It’s Soooo Thick: My Relationship with Great Big Books

31 Aug

By Alexa Day

memoirs

Click it and be seduced by the hefty goodness.

I remember the night I encountered Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History for the first time. At the time, I lived across the street from a big box bookstore. (I should say that’s not an ideal situation for someone with a book addiction. I should say that, but I’m not going to.) One night, as I was making my rounds from Romance to Erotica to Literature to the clearance shelves, I noticed Reclaiming History on the corner of its shelf.

It’s hard not to notice it, actually, because it’s a big book. The unabridged edition is about 1600 pages long. The endnotes are on a CD-ROM tucked into the back cover.

It was soooooo big. I had to have it.

I played it cool and strolled around the store for a while, pretending I wasn’t interested in it, but I didn’t really have a chance. I took that weighty tome home with me, and Bugliosi’s exhaustive treatment of the Kennedy assassination has kept me company ever since.

Reclaiming History is not my first Great Big Book, though. I have a history with them.

Asuitableboy

Click it if you want this nice, thick book on your lap.

I bought Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy because it was big. Sure, I looked at the jacket copy before I bought it. I played the same little game where I picked it up and put it back and walked around and picked it up again. But unlike my periodic dalliances with Bugliosi, Seth’s love story pulled me right in and wouldn’t let go. I turned the last page fully expecting to find more story. When there was none, I flipped back a few pages to make sure I hadn’t gotten a defective copy, something with blank pages where the end of the story should have been. What a strange feeling that was — after so much story, to want more of it. But that’s what a big book can do for you. I felt like I’d moved into A Suitable Boy the way a person moves into a house.

And there have been others. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series was still just a trilogy of nice, hefty books when I encountered them in law school. I should have been reading all my neglected volumes of legal gravitas at the time, but the heart wants what it wants, and it did not much want contract law. The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George came later, when I needed to get lost in the tapestry of another woman’s history.

Today things have changed a little. I still have a couple of pretty big books around. Next to me right now are two books I bought because they were heavy for their size: Brad Meltzer’s The Book of Fate and Bernice Layton’s Mind Games. Wise purchases on my part – I’m enjoying both of them.

But I can’t sink into the giant books the way I used to. I don’t know if my day job is slowly destroying my attention span or if I’m not making enough sacred space in my life for reading or what. I’m learning to enjoy shorter works, but I certainly miss the Great Big Books. These days I daydream of an afternoon long enough to immerse myself in a long, long narrative. And maybe a little herd of employees to take care of the household while I’m reading.

I daydream big, too.

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7 Responses to “It’s Soooo Thick: My Relationship with Great Big Books”

  1. finesharpie August 31, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    Memoirs of Cleopatra was so incredible! It’s one of my all time favorite books. It was like lugging around the bible. It was the first historical fiction I ever read and it made me a fan of hers.

    Like

    • Alexa Day August 31, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

      It really is a great book, isn’t it? I carried it everywhere while I was reading it, and it is kind of a substantial workout. I haven’t read anything else of hers yet, though, which is shameful because I got so engrossed in that new place and time.

      Like

  2. Madeline Iva August 31, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    You know what — you’re right Elizabeth! The same thing happened to me with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It sat there forever waiting, and finally I just attacked it. Love that book!

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  3. Elizabeth Shore August 31, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    I love a big book. I love carrying it around (heavy though it is), I love knowing that I have a ways to go before the book and I have to part ways. I get immersed and beautifully overwhelmed and so so happy when I’m about to begin. That said, the big big book has to be something I’m truly interested in or it can become just a big big burden. I’ve had David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest sitting on my shelf for years. I’d love to read it. I should read it. But, alas, I just can’t. At least not yet. The good thing about a big book is it’ll wait for you, like a faithful pet, sitting patiently at your feet until you decide to give it the attention it deserves.

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    • Alexa Day August 31, 2014 at 11:49 pm #

      Your description of the big faithful book is so apt! I know Reclaiming History is going to be right there for me, even though I can only give it a smallish window of time. There’s so much of it! It’s comforting to know I can nibble at it from time to time and still have plenty left.

      I feel like I have a copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell around here somewhere. Hmm.

      Like

  4. Madeline Iva August 31, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    You know, I’ve heard others speak of the long story phenom too. I mean, what is an uber-big book but a series all squished together?

    One friend I have said she gets distraught about a series ending. “It was like someone died,” is how she put it, when her favorite series ended. My DH agrees — they want the connection they feel to go on and on and on.

    I think that this is why you get such wrath when an author ends a series…and I think that’s why some authors (George R. Martin, for instance) would rather face death than finish. The same thing happened to Robert Jordan.

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    • Alexa Day August 31, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

      I have my eye on George R.R. Martin. There seems to be an awful lot of story in each installment of his series. I’m just waiting for that window of time to present itself, in case I get sucked in the way I did with Outlander.

      Like

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