I never did read the last 50 pages.  In my defense, the actual novel is over, and that's really a sort of afterword.)

So, is it just me?  Is it just a phase, or should I give up and just read graphic novels for the rest of my life?     Maybe I'm just getting myself intimidated, and I should blindly choose something and just stick to it until it's done.  Or else just give up and read long trashy books instead.  One of my online book groups just selected The Brothers Karamazov for the July read.  I've heard it's very good, and a group read might actually behoove me to finish it.  Maybe I should just start Moby Dick, which has more than 100 chapters, which are very short.  Ships! Whaling! Ahab!  What could be more different than being landlocked in Texas during a broiling hot summer?  Depressed Russians and lots of snow, or an insane ship's captain?

Bloggers, help me out.  What big fat books do you recommend for summer?  Alternatively, what's a good fast summer read?  I need suggestions, and encouragement.


  1. OK - I am not sure what you have already read but I think that big fat books for summer could be:

    A Suitable Boy (warning, very fat)
    A Room with a view (less fat but for me this will always be such a summer read)
    Possession by AS Byatt

    Fast summer reads:

    Several Perceptions by Angela Carter
    Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
    The Aspern Papers by Henry James

    I am sure that I will think of some more later.

    I try to combine books of different lengths - I can't really hack having more than two thumping big novels one after another so I try to intersperse them with little ones.

    Good luck with your choices!


  2. Hannah, I know what you mean about alternating long and short books -- the last thing I want after a big fat book is another, it's too daunting. Last summer I was simultaneously reading David Copperfield AND An American Tragedy, which was a terrible idea. I've read Possession and loved it, I have The Children's Book waiting on my to-read shelf.

    A Room with a View is one of my favorites! And the movie is so good. I will definitely look for your other recommendations. A Suitable Boy might have to wait a bit, though.

  3. I have been steering clear of the long ones because they make me antsy. I think that might be because I have so much that I feel I should be reading. Long books make me nervous, but I am working on changing that up so that I will have less to read for review.

    I am working my way through Gone With the Wind and I would like to maybe tackle East of Eden before the year is out.

  4. Nicole, that's exactly how I feel! When I consider reading a long book I just keep thinking about all the shorter books I could be reading instead. But some of them are so, so wonderful, they're worth it, like The Forsyte Saga, Middlemarch, or The Way We Live Now (I kept sneaking off to read just one more chapter!)

    And I love Gone with the Wind. I also have East of Eden on my to read shelf. I feel so guilty that I haven't read some of them yet. Sigh.

  5. Hi Karen!

    I definitely go through phases in my reading (I'll actually be talking about that in my Sunday Salon in a few weeks) and I go through periods where I'm really ahead on reviews and want to read a long book or a harder book. This year so far I've surprisingly read 12 books over 450 pages, though 3 of those are Harry Potter books so they hardly count. I've spent some time reading some longer, harder books in June because i was so far ahead. I like being able to do that, mixing them up that way.

    I can't say I'm enthusiastic at all about Moby Dick, however there's actually a blogger's group doing a long-term readalong of The Brothers Karamazov starting in July. They'll probably do a couple chapters a week and post/discuss their thoughts. It's on Jill's blog at Fizzy Thoughts if you're interested. She's got some information in this post: http://www.fizzythoughts.com/2010/06/sunday-salon-a-little-bit-of-this-a-little-bit-of-that.html

  6. I seem to be shying away from big fat books lately, too. A couple I think would make great summer reads are East of Eden or A Suitable Boy - loved them both! I've never read Gone with the Wind, but I'll get to it one of these summers!

  7. Amanda -- thanks for the info about the Brothers K readalong. I read the first chapter online and rather liked it, so I'm giving it a try.

    JoAnn -- Gone with the Wind is a really fast, easy read. It's long but there's nothing difficult about it. A great story but I don't really know if it counts as literature. And your is the second recommendation for A Suitable Boy so I may have to add it to my to-read list. I swear it's the longest book in the world. Sigh.

  8. I think it's a blogging thing: once I started blogging, I found it incredibly hard to read longer works. I'm trying to get out of the blogging habit, to be honest, and it's letting me be OK about reading longer works. Currently in progress: Armadale by Wilkie Collins (almost 700 pages) and Wives and Daughters (almost 800 pages).

    I LOVED Moby Dick. I had to read it for school and I had two weeks so I wish I had time to enjoy going slow. Maybe I'll have to reread it this or next year.

  9. You read Moby Dick in TWO WEEKS? Wow. I've read some fat books the past few years, but most of them have taken up a whole month, like Anna Karenina and The Woman in White (I wouldn't have finished AK except I was on a bus trip and the traffic was terrible).

    I never thought about the blogging aspect -- it's true. I have seen some bloggers post about their progress in long books, and I think it's a good idea. How could you cover an 800 book in one posting anyway?

    And I hope you love Wives & Daughters, one of my favorites. It's long but I found it a really absorbing and fast read.

  10. How could you cover an 800 book in one posting anyway?

    More importantly (to me), why would you want to? When I read a rich book, I don't want to tie it up and set it back on the shelf. I want to linger, wander around, see what I missed.

    My week-long postings about books are my solution to the problem Rebecca is talking about. I write about a book until I run out of things to say. Meanwhile, I've been reading other things.

  11. People want books as an escape. Shame. Thet won't give short books a try. That's bad for authors like me.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.