Monday, December 5, 2011

A heavy reckoning for you, sir.

I was able to finish The Sisters Brothers a couple of days ago, and my preparation for this Tuesday's event with Patrick deWittt seems to be going alright.  So, I've been able to begin my 49th read from the list, with John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor

Once again I'm reading a book I don't know anything about, which I guess has been the case with many of them so far.  But with The Sot-Weed Factor, I'm finding nobody knows anything about it.  Telling people this is the book I'm currently, reading, I've yet to hear a 'oh yeah, I read that,' or even a 'ooh, I've always meant to read that, I've heard it's great.'  In fact, I haven't even heard a 'I am aware of that book's existence.'  But I don't take anything from this as some of my favourite reads so far fell into the same category.  I know very few people who have read Lucky Jim or The Berlin Stories and they've been two of the greats in my opinion.  But neither of those two approach the anonymity this one seems to.  It really is a mystery; a chameleon on the stacks, blending in with every book around it.

Set in the 17th century, the book is following Ebenezer Cooke through his developmental years.  I'm really not that far into it, so I can't really say anything more and I don't have any idea where it's going.  It must be going a lot of places though, as it weighs in at almost 800 pages.  My last few books have all been, shall we say, 'briefer.'  Of the last twelve, only The Blind Assassin has broken the 400 page barrier, at 521 pages.  Of course there's nothing wrong with a long book, but it does make for a different reading experience.

In the case of books I've enjoyed, like Gone with the Wind, a big book allows the reader to really immerse themselves into the story, the setting and the characters.  The fact that it's 900 pages doesn't really matter.  Of course when I read a book like Infinite Jest, which I didn't enjoy at all, 1,100 pages seemed like some kind of torture.  I was immersed, in my misery, drowning in a sea of disappointment.  Yes, a long book can be a real double edged sword.

The other thing about reading really long books, is the experience of physically reading them.  Big books are, of course, heavier, bulkier, and generally more of a pain to tote with you everywhere you go.  Some of my clearest memories of reading Gone with the Wind are of my arms falling asleep as I read in bed, holding the book with two hands above my head.  With Infinite Jest, I remember the difficulty in packing the book.  It was too large to fit into any pockets, too large to comfortably hold with one hand, and heavy to lug around.
But perhaps the worst part, or rather my least favourite part of reading a long book, is that it takes me longer to read.  That in itself doesn't really bother me as it should take longer, there's more to read!  What bothers me is that I tire of people saying to me, 'are you still reading that?'  They don't mean anything by it of course, but I always find it a little discouraging, because what they are saying is, 'are you still reading that?'

When you read a book for two months, as I did with Infinite Jest, it seems to become a part of you, and people you meet in that time period think of you as 'the Infinite Jest guy.'  I don't want anybody to think of me as the 'sot-weed guy.'  I suppose I had better make haste, to avoid this most unusual of nicknames.

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