Long books are hard to read. Who likes reading for two hours and then being like “Oh good, only 950 pages to go”? It seems to me that in truth there are very few people who actually read long books, and all of them end up in graduate English programs because the hobby is so time-consuming that it actually has to become your job at some point if you want to sustain it–and I’d consider myself one of those people, except for the fact that I can’t really read long books. I go through stages. Stage 1, I remember that I can’t remember more than ten names at a time and stop reading so closely. Stage 2, I get sick of details and want to watch TV. Stage 3, things start weaving together, I enter a reading blackout and emerge at Stage 4, the end, at which point I feel like I haven’t been reading the last half of the book but rather that it’s just happened in my head.
It’s always worth it. I was ready to shit all over Our Mutual Friend after I was forced to read it for a class (as in literally shit, like use it for toilet paper) but then halfway through it became my favorite Dickens book (an impression reinforced by the fact that Desmond in LOST likes it too). And then there’s the mama of big long virtuosic books: War and Peace, weighing in at about 1300 pages. For my major at UVA, it was like this thing that everyone had to read this book over Christmas break of third year (or obviously–”read” it) and so I slogged through the beginning scenes filled with fancy living room furniture and people named Mikhail Ilarionovich Kutuzov, and all of a sudden I was in Stage 3 and totally forgot I was reading.
Really. Just like Wishbone. I was straight-up feeling like I was in the book. And I could not be less interested in historical novels, aristocracy, war stories, or epic romances, but masterpieces like War and Peace change the game. Some critic once said, “If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy,” and it’s absolutely true. In pace, scope, and style, this novel is a supernaturally perfect mix of minute and huge; it makes you feel like all other books are creative writing projects. It’s also perfect on history, letting you see that there are a dizzying number of stories, thousands of them, millions of moments, that exfoliate outward from every half-page description of a battle. I recommend it, especially if you are about to embark on a venture that will leave you with the isolation and time to read big scary books. Oh wait, that’s about to be me. Fuckz.