Sunday, November 29, 2015

On the virtues of big fat novels

Everyone loves a four-day weekend, right? But for a reader, a four-day weekend without a book to read would be torture.

So I made sure to bring home two books to carry me through the Thanksgiving holiday: a scholarly tome I thought might be helpful for a class I'll be teaching soon (but quickly convinced me that it won't be helpful at all) and a big fat collection of mini-essays that came highly recommended (despite the fact that they're so tedious and precious that I gave up after 60 pages). So there I was at the dawn of a four-day weekend with no new books to read.

Of course I have papers to grade, classes to prep, and syllabi to write, and of course I had a house full of people for part of the Thanksgiving break, but at some point the houseguests all left and I can't grade papers 24 hours a day. I need a book. 

But I have a Kindle! First I ordered a short new novel that purports to be amusing: Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt. Reviews suggested that deWitt might be the bastard lovechild of Flann O'Brien and Italo Calvino, which sounded interesting. The novel, sadly, isn't. It's a light bit of frippery that bored more than amused me. But at least it was short! There's nothing worse than a long bad novel.

A long good novel was really what I needed, something that could grip my interest for days on end without taxing the exhausted brain cells too strenuously. I could re-read any of the honking big novels loading up my bookshelves, but sometimes the mind needs something new, even when the pocketbook is running short. For this there is one great solution: all those neglected fiction classics available at no charge for the Kindle. I'd recently enjoyed Vanity Fair (which I first read at age 14 or 15, far too early to understand its nuances), so I decided to take another stab at Thackeray. Which is how I ended up starting Pendennis.

The great thing about reading a long good novel is that I don't have to worry about finding another book to read for days, maybe weeks. I can dip into Pendennis with delight for a few minutes or an hour, secure in the knowledge that the book will still be there beckoning next time I have a gap in my busy days. A great big fat delightful novel is a doorway to another world, and it makes me happy to know that I can step through that door and that world will still be there.

Until it isn't. The worst thing about a big fat novel is when it's over. The door closes, leaving me on the outside, lost and wandering.

The cure? Another big fat novel. 



Rebecca said...

I went on a George Eliot binge this summer. Her big fat novels were perfect for long plane rides.

Bardiac said...

I listened to Undermajordomo Minor recently on CD in the car, and kept waiting for it to get funny or go all magical realism in an entertaining way, but it never quite did it for me. Alas. I so want a good, thoughtful, funny novel on CD!