Friday, November 09, 2007

Big fat novels.

Taking a page from Dr. Write:

I find that I don't read longer works--by which I mean anything longer than a long New Yorker article--these days, particularly during the school year. I could moan about it, but I've mostly accepted it as a fact of my life. But! I hold in my heart the fond, fond fondness for long novels, the longer the better (assuming that they're delightful to begin with). Here is a list of long novels that I have loved at different points in my life:

1. Middlemarch. I wrote my master's thesis on this book and it is canonical to me, as in, it is a kind of secular scripture that I consult, at least in memory, to help me live my life.

2. Our Mutual Friend. It is my favorite Dickens, and I love many Dickens novels, including Bleak House and David Copperfield and Little Dorrit, sometimes known as Little Dork at my house.

3. Humboldt's Gift. I read this when the world was in thrall to Bellow, and I know that Herzog is considered his masterpiece, but I love Humboldt the best, partly for the part where the narrator reports that a woman had taken refuge in Humboldt's bathroom, whereupon he importuned, "Open the door! I have a big cock!" It tells everything you need to know about poets--a lot of them, anyway.

4. The Thorn Birds. This falls into the category of "unworthy, really, of your time, and don't you have something better to do?" Except it was for a class! in contemporary American fiction! and the professor, whom I loved--he had a buzz cut and a big belly and a hilarious, cartoon character voice--chose it as a representative of the popular novel. I loved that he did that. I was pregnant when I read it, and I stayed in bed all day, exaggerating a slight illness and missing a French literature exam to do it.

5. Harry Potter (take your pick). Ever since college daughter, who was then junior high daughter, read the very first HP on the drive up to Idaho, and kept saying, "This is amazing! This is so good! Wow" etc. until I wanted to rip the book from her hands and let her drive, I have had the most fun reading these books, and also had the joy of a genuine shared literary experience with my kids and extended family, reading, anticipating, and arguing fiercely over these books. Definitely one of my best reading experiences ever.

6. Cloudsplitter. I read this book on a vacation, a dark winter vacation in Mendocino during the week between Christmas and New Year. It was gray and cloudy and rainy most of the time. We stayed in a lot, bundled up, by the wood stove and read and read and read. This book, based on the life of John Brown and told from the fictive point of view of one of his sons, was an apocalyptic read. Matched up very well with the darkest part of the year.

7. Underworld. I know I have already raved on about this book, but truly. It is the greatest of great books in my pantheon of greatiosity. I love its scope, I love that all of the characters feel like people and not like "characters." I love Delillo's writing--the way he makes a sentence. I will never quit Delillo. Never.


  1. I have to finish Cloudsplitter! I can't believe I haven't!
    I didn't love Middlemarch, and I know that admitting as much marks me as an ignoramus, but I just didn't love it. But I love Underworld, so perhaps you can forgive me.

  2. Excellent list. I haven't read Our Mutual Friend or The Thornbirds.

    I think you would really like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

  3. The first 60 pages of Underworld: breathtaking. Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are my faves too--I read them w/ my high school Engligh/Latin teacher....

    I also loved Jonathan Strange, MB. And as long as we're on recent long novels: Instance of the Fingerpost.

  4. Bleak House might be my fav. Resolution for the new year, read at least one long novel a month. Must read Middlemarch.

  5. of your list, I have only read the HP books (which I am lukewarm about) and Cloudsplitter (which I am in the middle of and loving, but continually distracted by other books). I feel like a literary lame-o for not reading the other books on your list (except for Thorn Birds of course), but hey, I'm a rhet/comp girl, so whatever. Oh, and I should say that I hate Dickens. Hate, hate, hate. Does that make me a bad person? Sometimes I feel like it does.



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