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Friday, July 22, 2011

Help Me Choose My Big August Novel

Though it doesn’t speak well to my intellectual capabilities, I often pick which novels to read with an eye toward quantity instead of quality. In short, I’d prefer to read lots of short novels instead of few long ones. Lately this habit has been reinforced as a matter of practicality, as commuting by bus is great for reading, but not conducive to lugging around mammoth doorstops for weeks at a time. (And yeah, I know I could buy a Kindle, rendering Tolstoy the same weight as a slim paperback, but I’m not ready to take that step yet. Someday, when they’ve closed the last actual bookstore, sure. But not today.)

But I like to buck the trend every once in a while, and the last few years I’ve been doing that in the summer, typically in August. At least once a year I like to pick up a back-breaking lead weight of a novel and dig in for the long haul. Last year I read Bleak House by Charles Dickens, and I read David Copperfield before that. Now I’d like to crowdsource my choice for the next Big August Novel.

My criteria are not rigid, but the Big August Novel should be a well-known novel by a prolific author. It should be at least 700 pages, or if shorter, noted for its complexity. Basically, and I am aware that this sounds kind of douchey, I want a book that, when I tell people I’ve just finished reading it, even my fellow English majors will be impressed.

Anyway, I have some candidates in mind, which I’ll list below, but I am amenable to suggestions.

The Candidates

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
-Prof. McAdams recommended that I read this during the summer after my freshman year of college. I promptly bought the Barnes & Noble Classics edition, but small-type-induced headaches forced me to quit just as promptly.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
-I’ve had this for a while, but one day the ending was spoiled for me by, of all things, a clue on Jeopardy! This may be pedestrian of me, but knowing the ending dampers my enthusiasm for embarking on a long read quite a bit.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain
-This is the best argument for the Kindle I’ve ever encountered. The book is so cumbersome it feels as though it should have its own table, like those unabridged dictionaries in old homes.

V. by Thomas Pynchon
-A little shorter than the others, but it is Pynchon. I’d prefer to read it before tackling Gravity’s Rainbow.

Something by Charles Dickens
-I could go back to the man who wrote as if he were paid by the word, which in fact he pretty much was, considering that his novels were mostly magazine serials. I’ve read five novels by Dickens, but not Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son, The Old Curiosity Shop, and many others.

Ulysses by James Joyce
-This is probably not happening. I prefer my books to be in English.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
-Because I should really break out of my Dead White Male comfort zone every once in a while, and Dead Chilean Male seems like a comfortably small step.

J R or The Recognitions by William Gaddis
-Gaddis isn’t quite as well-known as the other authors on this list, but his novels are acclaimed works of complexity, and he has an impressive list of fans including Pynchon and Jonathan Franzen.

Anyone got another suggestion?

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