December 1, 2011

How long has this (book) been going on? Sticking with really long and/or difficult books


Roberto Bolano's mighty 2666

What book took you the longest to finish? Darren Franich ponders his longest on-going reading over at Entertainment Weekly’s Shelf Life:

I don’t usually remember the exact date that I begin reading specific books. But I know exactly when I read the first page of Roberto Bolaño‘s 2666. The bookmark that I use in my copy of 2666 is the Christmas card that my brother wrote to me when he gave me the book. On the top of the card, he wrote the date “25 Dec 2009.” (My brother is the kind of man who writes dates in his Christmas cards. To help you complete his psychological profile, the image on the front of the card is René Magritte‘s Le trahison des images. My brother is a great man.) I have been reading 2666 ever since. For two years in a row, “Reading 2666” was my pop culture resolution…. In all likelihood, “Reading 2666” will be my resolution for 2012, because I am still a couple hundred pages away from being finished.

What I like about Franich’s piece is he goes on to observe that though it’s taking him so long to read 2666, it’s not because he doesn’t like the book:

Now, the fact that it’s taken me so long to read the book would perhaps indicate that I don’t like it very much. After all, on my frequent breaks from 2666, I’ve read other long works of fiction at a considerably faster pace. I read George R. R. Martin’s 1040-page A Dance With Dragons in a little over a week of breathless all-night reading. It took me maybe five solid months to read Robert Caro’s 1167-page Master of the Senate. The complete Hunger Games trilogy adds up to more than 1000 pages, and I read those three books in under a fortnight.

But I do enjoy 2666. There are whole pages of it that I want to memorize. Heck, 2666 makes me want to learn Spanish, just so I can read Bolaño’s original language. The problem is that — either because of the complexities of the plot, the weightiness of the themes, the apocalyptic mood, or just the sheer size of the thing — it’s difficult for me to read the book for a long time without wanting to escape to something else.

Difficult books demand a different kind of engagement. And long difficult books require even more of that commitment. I love that Franich is still plugging away at 2666 three years later. He hasn’t given up hope, or more importantly, lost interest. I, for one, must confess my longest on-going read is James Joyce’s Ulysses. Though fifteen years and counting, perhaps I should admit defeat….

What book are you sticking with?


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.