Long books – are they worth the time ?

I have just started Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 on my Kindle. It is sometimes difficult to tell how long a book is when you are reading it electronically but when the time left in book indicator showed over 11 hours remaining I looked it up on Amazon and discovered that it has 1088 pages in the print version. This makes it quite a hefty book and means that I must decide quite early on if I am enjoying it as I wouldn’t want to put in the time required to finish it if I was going to be disappointed. The first 2% has drawn me in so I am waiting to see how the story develops.

Those of you who have read my recent blogs on my week’s reading will know that I am currently listening to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. This is also a very long book which I have so far enjoyed although the author has recently made one character give a long, political speech lasting over three hours on the audio which was pushing it a bit, especially as I didn’t agree with a lot of what was being said. Research tells me that this book has 1184 pages in book form.

I think that the longest novel I have ever read was A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth which has 1504 pages. I read it in paper form a number of years ago and I am pretty sure that I enjoyed it although I can remember very little about it now so it can’t have been particularly striking. I am sure that I would have given up had I not been engaged with the story.

The issue with long books is that they take a lot of time to read. This is time which could be spent reading two or three “normal” sized novels. It is an investment of time and effort which you really need to pay off so you need to be sure before you start it that you are going to find it satisfying. The size of some books has often put me off starting to read them although I have now begun to listen to longer books on audio where the length is less off putting. The same applies to reading on the Kindle which at least has the advantage of not making my poor arthritic fingers ache which is a side effect of reading thick, paper tomes.

Here are a few long books I have read in the last year or so with some comments about whether or not I thought it was worth it. They are all novels – long non-fiction is a different matter. I have only chosen books over 900 pages long so Wolf Hall (674 with a sequel of 432 pages), A Discovery of Witches (704 with two long sequels so far and apparently more to come), Anna Karenina (864) and Middlemarch (880) are excluded although I recommend them all !

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (1024). This book of magic realism set in the Victorian era is one I wish that I hadn’t persevered with. I found it uneventful and kept waiting for some action which never arrived.
  • The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (1008). This is one I haven’t yet finished but it is the second in a trilogy of which the first, The Name of the Wind, was 672 pages long. I am actually finding this sequel quite hard work and I am not sure exactly why except that it is quite slow. As I found the first volume of this epic fantasy serial riveting when I got into it I am going to struggle on and see if I finally become engaged.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes (992 pages). This is a book that I had always avoided until I had the chance to listen to it on audio. It is good enough but the attitude to mental health and the practical jokes, which are often very cruel, that people play on one another show a real difference in attitude between the sixteenth century and the present day – on occasion it was quite uncomfortable to listen to.
  • Voyager by Diana Gabaldon (1072 pages). This is the third in a series of eight books all of which are very hefty books. This time travel/romance/historical novel is an easy but very enjoyable read.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (928 pages) is another book I tackled on audio. It is a story of revenge and I enjoyed this a lot.

Most of my reading diet is made up of shorter books than those listed above but I do think that it is important to have a go at a longer book from time to time. My discovery of audiobooks has greatly increased the number of longer books that I read.

Keep reading (however long the book !)