Thursday, March 24, 2011

Big Fat Books from My TBR Shelf

By the end of the month I will have completed two very fat books from my TBR shelf: Charlotte Bronte's Villette and The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (by far the largest book on the shelf  because it's a hardcover).  But I am still left with a whole bunch of chunksters -- more than 20 books that are 500 pages or more.  I know these are probably all amazing, but after reading two BFBs (Big Fat Books) simultaneously, it might be time to take a little break before tackling another.

Here are some of the BFBs that await me (page numbers indicate those in my particular editions):

The classics.  These comprise most of the unread pages, not surprisingly.  Of course they're actually shorter than they appear since many of them have endnotes.  Still big and fat and a little scary, though.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  One of the books selected by Amanda for our reading swap.  I have been meaning to read this since I zipped through The Grapes of Wrath a few years ago.  Despite the length, it shouldn't be a terribly long read.

The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hacek.  This was the selection for one of my online groups which sounded really interesting -- a satire about WWI, written from a European perspective.  It sounds like a Czech version of Catch-22.  Includes lots of funny little cartoons.  The book group seemed to like it but of course I didn't read a single page. (784 pp.)

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.  Technically, it's an omnibus of three books in one, but this is a big, fat edition.  Bought after reading all about the beloved series, which I still haven't seen -- it's never aired here on PBS and I thought I should read the book first.  (537 pp.)

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.  One of the freebies I won in the Penguin contest.  People either love it or hate it.  I hope to give it a try later this year in an online readalong. (652 pp.)

The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker:  Another gift from the nice people at Penguin Classics, and one of those I was most excited about receiving.  I've never read her but I've heard she's hilariously witty. "This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible.  This was terrible with raisins in it." This collection includes stories, essays, and letters, so it's probably a good thing to read a little at a time.  But there's still 640 pages of it.

Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope.  And Phineas Finn, Can You Forgive Her, He Knew He Was Right, The Eustace Diamonds. . . . Okay, don't even get me started on Trollope.  I bought a whole bunch of his works after I read The Way We Live Now, and more after one of my online groups decided to read the entire Pallisers series. (There are six, all more than 500 pages.  Some are closer to 800!  I have yet to finish a single one).  Plus I've started the Barchester Chronicles (only four volumes left) and I have several of the stand-alone books as well.  There's probably close to 5000 pages of unread Trollope on my TBR bookshelf this minute.  Trollope wrote 47 novels, and I'd like to read as many as possible, so I'd better get started.  

Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant.  Bought during my obsession with Victorian literature.  She is described as something of a transition between Jane Austen and George Eliot, which intrigues me. (512 pp.)

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. (880 pp.)  One of about five more works by Dickens that are sitting on the shelf unread -- I also own The Old Curiosity Shop, Sketches by Boz, and Pictures from Italy.  And did I mention I just bought Martin Chuzzlewit last week?  Eight hundred pages of teeny tiny print, what was I thinking?

South Riding by Winifred Holtby.  This will probably be my next Big Fat Book -- I won this in a giveaway during Virago Reading Week and I am really looking forward to the BBC adaptation which airs in the U.S. in May.  I'll need no convincing to read this book. (502 pp.)

Contemporary books.  Mercifully, these tend to be faster reading than the Victorians and other classic chunksters.  They're still taking up a lot of space, though.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.  A coming of age story set in South Africa just after WWII. I know it has something to do with boxing, of which I have no interest whatsoever, but I've heard this is just fantastic. (528 pp.)

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt.  I found this hardcover for $2 at the library book sale.  I liked Possession, so I couldn't resist at that price.  And the cover is really pretty. (675 pp.)

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber.  A neo-Victorian, also bought at the library sale.  This one's a paperback so it was only $1.

Nonfiction.  These are actually less pages of text because of references, indexes, etc.  They're still darn long.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. Another library sale find.  I've heard it's great but it sounds kind of depressing.  It has pictures though. (544).

John Adams by David McCullough.  Everyone says this is just great, but it's 751 pages of early American history and politics.  Was this a bad purchase?  I paid $1 at the library sale.

The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary Lovell. Purchased after I read and loved The Pursuit of Love and  Love in a Cold Climate.  I have since bought more books by the Mitfords.  I haven't read those either. (640 pp.)

Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson.  Naturally, there is at least one Persephone on the list.  This diary of life in wartime England sounds fascinating, but I am put off by the length, I admit it. (640 pp.) 

Does anyone else tend to put off the big fat books in favor of the shorter ones?  Which of these have you read and loved, and which should be sent directly to the library as donations?  Any input would be greatly appreciated.  I'll probably take a break and read some novellas soon -- Readathon is coming up in just a couple of weeks and I have a whole stack of those too.


  1. I definitely put off fat books - I have a number of very fat VMCs just languishing. I think I have read all of the short ones now :(

    But Lark Rise is wonderful. I don't think of it as a fat book at all, but that is mainly as I first read it in an Everyman's edition with tiny type and thin pages!

  2. WIld swans is an absolutely amazing book! I have to say I do tend to put off big books, and then take aaaaaages over reading them, as i'm currently doing with The Three Musketeers. The Portable Dorothy Parker is on my wishlist at the moment!

  3. dorothy parker has been on my shelf for a while too. i've read bits & pieces but it's hard to tackle the whole thing.

    i tend to leave the fat books sitting around, too. it's not that i have a real preference for shorter books, just that it's easier to grab one that's 300 pages than one that's 800. i tend to leave the history books longest - i love buying works about things like early American history, but it's easy to put off reading them.

    -- ellen

  4. BFBs tend to put me off enough that I have decided that I am not go buy any of that size any more as they are too intimidating!

    It has been suggested that you rip a BFB in half to make it more portable, but hm. Rather sacriligious to me.

    Bryce Cortney's book is very good, btw. And so is Wild Swans. lark Rise is fantastic (and a v quick read). Highly recommend that one....

    Happy reading!

  5. You know, I flew through Grapes of Wrath but it took me six weeks to get through EAst of Eden. Technically I took like 2 of those weeks off somewhere in the middle, but still, it took a long time. I liked it, so it wasn't as if I wasn't enjoying it, but it wasn't the page-turner that GoW was for me.

    I actually tend to read more longer books now that I'm blogging, because I read so fast and then have too many reviews stacked up. I end up reading longer books to spend some time NOT racking up books to review while I catch up.

    Then again, now that I'm changing things around, I doubt book size will matter much to me anymore. This Lord Byron book I'm reading is huge, 560 pages of poetry plus a bunch of notes (several hundred pages worth). I'm NOT reading the notes...

  6. Also, I know you're not a huge fan of ereaders, but they make big fat books far less intimidating!! I'll have to show you my kindle nad ipad sometime so you can really see how they work. I was thi nking about that especially when you were talking about if you ever have ot move some place without a huge selection again. Especially since so many classics are available as free ebooks.

  7. Verity -- I'm glad to hear that you liked Lark Rise. I just saw another review recently that said it was really slow, and I was a little worried I'd be disappointed. And I've noticed how fast you go through your VMCs! You must be a very fast reader.

    Bex -- I've slowed down reading Three Musketeers at the moment. I got to some military stuff and got a little bored. I think I need to push on since I only have about 200 pages to go, which shouldn't take long. I think it will pick up again. I have also heard great things about Wild Swans so I'll be sure and keep that one. I'll get to it someday!

    Ellen -- I don't think I'd be able to read Dorothy Parker start to finish, I'm sure I'll have to read bits and pieces. When I have a really long book I'm usually alternating it with other books anyhow since I usually have book group selections to finish.

    Anonymous -- I could never rip a book in half! I had a terrible time throwing books out when I worked at the library, unless they were in disgusting condition. Which they sometimes were. I really want to read The Power of One, I've heard it's wonderful.

    Amanda -- I think I have the opposite problem with blogging. I put off writing reviews about the short ones until I just give up on them because I've forgotten, and end up posting about the long books. I like blogging but I have so many books on the TBR pile I want to spend more time reading.

    I may have to give e-readers a try sometime. Maybe during readathon?

  8. So many of your big fat books on my to-read shelf too, either figuratively (i.e. they're on my list) or literally (on my shelves). The ones we have in common are East of Eden, Lark Rise to Candleford (sidenote: the series is so great!), Miss Marjoribanks, South Riding, The Children's Book, and Few Eggs and No Oranges.

    I have quite a few other really long books to read as well, and this year I set a goal of reading 3 of the fattest ones that have been on my list for several years. I read The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas (my edition = 1276 pages) earlier this year. I have Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (944 pages) scheduled for June/July, and Middlemarch by George Eliot (912 pages) scheduled for November/December. So far, it's worked out well. The only problem is that there are so many books on my to-read list that I want to read that are between 500 and 900 pages, but I don't want to overdo it.

  9. I will definitely have the ipad with me during the Readathon incase I'm not in the mood for my physical books. I can bring the Kindle too to show you!

  10. M -- I like your idea of a goal. If I could get through six or seven on the TBR shelf, it would be great. I definitely want to read East of Eden and South Riding, and at least one Trollope. After that we'll see. I'm not even going to think about tackling Monte Cristo until I get some of these finished! And Middlemarch is wonderful. I managed to read it in a month but I didn't read anything else at the time.

    Amana -- I will give the e-readers a try. Of course if I got a Kindle or an ipad I'd end up adding even MORE books to my TBR pile. Maybe it would be easier to ignore the amount if they were just virtual!

  11. I've always preferred big fat books, going back to when I was a kid and there was a limit of ten per visit at the public library--I read all the biggest books they had!

  12. I really like BFB, and I have a lot of them left on my classics shelf that I am putting off reading.

    I want to get to Moby Dick sometime this year, but it will probably stay on the shelf until summer kicks in.

    I love David McCullough, but that title is sitting my shelf as well. I own all his books, but just haven't gotten around to that one...or Truman. But he is a great writer and really makes the history jump off the page. 1776 was amazing if you want a smaller taste first.

  13. Lol. I think our TBR shelves must look an awfully lot alike! :) I'm currently reading Wives and Daughters from the BFB shelf (this may end up being a "year of chunksters" for me). But, I too, have several Trollope on the shelf, as well as Middlemarch, Bleak House...(can you say B&N Classics buy 2 get one free? ;) ). Mercy, yes! I'm feeling your BFB pain! I'm finding I have to pace myself much like you said. For every BFB, I let myself read a few "skinny" ones. I'm finding that I'm enjoying the bigger ones more than I thought I would, though. I read South Riding last month with Cornflower and found it a pretty good read. But I concur with those above who say read Wild Swans -fascinating book! I also really liked John Adams (better than 1776 - 1776 gave more battle detail than I cared to read at the time), which we followed by watching the miniseries.
    Happy Reading whatever you pick!

  14. I can recommend Miss Marjoribanks, Orley Farm (& most of the other Trollopes), Few Eggs & No Oranges (I've read this twice), The Sisters (& also the huge volume of Mitford letters ed by Charlotte Mosley), Our Mutual Friend & South Riding. Maybe you could try reading one BFB every other month & some shorter books in between? There's never enough time for reading, is there?

  15. I tend to be intimidated by chunksters, mostly because I know that for me they are a huge time investment. If it's a fantasy novel it doesn't bother me as much though, because I enjoy the world building that fills all of those pages. With respect to the books you mentioned, I tried but couldn't get into The Children's Book (I loved Possession too), and was so crazy about The Power of One when I read it about a decade ago that I dived straight into its sequel - Tandia - which is even longer...

  16. Jeanne -- only TEN books? I would have made my mother crazy, begging her for visits to the library. That's just cruel.

    Allie -- I really want to sign up for a John Adams readalong but I'm so intimidated by it! I'm glad to hear he's such a great writer, some history is so dry.

    Susan -- Wives and Daughters is WONDERFUL. It didn't seem like a long book to me, I hated for it to end. Middlemarch started out slow but I stuck with it and really loved it. And it really helped that when I was reading Bleak House I also had the audio in the car, I felt like that always helped me to sneak in a few more pages.

    I agree about the battle scenes -- I only have 200 more pages of The Three Musketeers but I got bored by the battle of New Rochelle. I need some more intrigue and witty repartee.

    Cozy in TX -- I want to read all of them but sometimes I just get so overwhelmed. All the ones you recommend sound so good. I'll probably go for South Riding first because of the miniseries and then some Trollope. I do want to read at least one more Dickens this year.

    Motheretc -- I've never really gotten into adult fantasy, I think I'm too impatient for all the world-building. I really liked Possession but I have to admit I skipped all the epic poetry!

    I'm getting so many recommendations maybe I should just close my eyes and pick the next one. After Three Musketeers!

    Lyn -- Definitely, I need to alternate. I just really want to make some progress with the chunksters. I f

  17. I'm not particularly influenced by the size of a book.

    A few comments on those in your list that I have read:

    Lark Rise to Candleford - a much better book than the rather twee (and repetitive) TV adaption. Read it as social history.

    The Portable Dorothy Parker - good fun, bitchy, vitriolic, sad, alcoholic haze etc. Well worth reading.

    South Riding - a low grade Middlemarch. Suffers from the rushed publication following the untimely death of the author (i.e. needs a good editor).

    Have fun!

  18. Wow! You have some great books lined up. I really loved The Crimson Petal and the White - such a good book! Definitely worth wading through all those pages. Hope you enjoy it!!

  19. I remember east of edan was on my shelf for ages and ages. It was by far the biggest one and of course when I eventually got around to it I loved it. I dont have too many huge ones on my shelf but I do have Pillar of the Earth on the kindle (which I dont count)

  20. I've read the Mitford book and loved it. I'm trying to read the big books from my TBR shelf at the moment. The shelf is full to bursting and I refuse to start a second TBR shelf so I'm reading the fat ones to make more room. It's Drood by Dan Simmons right now.

  21. I just finished Can You Forgive Her? a few days ago. I really liked it but I had looked at the end of the book and thought it was only 418 pages. Got to page 200, nowhere near half-way through! Discovered it contains 2 volumes of 400 odd pages on very thin paper. I should have known better!

  22. Dorothy Parker is brilliant! I justs love her. And I'm just wrapping up a 602 page book. I don't mind a chunkster as long as the story is good.

  23. Dark Puss -- LOL about Dorothy Parker! I think I could use her snark for a good laugh. Did not know that South Riding was rushed into publication. I've never read Winifred Holtby but The Crowded Street is one of the many Persephones on my TBR list.

    Nadia -- I was thinking about giving The Crimson Petal back to the library booksale but maybe I should give it a try first. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Jessica -- I just know if I got an ereader I'd add even more books to the TBR list! I'm not even going to think about Pillars of the Earth until I get the BFBs under control.

    Joanne -- only ONE TBR shelf? I now have an entire TBR bookcase!! And now I won't have room for The Three Musketeers on the finished bookcase.

    Katrina -- I had the same problem with that book! I still haven't finished it, it's been so long since I started I'll probably just start again after I finish the Barchester series. It's so annoying that they published it that way but I think it's because it was originally published in two volumes.

    Jenners -- I agree, some long books are faster than short ones if they're well written. I loved Wives & Daughters which was more than 500 pages but could barely get through The Turn of the Screw which is only about 150.

  24. I go through spurts of reading big fat books then smaller ones. I recently finished Cat's Eye which was 460ish pages but felt smaller. I feel like once I start the big ones, they can sometimes go faster than the smaller ones that seem to drag on.

  25. Brenna -- I agree, it just depends on the book. The sheer size sometimes intimidates me. I do find that I just zip through some authors and others need to be read more slowly. Of course some of those Victorians have very thin pages and teeny weeny print, not to mention all the end notes! Contemporary books seem much faster.

    I haven't read Cat's Eye but I really liked The Robber Bride and I LOVED The Blind Assassin.

  26. I don't put off fat books but I definitely read less of them per year now because of the large number of other books that I've accumulated. I also have Moby Dick, The Children's Book, The Crimson Petal and the White and lots of Dickens and Trollope. I don't usually do well with paced read-alongs but if there was a more free-form reading of any of these, I would totally be in! I'm also just trying to allow myself the time to read more chunksters again.

  27. arg. wrote a huge long comment and lost it.

    I read Moby Dick in two weeks for an American Lit course in college. I liked it. I Love East of Eden. Both times I read it, I found myself trying to slow down to savor the beautiful writing because I didn't want it to end. And I liked John Adams. I listened to the audio when I was commuting more than an hour each day, so it didn't take that long to finish. I wouldn't say it's about politics. More that it's about history and relationships. I really loved seeing Abigail and John interact. They wrote lots of letters to each other. I loved seeing America come to fruition. It was great. I recently bought a copy at a used place too. Excited to reread it some day.

    I find blogging makes me shirk the big books. I want to have something to post about, after all.

  28. Rebecca -- thanks for encouraging me about John Adams. There's a readalong signup in the blogosphere but I've shied away from it after Villette and Three Musketeers -- I need to work on some of the short ones. And I agree completely, I think blogging has changed the way I read. I definitely spend more time reading about other people's books than I used to! And of course I'm adding TONS of books to the TBR list.


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