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My Fear Of Long Books

A photograph of James Clavell's Shogun alongside the shorter books Eleanor & Park, On The Holloway Road, and Before Ever After - the latter three are in a pile

I would apply the words ‘fear’ and ‘daunted’ to the way I feel when considering reading a long book, because if ‘daunted’ means you’re scared but still carry whatever it is out, then ‘fear’ is a bit more serious.

I often approach my shelves wanting to take out a long classic or other suitably long book. This is because of the idea, at least it’s my idea, that the longer the book, the longer the story and the more developed and engrossing the world. I suppose it’s correct to say that that’s the way I feel it should be, and of course it often is. It’s the same thought I have when I hanker for fantasy – I love the idea of it, what it represents, but do I at this particularly moment want to spend the time the complexities require? (I find fantasies complex and admire those who read many of them. This has a lot to do with my slow reading speed.)

Anyway. I have a fear of the time needed to read long books. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly comes my mindset: in the time it’s likely to take me to read Bleak House, I could be reading two or three shorter books. Forget yearly book count; I will have read and experienced more books in that same time if I read shorter books. The second reason is that I know the long book is likely to contain filler material of some sort. It’s almost inevitable. I know that if there is filler material which, let’s face it, is something that tends to be boring or at the least frustrating, I’m likely to put the book down and I’ll have difficulty picking it up again. As much as I can acknowledge that merely thinking this can cause it to happen, it’s a valid consideration.

Related to this, then, is the knowledge that deciding to read a long book is rather akin to confirming your place in a project. It’s saying you’re going to spend the next week/fortnight/month (a month in my case) devoted to this one book, because you will even if you read another at the same time. It’s saying that as much as you’ll be happy to be able to say you’ve read it, it is nevertheless still just one strike on your list.

So my perusal of my shelves goes like this: approach bookcase; spot long book and know I want to read it; I really do; realise it’ll take a while; look at other books; play a game of eenie meenie miney mo I’ve no intention of honouring the result of if it lands on the long book; choose the shorter book even if my gut tells me the longer one is the one for me right now.

And yes, the whole reading another book alongside anyway thing does mean this is silly. But I’ll still go along with my fear.

The only way for me to read long books is to just do it. I haven’t mastered it yet.

How do you feel about long books in this context?


Belle Wong

December 12, 2014, 6:10 am

Well, it’s funny that you mention fantasy, because I tend to equate long books not with the classics but rather with fantasy (probably because, while I greatly admire those readers who tackle – or love – the classics, I really have no real desire to read them myself). So I generally have no fear of the long book, in part because I figure a lot of the length in fantasy comes from the worldbuilding, which I like.

Margaret @ BooksPlease

December 12, 2014, 7:01 am

Some years ago I would have chosen a long book over a short one every time, because then I thought I could immerse myself more in a longer book and at that time I didn’t have much money to spend on books and comparatively a longer book was more value. But these days I have less patience with longer books and their long passages of filler – I’m thinking of books like Les Miserables where the digressions almost bored me stiff!

So, I often find the longer books just get left on the shelf. But I still hanker after a book that I can lose myself in, rather than a short book that’s been and gone in a flash.


December 12, 2014, 9:14 am

Interesting post, Charlie! You have described perfectly the dilemma that every reader today has – should one read more short books or just one long book at the same time? It is a very hard question. I have always had a soft corner for long books – I used to collect them like crazy, and I have some wonderful ones in my shelf. But across the years I have gravitated towards mid-sized books – books between 300 to 400 pages long. One of my friends has this theory – that the optimum size of a book for today’s reader is somewhere between 200 and 300 pages. And when we look at most of the books that are published these days, they fit this theory. The long fantasy books are really rare – I don’t know many long ones except for Robert Jordan’s series and George RR Martin’s series. Even fantasy writers prefer the 200-300 page rule. Having said that though, I find that some writers are good at writing long books. Their shorter books are not that good. I tried reading Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’. It is less than 300 pages and it is probably his only novel which was this short (other than his Christmas books). It was a big disappointment. Someone like Dickens needs 800 pages to tell a good story. It doesn’t work otherwise for him. On a related topic, I found this quote recently by Saul Bellow, which I think you might like. It is from his introduction to his novella collection “Something to remember me by”. It goes like this – “Some of our greatest novels are very thick. Fiction is a loose popular art, and many of the classic novelists get their effects by heaping up masses of words. Decades ago, Somerset Maugham was inspired to publish pared-down versions of some of the very best. His experiment didn’t succeed. Something went out of the books when their bulk was reduced. It would be mad to edit a novel like ‘Little Dorrit’. That sea of words is a sea, a force of nature. We want it that way, ample, capable of breeding life. When its amplitude tires us we readily forgive it. We wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Alex (Sleepless Reader)

December 12, 2014, 11:28 am

I know how you feel! The way I do it is read other books at the same time. I’m usually monogamist when it comes to books, but I justify it by thinking that the big book is too heavy to carry around. So I read that at home and take the smaller ones with me :)


December 12, 2014, 3:21 pm

I tend to feel similar to you, in a desire to always be reading different things I often have moments where I feel like I could be reading more books in the time it takes to read one. But, I find if a longer book really pulls me in the length seems to fade away and I don’t mind the time it takes, such as with George R.R. Martin. When the book feels like a choose though, such with a classic, it’s very laborious.

Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

December 12, 2014, 6:15 pm

I never used to think twice about long books before blogging, but definitely fell into some bad habits since then — worrying too much about how much I was reading, how much I would then have to post about, and worrying about review copies. But now that I’ve given myself complete freedom to read whatever I want and stopped requesting review books, I find myself reaching for longer books without a second thought. I am currently rereading the Outlander books which are veritable doorstops! I do read other things alongside though, especially since these are re-reads. If it were my first time through, I might get immersed in them without a secondary book. As it is, I sometimes get drawn in and focus more on my long book, it all depends on how I feel. I know it seems daunting, but my advice is to just go for it! You never know what you might be missing out in some of those long books if you don’t give them a try ;)


December 12, 2014, 6:44 pm

I can totally sympathise I often think of how many smaller books I could read in the time of a long one. Then I remind myself if I choose the wrong book for my mood it will take far longer to read it; regardless of length.


December 12, 2014, 8:45 pm

Over the past year or two I’ve gotten much better at this. So much better that some people think I only read long books (I don’t! I swear!). One way that I combat this is by listening and reading a book. For example, I’m reading a hefty 700 page Stephen King right now. I’m listening to and from work and picking it up on my ereader when I’m at home. I can zip through it much more quickly this way!

Like some of the others, I didn’t pay much attention to length until blogging. I’ve since had to retrain myself. Though usually like you–short books wins more often than not. Sad because there are so many great huge books!


December 13, 2014, 2:21 am

I’m pretty much the opposite–it comes from old habit, since when I was a kid I was limited to ten books a week at the public library. I checked out ten of the biggest, fattest books I could find. Perhaps as a result of that, I’ve always preferred books I can be submerged in for a while. It’s disappointing when a book ends!

vicki (skiourophile)

December 13, 2014, 3:48 am

Psychologically I think it helps to read the long book electronically rather than hold a monster doorstop in one’s hands. However, this still hasn’t made me want to give, as you say, the *time* commitment to it.


December 13, 2014, 4:39 am

I quite like spending a week or two with a long book. It’s not conducive to blogging, though. Quick lit tends to be a more attractive proposition when our time is also taken up with blogging.

Laurie C

December 13, 2014, 2:04 pm

I like long books, in general, but I probably read too fast to really savor them. Still, I like to get immersed in a different world for a while. It took me a long time to pick up Bleak House, but I really got involved in the story once I did!


December 17, 2014, 4:45 pm

I understand this dilemma! Similar to Trish, my solution is often to tackle longer books via audiobook or sometimes when I am on vacation. I blame blogging for this – I get stressed out if I don’t have reviews lined up on the blog, but at the same time – probably no one would mind if I posted less often and read some longer books. Considering that I read way more books than I expected this year, maybe I’ll scale back next year and do longer books. One that is calling out to me nowadays is The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.



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