The biggest book you’ve ever read?…

Book shelf

Stock photo – not my collection!

I am now at a tipping point in my life where I have a somewhat ominous feeling that there are more books that I own that I have never read than I have read. There are still many more books that I want to own or borrow too. Indeed courtesy of Listal I keep a wishlist of such books. However there is too the sighing realization that most of these books I will never get round to reading.

I am always reading books too. I am though quite a slow reader – I like to enjoy the words I am reading rather than rushing from page to page pulled along by the plot with not too much attention to the prose itself. I am saying all this by way of leading up to the point of this post. Which is that I have a tendency to read shorter books – slim volumes by for example Muriel Spark and Henry James with mid-size books from Jane Austen or a Bronte sister tending to be my outer size limit. Big books – let us say of at least 500 pages – I seldom venture in to.

I then wondered if I was alone in this or it was quite a commonplace. How many of us habitually polish off a Joyce, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky tome?

What is the longest book that you have ever read, and I mean from the first page to the last page?

And the longest of your own choosing, not some edifying educational text that you had to study in school or university. Nor do I mean a collected volume or related series of books either.

And I do mean that you have read not that you have bought but which sits unloved, patiently waiting your attention on your bookshelf for far too many years that you care to remember. Or that you acquired as a vanity purchase to invite admiring glances from visiting family and friends for your clearly demonstrable scholarly erudition – but which in truth would get more use if it were deployed as a door-stop.

No I mean the longest book you have read of your own free will that you made it through to the end – no matter how long it took you!

Don Quixote - CervantesLooking through the Flowers Library – ahem! – the longest novel I have managed to the end was a Wordsworth Classic paperback edition of Don Quixote by Cervantes. It ran to 760 pages.

I cannot pretend it was a labour of love and I almost certainly bought it because of its somewhat iconic literary reputation than because I have any penchant for tales about knights and their adventures – or as in this case their misadventures – or that I had any previous familiarity with any of his other work.

Nevertheless having began it a few years back I did stick with it to the end – it took the best part of a couple of months it must be said. And I stuck with it because I was entertained by the absurdity of Don Quixote and his companion Sancho Panza – curious to know where their haplessness would take them next. The characters were difficult to get a hold of and the plot meandered – neither had I any emotional investment in the eponymous character either yet despite all of that I did care enough to remain as loyal as Sancho Panza himself to Don Quixote and stay along his side to find out his ultimate fate.

I enjoyed the writing too, its playfulness and good humour. But perhaps equally tellingly it is not a book I would recommend to anyone else and this is due to its length. Perhaps because subconsciously I feel the longer a book is the better it needs to be if is going to claim the very many hours the reader will need to put aside for it. The longer it is the more presumptuous such a recommendation feels…

In thumbing through my own collection I noted my Penguin Classics copy of George Eliot’s Middlemarch with its just shy of 900 unread pages – but the longest novel I own but have never read will have to wait for another post!

So how about you? What is the longest novel you have ever read?

17 thoughts on “The biggest book you’ve ever read?…

  1. I consider myself a bibliophile and yet now that you mention it, I can’t remember any really big books I’ve finished. Except Gone With the Wind, perhaps. I’ve started a few– Moby Dick, the Satanic Verses, Freedom by Franzen– wanted to finish but didn’t. Why? Do I have the attention span of a guppy? Perhaps I’m fickle. Maybe I really like linear, unflabby prose. I enjoyed them all but not quite enough to carry on.
    On the other hand, I have read difficult books. Read and loved. Like the Sound and the Fury. Loved that. Some authors manage to pack 1000 pages into a slim package. Reading some books is like unfolding a 3d map of the universe.

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    • “Reading some books is like unfolding a 3d map of the universe” – love it.

      I would certainly consider you a bibliophile too – I read your ‘Awakenings’ post yesterday – did not leave a comment just hit the Like button as like with many of your posts it just left me speechless. Although imagine if I took that approach in real life to whenever I heard someone saying something that resonates with me – don’t say a word, just go up to them with an awed expression on my face and affix a Like badge upon them before disappearing off into the day!

      Where was I – oh yes – the books you were reading on your tenth/eleventh year on this planet – wow – I was still making do with football magazines…not even onto comics yet…Harper Lee or Oscar Wilde would have bewildered my pre-teen mind I am sure!

      I prefer the distilled too – in films and songs also – have never allowed myself to watch The Godfather although a 1960’s rambling Bob Dylan album track I will always make an exception for!…

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  2. Pingback: A Book on One Page… « Blog Rest and Play

  3. I enjoy your post topics and will become caught up on your blog one day soon.

    I am wondering like you if people are more apt to read smaller texts vs larger. I know I love a good cheap trashy read that I can consume in a night. I have fallen in love with a new author to myself who provides me with these kind of reads. Anne River Siddons takes me to the low country of South Carolina & Georgia which is like a foreign country to me. I start her books in the afternoon and it’s day light of the next day before I’m able to put the book back down. And that is only because reluctantly I’ve comes to the end. I tend to be more dislike a good read coming to a Happily Ever After. Or not.

    For serious good reads for my mind and intelligence. A snap refresher course in culture I like to read Henry James too, I also am pretty smitten with any one of Maugham W Somerset stories.

    The longest or most paged book? Gone with The Wind being a book of about 1000 pages that I adore reading. Despite having read it umpteen times since my teen years I still savor each page with gentle fingers and eyes that slowly devour the words.

    Then there is Tolklien with his notable Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogy that I is part of my annual winter reading once I find my way sadly to the last page of Margaret Mitchell’s best work.

    Joyce I’ve done, but War & Peace not so much. No matter how many times I attempt it telling myself with each “slow” page I’ll do it this time it’s never happened.
    The other really BIG BOOK I’ve read is the Bible.. Both old Testament & New. A sopmore English Lit instructor said pick any novel for the semester. I thought I was being some kind of rebel or something. HA! We both know who the real joke fell on to.
    Again thanks Sam for great conversations.

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    • Great response as ever.

      Gone With the Wind is a book I have never read. Beyond 1000 pages is a big commitment indeed – I have added it though to my book-list. For that matter I have never seen the 1939 Victor Flemming directed film either. Not by choice just by circumstance. I want to see it though – whether I get to the book or film first time will tell!

      I don’t know if I can allow Lord of the Rings as a trilogy! What is notable to me though is not just that you have read his books the once but make an annual pilgrimage to them.

      I did consider in my original post whether I should have disallowed the Bible – and for that matter the Koran, the Vedas and other fundamental core texts of other religions. They are all certainly weighty tomes (not just literally!) but considered a semantic point perhaps whether they could be described as novels? If by a novel we are meaning a work of fiction – leaving aside matters of atheism!

      But then decided to leave it alone as such books will have different meaning to different people.

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      • Gone With the Wind is my Epic read to be sure. But the writing style of Miss Mitchell is addicting, Selznick & Fleming’s collaboration on the film version is worth seeing a hundred times in my mind. But reading the nevle is a must first before the film.

        You know Sam you’re more considerate than I? It never occurred to me (wrongfully so) that I could be offending by including the Bible as a novel. Not very PC minded of me. I could have opened a can worms. Please accept my apology. I think you’re right in that it’s a topic best left alone because as you said so perfectly, different meaning for different people.

        Hoping your day is a fabulous one~

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        • I did not think you were offending by including the Bible though Barefoot Baroness. And I loved that you chose it as your novel to study when in Sophomore – as you say quite a daring choice in that context!

          I would hope that no-one would take offence of someone choosing a religious work as their favourite book let alone as with this blog post the far more innocuous matter of the longest book they have ever read.

          Intention matters so much doesn’t it? Offence is often something taken rather than given…

          I was just meaning that I was not sure that I would describe such works as novels and hence my initial reservations but then reflected that other people might describe them as such and so I would allow them that option. So I have no problem with you choosing the Bible! The King James version?

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          • Sam, love, love your statement; “offense is often something taken, not given.” Brilliant! I hope you honestly will not mind when I use it. ?

            I felt you were not offended by me including the bible as part of my answer. I was more concerned about being on your blog and me assuming that it was my place to decide what was okay and not on someone else’s blog.
            Yes, it was the King James version by the way. How did you know?

            You know I’m not all that certain I would include the Bible or any other religious text as a novel either. But when I read the Bible in school I chose to read it as a novel, simply a story being told by many, through many’s eyes..

            Yes, Intentions matter completely. (I happen to like that too)

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            • I am glad you like the statement regarding offence – certainly you can use it too – I have no claim on it as my own – I heard it from a British comedian Ricky Gervais. No doubt he in turn heard it from someone else! And on.

              I thought it might be the King James version that you read as I understand it to be the most admired for its writing style of all the versions available – not that I am a biblical scholar who could vouchsafe that claim!

              Even if reading it not as a believer but from a secular viewpoint its language impresses for its beauty and poetry.

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              • I happen to dig Ricky Gervais and am a fanbut I missed him making this great statement. He’d be flattered I’m sure in his funny way.

                Yes King James for it’s writing style. It was a difficult read at times but the flow and cadence helped alot once I was in to it. Challenging but well worth it. I’ve thought recently of doing it again, same copy from my ophmore year too. I actually did read it as a non-believer at the time.It was part of the challenge made to me by a theology student. One of the most meaningful of my life. It still amazes me how some people come into our lives for a reason.

                If I don’t “see” you again before the holidays I wish you a very Merry and safe one.

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  4. OMG you are waaaaaaay beyond my level. For one, I don’t read half as much as you and nor do I have a huge book case full. I’m a slow reader too!! I wouldn’t even pick up a book that huge. Tell me how many months it takes!

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    • I appreciate your honesty. There are so many more demands on our time now too – reading books period is a diminishing activity let alone the weightier tomes among them.

      On the other hand I wonder how many pages of a book I could have read in the time it takes me to read a thousand tweets!

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  5. Martin Amis

    “Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over, and the old boy checks out at last (on page 846 — the prose wedged tight, with no breaks for dialogue), you will shed tears all right; not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that ‘Don Quixote’ could do.

    .

    Found at http://shivasarms.blogspot.com/2010/07/writers-review.html

    My own presentation of the problem is http://espliego.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/shakespeare-cervantes/, so if you had time to look in…

    As to the longest book that I have ever read, I would rather not say, because not only have I read it, but read it so many times that any good thinker will correctly assume that I must have read very little else……..
    !!
    And partly that is true.

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    • First apologies your second response took several hours to appear – it got caught in the WordPress spam filter – it clearly did not like two posts in quick succession – me on the other hand very much does like!

      Thanks for taking time to share the Martin Amis observations – fantastic – he nails it.

      I shall certainly take a look at your own blog post on the matter too.

      Your final paragraph – you cannot leave enigmatic comments like that!

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  6. Well, but do you think it is a virtue to read a book to the end even if you sense it is not what you expected or what you are looking for?

    The Quijote is indeed a long, a very long, long book. It was originally a brilliant parody of a literary style.The influence of that parody was so strong that even now there are still majorities that consider Cervantes’ language a positive model to be studied by anyone who wants to be a real gentleman.

    The book is obligatory reading even for children, in spite of its pessimistic philosophy, its crude jokes, but I never read any critical observations (except my own:-) until I lucked onto something by (forgot his name, but will be back in a minute to tell you).

    It is almost like the Bible and, for Catholicism, something like Acquinas in that it became a basic work, but so big that few could read it, so that everybody felt he had to fake it, and now they have been faking it for several hundred years.

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    • Great response Cantueso, thank you. Whether I stick with a big book when finding it hard-going may depend on how far I have progressed with it and whether I consider it will reward my time and effort – if I am over half-way I will likely persevere to the end even if grimly! But otherwise I might abandon it – time is precious too and I don’t see the point in spending further time with a book where I consider it trite or ponderous or unoriginal.

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