October 5, 2009

Are long novels still worth reading?

66 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Yes, so long as they are fun and well written.

Robert Cook said...

To people who enjoy reading them, of course!

rdkraus said...

What has changed?

AllenS said...

Never judge a book by it's cover. Look inside and find out how many pictures and illustrations there are.

MadisonMan said...

So people who are raised in a frenetic environment, where they never learned how to be bored: Can they read a long novel that is sometimes boring?

'Worth reading' means so much in the question. Is every single page worth my time? Well, maybe not -- but that doesn't mean the whole experience should be written off.

Scott M said...

SM Stirling, my most-read author, is an excellent story-teller on a grand scale. However, from time to time he does get bogged down in details, especially poems or songs crafted by his characters. I skip right over those because, through experience, they are extremely rarely relevant. In that respect, I suppose I fail the reading-while-bored test.

I used to be a Stephen King fan, but by Tommyknockers, I got sick of 1/3 a novel's length of exposition.

Robert Cook said...

I answered the question and then looked at the dialogue between Mr. Yglesias and Ms. Rosenberg.

Is their entire conversation as inane as this segment of it?

For apparent readers, they don't have anything cogent to say about reading.

ricpic said...

Isn't Yglesias the idiot who can't understand why socialism shouldn't work here since it works in Sweden?

Because Sweden is full of Swedes you dumb #@*%!

edutcher said...

In the '90s, I had a long commute by public transit to a job in NE Philadelphia and resolved to use the time reading all the books I didn't get to read in college. I have no regrets after "Crime and Punishment" and "War and Peace", but how many writers today are as good as Fyodor and the Count?

WV "ecrate" What God accomplished in six days after the current Administration and Congress get through with it.

Paddy O. said...

I read most of Michener's works when I was in high school, and just got a hankering to start reading them again.

Just got Chesapeake. About a 1000 pages.

For me, long novels are entirely worth reading. I read pretty quick so a long novel means I actually have something to read for a bit of time, a story to get lost in. Reading fiction is like a necessary diversion after reading intense non-fiction all day.

Long novels also help re-pace a life. Slow us down. Let us sit with an experience for a long while.

I think long novels are absolutely worth reading. Like climbing a mountain or running a marathon.

They are necessary reading for me.

Shanna said...

Only if they are good, same as short novels.

MadisonMan said...

Having now watched the linked-to dialogue, I have to wonder what these two people do when they're away from the internet. Are they ever in such a place?

Dark Eden said...

Are (well written) long novels still worth reading?

...

YES!

AJ Lynch said...

Faces for radio.

Chris said...

Just started James Elroy's Blood's a Rover this weekend and hope to finish it soon.

Shanna said...

Also, anybody who would ask this question is not a reader. Or they are reading the wrong stuff.

If you like to read (and read fast) you want novels to be long, or to have multiple books to a series, because otherwise it's over too soon.

Bissage said...

"Are long novels still worth reading?"

I'd rather spend that time getting a nice full body massage, but hey, that's just the way I roll.

Different strokes for different folks.

prairie wind said...

Re-reading long novels is even better.

rcocean said...

Its all about quality not quantity. Better a great Long Novel then a bad short story.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Some people like to talk about how our information rich society will mean the death of books, but I don't see that happening. If anything people want the type of immersive experiences they can get from reading long novels.

Some genres, like literary fiction, are hurting; but others are having a golden age. I love old books (even War and Peace which was held up as an example in the bloggingheads video) but I will turn away from them to read new stuff. And length does not scare me. I've read two different works that had to be printed in three volumes.

Jason (the commenter) said...

prarie wind: Re-reading long novels is even better.

So true. For the longest time I resisted re-reading; but it can be just as enjoyable and you can see things you missed the first time; understanding the novel in an entirely new way.

John said...

First, if the only long book I had ever read was Infinite Jest, I would hate long books to. It is the worst American Novel of the 20th Century and Wallace America's worst modern writer. It is just a terrible book. It is hundreds of pages of Wallace smelling his own farts telling the world how smart he is with words and never bothering to provide things like interesting dialog or a coherent plot or an intelligent point.

Yglasias is right. There are lots of great books to read. Some of them are long and worth reading. But there are too many to read in a life time. So be very careful what you pick. And don't waste your time on posers like Wallace.

paul a'barge said...

Good grief.

That guy has been castrated. Just listen to him.

And that girl's hair? Who did that, the local school for the blind?

Robert said...

I don't understand this question. What is better than getting 300 pages into a great novel and realizing: more than 700 to go! On the other hand, if you give a novel 300-400 pages and it stinks, give it up.
At Amazon I recently saw a comment from one reader that he did not read anything over 300 pages long. I don't understand that. Why would three 300 page novels be better than one 900 page novel? The perfect novel would be so good you looked forward to having time to read it, and so long it took years to finish.

mccullough said...

John's wrong. Infinite Jest is a great book.

Shanna said...

The perfect novel would be so good you looked forward to having time to read it, and so long it took years to finish.

I would have a problem with that, since I tend to put things on hold for books I'm really interested in, not to mention not getting enough sleep and having to drag myself in to work!

I'm partial to books that can slow me down, for that reason. If I can digest a book in an hour or two a night, that is wonderful

former law student said...

The girl looks so much like my godchild (except for the 'do) it's uncanny. Do Jews have godparents?

But, yes, long novels are still worth reading: David Copperfield, Great Expectations, etc. So the question becomes, are modern long novels worth reading. And I would have to say no: Midnight's Children -- no. The Name of the Rose -- no. A Suitable Boy -- unh-uh.

John said...

MCullougha

What is good about it? It is terrible. It has no coherent plot. And it makes a boring and mundane point. Wallace is terrible. I am sorry he killed himself. Shame he had to die with that piece of crap as his best known work.

Robert Cook said...

I've never read INFINITE JEST and it may very well be a chore to slog through--or not--but a "coherent plot" is not always necessary for a book to be riveting.

Robert said...

I would be very interested in this crowd's take on long novels they have read. I liked "The Name of the Rose" very much. I loved "Cryptonomicon" However, while I somewhat enjoyed it, I would not recommend Stephenson's "Baroque Trilogy" which is three huge novels which really make up one obscenely huge novel. Plenty of good stuff, but the entertainment to hour ratio was not very good.

John said...

"I've never read INFINITE JEST and it may very well be a chore to slog through--or not--but a "coherent plot" is not always necessary for a book to be riveting."

True. But, Infiinite Jest is just transparent poser hipster crap. I hated it. The whole book is a big cheat. He has characters who show up, and then disappear with no explination or resolution. The whole book is a cheat and Wallace a show off.

John said...

Robert,

Name of the Rose is an excellent book and not that long. My idea of a long novel would be War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov or The First Cirle. Those were all great and worth the time to read.

miller said...

Not only long books, but long series, such as Robert Caro's series on LBJ. I find those books fascinating.

John Salmon said...

I sure hope so, as I just started John Fowles' "Maggot", which runs a healthy 467 pages.

Paddy O. said...

I really liked The Name of the Rose too, but just couldn't get into Stephenson.

The Brothers Karamazov is certainly a great read, though I think it's something more appreciated when older. That it's often assigned to college students probably turns more people off to great reading... as does most literature class assigned reading.

I'm a really big fan of Eiji Yoshikawa's books Musashi and Taiko.

Paddy O. said...

Oh, and I love Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, which is really one very long book broken up into 20 volumes.

Shanna said...

I don't remember the Brothers Karamazov being all that long, but it's been a while since I read it. War and Peace I still haven't made it through.

But I would say around 1000 pages is my definition of a long novel. Maybe 800 and up.

TRO said...

Why is the Numa Numa guy on Blogging Heads?

Ralph L said...

No one liked Gone with the Wind?

The girl looks so much like my godchild
She looks like my brother's wife, he looks like my sister's husband, about 15 years ago. Gentiles both.

Jason said...

Can analysis be worthwhile?

Is the theater really dead?

phx said...

I don't know, someone mentioned The First Circle and that didn't seem like a long book at all. None of Solzhenitsyn's books did. One the other hand I've read more than a few books in the 200-300 page range that seemed really, really, r e a l l y, long.

Ralph L said...

Dickinson and Frost aren't very long, or very novel.

KLDAVIS said...

Love long novels, especially the Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon. I'm currently about 400 pages into Infinite Jest, and have been enjoying it thus far. I despise end notes, but quite enjoy foot notes...that's the only thing I'd change about IJ so far.

KLDAVIS said...

Also, Anathem is brilliant and deserves to have many more novels set in its world. Hopefully these can be 500 pages or so, as they won't need the 500 pages of exposition.

Andrea said...

"There's so much more happening [in the modern world...] in the era of the giant classic novel..."

Yeah, there's standing in the middle of high-speed traffic, picking lint out of your navel, washing your cat... there's lots of activities more rewarding nowadays than reading a "futuristic parody of America"* like Infinite Jest, which sounds like one of those "OMG important you must read" clever, ironic tomes like Confederacy of Dunces that people read to show how clever and ironic they are. Well, I'll just sit here in the corner with my copy of Lord of the Rings, thanks. And is Matthew Yglesias gay or just a beta male? NTTAWWT.

Andrea said...

I forgot to say *I got that off of the Wikipedia entry on the book.

knox said...

prarie wind: Re-reading long novels is even better.

So true. For the longest time I resisted re-reading; but it can be just as enjoyable and you can see things you missed the first time; understanding the novel in an entirely new way.

Third that. There are tons of books I re-read.

knox said...

Paddy O, my sister is obsessed with those Patrick O'Brian books. I've read a couple, but I can't get past all the shipping lingo ... I never understand what's going on. All those books need to come with a glossary and a diagram of the ship with all parts labeled.

knox said...

Great long books: Lonesome Dove, Middlemarch, A Man in Full, The World According to Garp. I've re-read all of these.

KLDAVIS said...

Ah, that makes sense. Most of the folks bitching about IJ haven't even read it...

If you want to bad mouth a book, don't base your opinions on Wikipedia or, for that matter, the cover, who suggested you read it, or how indie you feel when you knock it.

I get the feeling that IJ is both advocated and bashed by large groups of people who haven't actually read it.

knox said...

OK, now I feel better for not being able to get very far at all into Infinite Jest or Confederacy of Dunces. Despite multiple attempts.

Sorry for the multiple posts, I love book talk.

KLDAVIS said...

Confederacy of Dunces is funny, but nothing special. My wife and I still make jokes about my "valve" to this day. It's worth reading, but not nearly as interesting as it's made out to be.

knox said...

Long book you should skip and just get the Cliffs Notes: The Fountainhead. That is a long one, right? Or did it just seem that way ...

knox said...

Nevertheless, I am going to try to read Atlas Shrugged, because everybody's talking about it lately. Uh oh, I'm falling for the "trendy" thing.

traditionalguy said...

I recently got a book back from a friend after a year and enjoyed re-reading it for its amazing insights into American politics. It is "Bobby and J Edgar" by Burton Hersh, and it is highly recomended.

KLDAVIS said...

I thought Atlas Shrugged was quite good, actually. Read it nearly non-stop over the course of 3 days in college. Skipped over the long radio address rehash of every point of Objectivism, though.

KLDAVIS said...

The unabridged Stranger in a Strange Land is quite voluminous, and an amazingly fast read given the fact that it is almost entirely dialog. The conceit is great for some good Sci-Fi style questioning of mores and overall, it's a very novel approach at a messianic storyline.

knox said...

OK, that gives me encouragement.

reader_iam said...

Yes.

reader_iam said...

*shrug*

Lockestep said...

Underworld - which was mentioned in the video - is certainly worth the time and trouble. I'd rank it in the top-25 novels of the last 20 years.
Anathem is also a compelling read. I read it over the holidays last year, and was sad to see it end.
And that is the joy of a longer novel for me...when you get so deeply into a work that you are torn between wanting to sneak off and read for an hour, but at the same time wanting to not read so the book can go on longer.
I'll add one (slightly shorter) book to those mentioned above: David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas , which checks in at 550 pages or so. Worth the time, IMHO.

somecamerunning said...

Wow, a mere 38 seconds in and I wanted to run Yglesias through with a spear.

I won't get into John's reading comprehension issues. He's wrong about "Jest" in at least a half-dozen different ways.

McGehee said...

Novels worth reading are worth reading, regardless of length.

prairie wind said...

Ralph--of course I loved Gone with the Wind. My first really long novel and frequently re-read. (Also, the best book-to-movie adaptation ever.)

Another really great long novel is Santmyer's ...and Ladies of the Club. Not enough people have read that. Politics, history, and fabulous characters. I'm sad to leave the last page every time I read it.

WV: tortio, a word that reminds me of JK Rowling. The Harry Potter series is another beloved long novel.

former law student said...

Gone with the Wind was OK. I haven't wanted to reread it though.

I liked Confederacy of Dunces, because it wasn't written at any high-falutin' level. Another book I enjoyed in that range of length is Catch 22. Those were "reads."

Another book I could never get into was Gravity's Rainbow. It's still around here somewhere.

former law student said...
This comment has been removed by the author.