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?