Wed
May 18 2011 8:32am

For the Love of...The Longest Novel Ever!

The Millions, an online literary magazine, has a column that hits home, given that I am currently enmeshed in reading A Feast for Crows, book four of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which is—last I checked—976 pages long.

Mark O'Connell's  column, titled “The Stockholm Syndrome Theory of Long Novels,” posits that the “greatness of a novel in the mind of its readers is often alloyed with those readers’ sense of their own greatness (as readers) for having conquered it.” In a fun twist of metaphor, O'Connell deems it the “literary variant of the Stockholm syndrome phenomenon, whereby hostages experience a perverse devotion to their captors.”

I have to agree; there's a certain smug satisfaction in reading a book of excessive length. Even before reading this article, I tweeted in faux despair at having read 400+ pages, and not even being halfway done with the book.

So what book(s) of excessive length have you patted yourself on the back for finishing? Conversely, what long books will you never finish?

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21 comments
mochabean
1. mochabean
I adore long novels -- but I don't know that I have ever felt that I "conquered" one of those bad boys by finishing it. If I like a book, I don't want it to end. And I decided a few years ago that life is too short to keep reading a book I hate. I'm currently reading Book 3 of ASOIAF(Storm of Swords) and as long as it is, I'd be happy if it were longer. All that being said, I did feel a real sense of accomplishment when I finished Infinate Jest. And I will never finish Middlemarch.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
@Mochabean: I think you're a better person than me. I always feel a bit of triumph having finished a huge tome. I never read Infinite Jest, but I did read Middlemarch--and I will never, ever read James Joyce's Ulysses. Never made it past page 3, actually.
Donna Cummings
3. Donna Cummings
I used to adore longer novels--I can remember wishing Shogun would never end, and I had already seen the miniseries before I read the book. LOL But nowadays I get a little twitchy when a book is more than 400 pages. Too many books to read, with more being added to the pile every minute I'm here getting recommendations!
Regina Thorne
4. reginathorn
If I love a novel, then I always want it to go on forever; conversely, some novels just seem interminable despite their more modest length.

The longest novel I've read more than once is Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, in answer to your question - I think it was about 1000 pages in hardcover - but it was so engrossing I didn't mind being immersed in the world for as long as I was.
Laurie Gold
5. LaurieGold
It's like a rite of passage to have read a long book. I can still remember my first...Gone with the Wind...in the fifth grade. I got in trouble because after reading time was over, I didn't hear Mr. Rogers (he was soooo not like Mr. Rogers!) tell us it was time to put away our books and he thought I was dissing him on purpose. When my daughter was quite young, she read the first Harry Potter book, which was very substantial for a seven or eight year old. Come to think of it, she stayed up all night reading it, so she joined another club as well at a young age.

I'm not sure what my longest novel was; perhaps the fastest was I Know This Much Is True, which is about 900 pages and which I read in 24 hours as I stayed awake to finish it. My biggest bragging rights come from Michener's The Source (also about 900 pages), which I read in high school at the beach just because my dad was struggling with it on the same trip. My daughter says I have to read War and Peace, and I've promised to do so, but I'm putting it off as long as I can.
mochabean
6. SuzanneG
I was proud when I finished Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, which I enjoyed reading, all 983 pages of it. However, I have yet to make it half way through the sequel World Without End, which I think might be even longer. The sad thing is, once I pick it up again, I will have to start over because it has been so long since I started it.
mochabean
7. JillSlattery
I just started reading "A Clash of Kings" and that baby is also looooooooooong. I love the characters and the story, but sometimes it feels so daunting to start a long book because you know it's going to take you awhile to get through it.
Carmen Pinzon
8. bungluna
I think the longest book I ever read was a translation of the Arabian Nights that my mother had; it was two leather-bound tomes and I read it when I was 11, gawking at all the sexing going on. It may not count since it's a series of stories with a connective narrative. I will say that the length didn't register with me since it was all so deliciously fascinating.

I tried reading "Don Quixote" and couldn't get past the first page.

Length doesn't really impinge on my consciousness. I love Dumas but hate Steinbeck. If the story is good, I'll breeze through it; if it's not, I put it aside. Life's too short to waste on a book I don't like.
Megan Frampton
9. MFrampton
@bungluna:

Life's too short to waste on a book I don't like.

Exactly! I bet that's how all of us feel. I have read Don Q. multiple times, but don't think I would re-read now; the TBR pile is too high.
mochabean
10. sofrina
"it" by stephen king and "the lord of the rings" are my longest to date. i believe they both top 1,100 pages. what hooks you is the depth of lore, the backstory that this evil has been around a very, very long time and now it is about time someone put a stop to it, no matter what.
Louise Partain
11. Louise321
Though I read the Ring trilogy and all the Harry P books, my largest sense of achievement came from reading War and Peace. Just keeping the characters and all of the different places straight in my mind made me self-congratulatory. Still a great book after all these years.
mochabean
12. AMG
What about War & Peace? Once you start, it's actually very readable because of all the battle scenes, actual historical figures, and facinating characters.

I was one of those smug children who prided themselves on reading the great works, no matter how long. I've enjoyed Solzhenhitzyn (Gulag & fiction), and struggled through Remembrance of Things Past.

As an adult, if it is not grabbing my attention, no thanks. So the Wheel of Time was abandoned, and I read Infinite Jest only for the footnotes. Game of Thrones is on hiatus, until the next book comes out. Like Crown of Stars, if I wait too long between books, I forget what happened. Same with JV Jones Ice series. Frustrating.

No romances on this list, as I never like Outlander. And give Middlemarch a try--watch the BBC series, then go back to the book. It's really very good.
Rachel Hyland
13. RachelHyland
@MFrampton

Glad you mentioned Ulyssess -- it is one of the most over-rated books of all time, I feel, and probably a large part of the reason it is so consistently accounted a work of genius is because it's a) so inscrutable and b) so damned long.

Another example of this phenomenon could well be Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It was the must-read book when it first came out, and yet it's really not that good; I think people just liked how weighty it was, and how impressive a feat it was to wade through it... after having made such a time commitment to a novel, it's hard to then confess (even to yourself) how little you actually enjoyed it.

Good luck with the remainder of A Feast For Crows. I spent at least 85% of that book shedding tears of impotent rage...
Susanna Fraser
14. Susanna Fraser
War and Peace is on my bucket list, and I'm planning to read it next year, for the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. I'm hoping to find a good translation available for the Kindle to save me toting a tome around.

I read big fantasy all the time. I read A Game of Thrones last week and am about halfway through A Clash of Kings now. I'll be able to catch up the series with room to spare for reading the next Jacqueline Carey book by the time A Dance With Dragons comes out. My only frustration with the Martin books is the sheer number of POVs. I keep skimming ahead to the next Arya, Tyrion, or Dany scene and having to force myself to go back and read in order.
April George
15. AAGeorge
@JillSlattery you and I are in the same place, then. I'm in the middle of Clash of Kings myself. It's amazing, but Martin's work gets hard to read when I'm not sympathizing (or I'm downright hating) the POV character of the moment.

Beyond Song of Ice and Fire, the longest book I finished was the Lord of the Rings series. I have also promised myself that I will never re-read it!
mochabean
16. ned
The irony of this post is that while YOU may finish reading the book, and another one is "soon" to be released, the author will NEVER finish the series. Dooming you either way :)
Megan Frampton
17. MFrampton
@ned You are killing me. And you are so, so right.
mochabean
18. woodshadows
I put down Ulysses upon my first attempt into about (page 3). I held onto the pdf however and would glance at it periodically over the next two months. My determination got the better of me and I began to understand what was going on, I determined that I should go to sparknotes and read the chapter summaries to get some bearings. From thence I read the whole thing through in a very short period of time. I had the most fun time ever reading a book with this work. Joyce's prose has so many variations he keeps you always engaged, never dulled by the monotony of one voice, he presents his story through several 'voices'. There is some real hilarity in this work as well, from the repeated refrain of the demented man having received a note saying "U.P : UP", no explanation ever presented for what it means, but it having quite disturbed the man's mind, to the scenes of Bloom peering cautiously as he is being cuckolded while his wife engages with another man, all done in tasteful fashion, never crude, never vulgar, not attempting to shock, but providing insight and the multi-dimensions of a view of another world. So, don't lose heart, it's worth another look.

In search of lost time is another very good work, but one which requires a huge committment of time and patience, Proust is in no hurry to entertain, he has several volumes afterall in which to unravel his story.

For an entertaining historico-religious read The Ramayana is excellent.

War and Peace is bogged down by Tolstoy's repetetive showcasing of his pet theory which argues against the 'great man theory'.. but there are some very nice scenes. Much better off you would be to read Anna Karenina, twice the philosophy, ten times the psychology, emotionally heartwrenching at spots and very little of the authors own voice inserting itself intrusively to interrupt the story.

P.S. fantasy books are for little children; sorry, but it's true.
Rachel Hyland
19. RachelHyland
@ woodshadows

And sweeping, patronizing generalizations are for bigots. The day A Game of Thrones, just as one example, is read by "little children" is the day innocence dies. (And someone calls Child Services.)
Megan Frampton
20. MFrampton
@RachelHyland is right--there's a lot of fantasy (I would say most) that is totally inappropriate for children. If you're saying we are childish for wanting to read that genre, then that is something else, and is as judgmental as Rachel says--no genre is exclusively for one type of human or another. Just ask all the adults reading The Hunger Games, or who were obsessed with Harry Potter.
Marian DeVol
21. ladyengineer
I agree with @RachelHyland and @MFrampton. Much of modern fantasy, especially the Urban Fantasy sub-genre, is totally inappropriate for children.

@woodshadows reminds me of the "true literature" bigots often found among humanities faculty in higher ed and among faculty want-to-bes who look down their noses at readers of popular fiction. They fail to remember, even the most "high-brow" literature was originally published to be READ by as wide an audience as possible. If it did not have a broad appeal, it never got more than a single print run and never lasted long enough to make it into a university English course.

Pardon the rant. I work in IT for a major university and find such literary intellectual arrogance hard to swallow. ;->
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