A Short Post About Long Books


LT can stand for Leo Tolstoy or Long Tomes, MP for Marcel Proust or Many Pages, and...well, you get the idea. This will be a piece about "doorstop novels."

Long works of fiction are on my mind because I've almost finished an edition of James Clavell's Shogun that contains 998 large pages of small type. Too bad the publisher didn't hit 1,000 pages with a map of Japan in 1600 and an ad for eyestrain remedies in 2013.

But, all kidding aside, Shogun is a riveting book about an English ship captain in Japan, and about what that Asian country was like 413 years ago. One reason why the novel is so compelling is its length: There is room for countless details, characters, relationships, conversations, fights, deaths and more. So much stuff that people reading Shogun feel they're living parallel lives -- their own, and that of Captain Blackthorne, translator Mariko, Lord Toranaga, etc.

A similar thing happens when reading other many-paged novels such as Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, William Thackeray's Vanity Fair, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and the longer of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. Lots of immersion, and lots of escape from one's everyday worries and cares.

Harry Potter is among those series that can almost be viewed as a single enormous novel rather than seven separate ones, but I see the books as distinct (albeit interconnected) entities. On the other hand, I consider The Lord of the Rings trilogy one novel split into three parts. Why the difference? Each Rowling installment, with the possible exception of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is also a self-contained story with a satisfying conclusion, while The Lord of the Rings is one continuing saga. Your opinion may differ!

But I digress.

Speaking of long literary works, we can't forget In Search of Lost Time. Legions of fans love Marcel Proust's opus, and value the way its hugeness offers so much to savor. But I only read the Swann's Way volume, and, while finding the writing magnificent, felt things were a bit too slow to continue.

Indeed, a massive novel can be a difficult experience for people who don't find it ultra-compelling. Another drawback of a doorstop book is that the many days one spends on it could instead be used to read several shorter yet still excellent novels. Most of us only have a certain amount of time to devote to literature -- how to best employ that time? For instance, while I've read some very lengthy works of fiction, I've hesitated to tackle David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest because its 1,000-plus pages would relegate several shorter novels to the back burner.

But, as we all know, it can take a number of pages before getting into the rhythm of a novel and becoming comfortable with the author's style. So when we read doorstop books rather than more concise ones, we don't have to go through that adaptation phase as often!

What are your favorite long novels? Or do you tend to avoid them?

(Note: Many thanks to commenters "claraluz," "Olderandwiser55," "Wacokid36" and Maggie Van Ostrand for recommending Shogun!)


Dave Astor's memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional (Xenos Press, 2012) includes a preface by Heloise; back-cover endorsements by Arianna Huffington, "The Far Side" cartoonist Gary Larson and others; appearances by Hillary Clinton, Walter Cronkite, Coretta Scott King, Martha Stewart and others; and a mix of humor and heartache. If you'd like to buy a personally inscribed copy (for less than the Amazon price), contact Dave at dastor@earthlink.net.