It's Soooo Thick: My Relationship with Great Big Books
By Alexa Day
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.
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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