The Long and the Short of it. Reading Long Books

Thanks to everyone who dropped by to comment on this post to cheerlead me on with reading The Passage, by Justin Cronin. I have just finished reading this breezeblock of a book and will be posting my thoughts sometime this week.

Photo by Rebecca Miller

At a mere 790-odd pages, I have to say it’s taken over my life (well my literary life) for a significant chunk of this month. The only other book that I’ve read that was that long was Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina which I devoured during my 2008 Christmas holidays.

I have to say that when I’ve got lots of books that I want to read then the prospect of reading such a tome can feel a little daunting and often it’s nice to follow up with a nice short read. On the other hand, reading a very long book is quite a unique experience, (especially when it is well-written) because you get so immersed in the story for such a long period.

What’s the longest book you have ever read? Do you shy away from longer books or enjoy an epic now and then?

29 responses to “The Long and the Short of it. Reading Long Books

  1. I love that picture!

    I must admit that when I am brave enough to dive into an epic I am usually richly rewarded and have always been glad that I have; that said, I hardly read any because the size puts me off.

    I have so many books I want to read and the thought of having to take several weeks out to read just one of them puts me in a cold sweat!

    The longest books I have read are The Count of Monte Cristo – Dumas (nearly 1500 pages) and The Autobiography of Henry VIII – Margaret George (1000 pages and tiny print) and I have LOVED both!

    I wish they didn’t scare me so much as I have loads of hefty tomes on my shelf that I am desperate to read (Shogun, Shantaram, Pillars of the Earth, Les Mis, a Dickens or 3). Le sigh.

    • novelinsights

      Oh wow, I actually didn’t realise that The Count of Monte Cristo was that long! I would really like to read that though. I’m the same, in that I love it when you find a great book that’s long – you can really escape into it but I don’t read them very often. I tend to wait until Christmas or when I’m on holiday!

    • oh, do read Shantaram. it is one of my favorites!

      • novelinsights

        You know what, for some reason it never appealed to me but I don’t know why – although actually I have no idea what it’s about. I guess I will have to look out for a copy / read a few reviews if you enjoyed it that much!

      • Really, Lisa? I must get to it soon then.

  2. Many of my favorite books are long–in fact, anything under 400 pages feels short to me. I think what I love about such books is the immersive quality you mention. But a book should earn its length, and so many tend to have long stretches that lag. I’ll rarely avoid a book because of its length, but I’m getting more willing to give up if they get too repetitive or too slow for long stretches.

    • novelinsights

      You are definitely right about a book earning it’s length and life is too short to carry on if it isn’t!

  3. Great photo indeed!

    I think the longest book I have ever read would either be the World ACcording to Garp (which i liked so much i had to pilfer its title for my blog…sorry, Mr Irving) and the Glass Bead Game, both of which are about 600 pages – so not as long as your epic conquest! Lionel Shriver’s Post Birthday World felt pretty lengthy too although that might be because not so much actually *happened* in the book. I did like it but it was not what you’d call fast-paced.

    I think short stories are my favourite, but I’m planning to read Anna Karenina soon so will see how i get on with that!

    • novelinsights

      Oh enjoy Anna Karenina. I found it brilliant, although towards the middle there were some chapters which I skim-read where Tolstoy went off on a ramble about farming – oops, naughty! Please don’t let that put you off though as I loved the rest of it!

  4. i have been wanting to pick up a copy of The Passage, so i’ll be interested to see your thoughts.

    as for the longest books i’ve read, i think Shantaram is probably the longest, at about 950 pages. i got through about 500 pages of Anna Karenina and gave up…

    i’ve also read the first two books in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, both of which were rather long, and enjoyed them as well. the later books in the series run into the 1000 page mark, but i haven’t read them (YET).

    • 500 pages is a long way to go before giving up – good effort! I’ve never heard of The Wheel of Time series…

  5. Haha, that´s such a great picture! Hats off to you for reading such a chunkster.
    I don´t shy away from reading long books but most books I want to read are just not that long (and I often feel like most books could o with some 50 pages less) 🙂 I´d say the longest I´ve read were around 600-70 pages.

    • I know what you mean – sometimes there is such a thing as overkill and I do like prose that is to the point!

  6. The longest book I’ve read recently was Kristin Lavransdatter at 1168 pages but I only finished it because it was a read-along book. Wasn’t so much the length that made it difficult, more the content and the very melodramatic style. I just finished A Place of Greater Safety at 768 pages. I loved it.

    • I’ve never heard of either of those. Sounds like you weren’t bowled over by Kristin Lavransdatter (although I don’t think I’m very good at readalongs of long books – sometimes I think it makes it harder?). I’ll have to look up A Place of Greater Safety though…

  7. Wonderful picture. I don’t shy away from reading long books. Luckily I’ve enjoyed all the long books that I’ve read.

  8. Aw, I like that picture- it’s like the book is keeping her warm.
    I think the longest book I’ve read would be Gone With the Wind; also some Penny Vincenzi books are quite long. I really think you have to be in the mood for a chunkster; if you have itchy feet you won’t enjoy it.

    • Ha, it does doesn’t it! I’ve never read Gone With the Wind but would love to. You’re right – you need to be in the frame of mind to get into a long book otherwise it’s just frustrating.

  9. I think GWTW is my longest book. Andersonville was pretty chunky, too. Also Middlemarch.

  10. I once taught a nine year old whose only criteria for a ‘good’ book was that it be long. When her came to me at the beginning of the year he was reading ‘Shogun’ if you can believe it. I asked him if his mother knew what he had and he said that she’d given him. Thank goodness for fantasy epics. I wish I’d had the Harry Potter books to offer him.

  11. Well done for finishing it, it truly is massive! I saw it the other day, it caught my eye because I’d seen it on blogs and my only thought was maybe some other time… The longest book I’ve read (that I can remember) was The Six Wives Of Henry VIII by Alison Weir, it didn’t have so many pages as others but it had the non-fiction element. I have Shogun in a box. I bought it along with six other books. Those six were all finished months ago.

  12. I have to say I normally shy away from bigger books, but (and I hope this doesnt give away my thoughts on The Passage) having just read a long book I enjoyed how I got to know certain characters and stayed immersed in a world for that long, something I might try more of. In fact I have just almost finished one long novel and ammoving onto another.

    Best long book… East Lynne without a doubt mind you its not quite 600 pages.

  13. I’m am renowned amongst my friends and family – and much mocked – for shying away from long books. I love really short ones that pack a punch, and have quite a short attention span… I think the longest books I’ve read are probably the Harry Potter books, and they don’t really count because they’re so compelling that they feel like short books…

    Other than that… Moby Dick? How long is that? It felt like it took forever. Still wading though The Eye of the World (790pp, I think)

  14. Oh, and I like that the girl in your picture is literally stuck in a book!

  15. I loooove long books, but they are hell to carry around and don’t fit in my bag! Most epic fantasy books I read are long, then there’s Gone With the Wind, Bleak House, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Quincunx and A Suitable Boy. But I haven’t attempted War and Peace yet. Of course it helps to read a short book in between, just to keep things flowing!

  16. Great picture, wherever you managed to find that! Good on you for finishing the book. I haven’t heard of the book and have no idea what it is about so looking forward to your review. The longest books I’ve read would have to be either Bleak House or Vanity Fair. Anna Karenina sure looks like a breeze now compared this one!

  17. I absolutely agree re long and short books. I remember everyone commenting on how big Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (780pp) was when I read it, but I flew through that, it was so involving. I’ve also read The Count of Monte Cristo (1240pp in my edition) which took a while and Ulysses, which is apparently only 600pp but felt a lot longer! I have a few giants on my TBR shelf, which I hope I will get round to one day.

    • How did you get along with Ulysses? I didn’t go too well with it and gave up after the first bit. Might try Portrait of the Artist as a Joyce starting point.

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