For a goodly period of time now I have been reading short fiction. That is a good thing – I ‘m writing a mess of short fiction and I should read material similar to what I’m working on – plus, I simply don’t have spare time to waste on anything other than a series of wordly aperitifs.
A snack is not a meal, however, and I have felt an irresistible desire to devour a more hearty course of scribbling. There is a heartiness and depth to a long book. There is a feeling of victory as you down the entire thing. And there is meaning of a subtle nature that can only be conveyed over a longer period of time and greater number of pages.
So I opened up a new Collection in my Kindle library called, simply, “big” and have been watching for sales on ebooks. Even the heaviest tome only takes up a few billion bits of electron cloud inside my Kindle – and the price can be surprisingly affordable. There is no better bargain in the entertainment world than a long book. I’ve been working on variety too, from classics to modern, to homegrown to translated – it’s not hard.
Of course, I’m (mostly)leaving out long books I’ve read before (actually, I’m leaving out books I remember reading). The two that come to mind immediately are “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and “Moby Dick.”
My list so far:
- Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon (I’ve read about a third of it in the past – will start over. That seems to be how I read Pynchon… dive in, go as far as I can, then beat a retreat until I can return to the scene and soldier on)
- The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (I know, not technically a single book. I’ve read the first one in the series, but remember little. Like the Pynchon above, I’ll have to start fresh).
- American Gods, Neil Gaiman
- Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
- Battle Royale, Koushun Takami (saw the film, now I want to read the book. It’s surprisingly long – there must be a lot in there that didn’t make it onto the screen).
- The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky (I read this in school. Wrote a paper about it. Don’t remember a single thing. Have to read it again).
- The Three Musketeers, Dumas (After reading The Club Dumas, now I want to go over the source material. It’s been filmed to death, of course, so I’m curious about the original)
- Cryptomonicon, Neal Stephenson
- The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing (Started this years ago, couldn’t get going. We’ll see how it goes this time)
- Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (I’m shocked I’ve never read this. Shame on me)
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke (I know nothing about this book. Intend to keep it that way until I start to dig in).
- Les Misérables, Victor Hugo (I’m shocked I’ve never read this. Shame on me)
- War and Peace, Tolstoy (I’m shocked I’ve never read this. Shame on me)
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Haruki Murakami (I’m a big fan of Murakami. Time to tackle his Big Book)
There are two I don’t have and am waiting to pick up on sale (I have time):
- 2666, by Roberto Bolaño (I have this one in hardback – but would like to have an electronic copy before diving in)
- Underworld, by Don DeLillo (I’m shocked I’ve never read this. Shame on me)
And finally, I’m starting with:
The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa.
The Kindle gives you running percentage that shows how far you are – a very helpful goal-setting device for devouring something Big. I’m at about sixty-six percent and enjoying the tome. It’s a horrific semi-historical account of an uprising around the previous turn of the last century in a poverty-and-drought-devastated area in Brasil.
I have a method of working my way through big, long, complicated books like this. I keep a pen and paper and carefully sketch out characters as they appear. The kaleidoscope of scenes filled with picaresque folks that comes strolling across the page can get confusing and frustrating without memory aids. This one is especially difficult because many of the protagonists have the same name. Usually, once I get about halfway through, I don’t need the notes anymore, as the characters have become close acquaintances of mine… over time.
I have no idea how long this will take or whether I’ll stick to it (will probably take breaks). I hope I’m able to live long enough.