"It was the longest book I've never read" was what I thought the student said, but how would he know? He'd have to start with a list of every book ever written, cross off all the ones he has already read, and then find the longest remaining title on the list--which could easily change the next time a monolithic tome gets published. How could anyone possibly know the title of the longest book he's never read?
But of course that's not what he said. I heard "never" when he said "ever." He said the longest book he's ever read is Vanity Fair, so apparently he's never tackled Tolstoy. But he made me wonder: if I can't possibly name the longest book I've never read, what about the longest book I've never read that I ought to have read?
This is where I have to confess that I never finished The Magic Mountain (904 pages), never started Infinite Jest (1104), and never even thought about reading 2066 (912). I'm most embarrassed about Magic Mountain because it was on the reading list for my comprehensive exams. I read everything else on the list, including Bleak House (560), War and Peace (1296), Middlemarch (800), Ulysses (612), and Remembrance of Things Past (3200)--and I even made it all the way through Main Street, comprising a mere 360 pages so dull they seem like 3600.
But I never made it more than halfway up Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. I believe that's the only required book assigned throughout my academic career that I simply could not force myself to finish reading. Good thing it never came up on my comprehensive exams. (Shh! Don't tell or they might revoke my Ph.D.!)