Some of you may have noticed that I’ve gone radio silent here on Shelf Love this week, although Jenny’s been posting away and tempting me as always with her book choices. (One of the benefits of blogging with a friend is that if one person must be away for a while, the blog need not go silent. So far, we’ve never both had to step back at the same time.)
Anyway, the reason for my silence this week is twofold. One reason is that I’ve just been unusually busy. Usually, even when I’m this busy, I can still manage to finish a book each week, but this week was different, which brings me to the second reason: the book I’m working on now is the 1,200-page The Count of Monte Cristo.
If you read my Read-a-Thon post from last Saturday, you saw that I was really enjoying the book. It’s a great story, filled with drama! and intrigue! and derring do! But early this week, I hit a wall with it. There was simply too much drama! and intrigue! and derring do! Not to mention too many characters, too much set-up, and not enough payoff. At least this was my feeling shortly after the halfway point of the book. Joanne and Amanda assured me in a Twitter conversation that things will pick back up.
All of that got me thinking about our reactions to long books. If you follow this blog at all closely, you’ll know that I do love a tome. I love those long-winded Victorians and consider Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell one of the best reads of the last ten years. A book of under 400 pages seems on the short side to me. But even my most beloved tomes rarely clock in at over 800 pages or so. And that makes me wonder, is there a point at which a book is just too long, even for the most patient of readers?
Last summer, I read Infinite Jest and blew hot and cold about it. I was passionately in love with parts of it (the long discourse about video phones still makes me smile), but I was frustrated at other parts. I’ve not gotten nearly as frustrated with The Count of Monte Cristo, mostly because it’s much more like the kinds of books I usually read and adore. However, the length of the book has given me more time to reflect on the reasons for the length. I don’t want to say too much about that, because Jenny and I will be doing a full post about it on May 4 for the Classics Circuit. It’s just hard not to wonder, when reading something so long, that takes so much time to read, whether the book wouldn’t be better if it weren’t a little shorter.
What do you think? Do you tend to prefer longer or shorter books? When does length become excess? What must a book achieve to be worth over 1,000 pages? Is any book worth that?
In other news: I’ve had the pleasure this week of meeting another wonderful book blogger face to face. Yesterday, Frances from Nonsuch Book and I went to see Tyne Daly in Masterclass by Terence McNally at the Kennedy Center. It was a great show, and Frances was great company.
Notes from a Reading Life
- None. See above.
- Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. See above.
- Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkein (reread). I actually finished the novel itself and was tempted to move it up, but I’m also reading/skimming the appendices (reading the history, skimming the languages), so I’m not technically.
- Kim by Rudyard Kipling (audio). I’m nearly done, but I regret getting it on audio. I finding it a tough listen, but I think I’d like it in print. I’ve reread bits of the public domain online version, but I’m not great with reading that much onscreen.
- Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (reread). My favorite Lewis; my church’s weekly book group is discussing it, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting it with others.
- Prince Rupert’s Teardrop by Lisa Glass. Still hoping to get this read before my England trip.
- On Art and Life by John Ruskin. I’ve been considering visiting Ruskin’s home in the Lake District on my vacation so I thought it would be nice to read some of his writing. This little book contains some of his thoughts on artistic freedom and creativity over mass production.
- Nineteen Seventy Four by David Peace. When I was looking for Yorkshire reading suggestions Catherine of Juxtabook recommended Peace’s gritty crime series, The Red Riding Quartet, of which this is the first.
- Call to Commitment by Elizabeth O’Connor. The story of Church of the Savior, an ecumenical ministry/church in Washington DC.
Books on My Radar
- Cool Water by Dianne Warren. Quiet fiction about rural Canada. Reviewed at The Gleeful Reader.
- Black Water Rising by Attica Locke. A novel of mystery and intrigue centered on a shooting on a midnight cruise. Longlisted for the Orange Prize. Reviewed at Lizzy’s Literary Life.
- The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey. Another Orange longlister—this one is about a British couple that moved to Trinidad in the 1950s and the culture clashes and marital strife they faced. Reviewed at Other Stories.
- The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers. Yet another Orange longlister. Yes, I do find time slip novels irresistible, even if they’re usually uneven. Even the uneven ones are usually good reads. In her review, Victoria at Eve’s Alexandria acknowledges the weaknesses of this one, even as she admits to enjoying it. Based on her review (and Kirsty’s at Other Stories), I suspect I would too.