Now or Never: Reading Big Books

I’m going to try to read one of these every month for the rest of the year.

Back several years ago, I got tired of thinking about books I wanted to read “some day.” These were invariable gigantic doorstops and often classics. They were books that I felt pretty confident I would enjoy, but I never read them, because it’s daunting to pick up an 800 page something when there’s a 200 page something right there next to it.

I did actually WANT to read those big old books, though, so I started making myself lists with the idea of reading one big book per month around whatever other smaller books I was reading. Now that I’m getting fully back on the reading train, I want to return to that (as you can see from the picture). But, in the interest of providing something interesting for people reading this, I give you the following list of long books I’ve read that his a variety of different spots. And none of these are classics either (though I could do that, too). All are reasonably contemporary with only one (I think) going all the way back to the 20th century).

Book that is ostensibly about baseball, but also not reallyThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. I don’t generally read baseball books. People find this surprising sometimes. I get my baseball elsewhere, but this novel is fantastic. It uses baseball to give all kinds of interesting insights into what we expect from ourselves and where those expectations some from. Lots of Moby Dick references, too.

Old-style domestic-fiction but, you know, contemporary and stuff The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante. I am actually about to read the final installment in these books, but I feel comfortable recommending them all the same. These were all the rage a few years ago, and for good reason. Though technically four books, Ferrante apparently considers them all one big novel. You will not always like the characters (often, you will not like any of them), but you will be completely immersed in their world. And, I don’t know about you, but right now, I really don’t mind being immersed in a different world than the one we are currently inhabiting.

Extremely weird kind of sci-fi thing The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Speaking of worlds that are different from the one we inhabit. Cloud Atlas was the Mitchell book that got all the attention, but I like this one just as well. It’s more linear in its narrative, but no less odd. And some things will happen – seemingly out of nowhere – and it will be shocking. But then you get used to it.

A unique perspective on America (among other things)Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. First, Adichie is a genius and if you haven’t read her, you should. This book deals explicitly with race at times, but also with foreignness and its varied potential impacts. The central character is a Nigerian woman who comes to the US for college and becomes somewhat famous for writing a bout race in America as a black person who is also not American. I don’t know anyway to write a paragraph about this book and not sell it short. Go read it.

Historical fiction plus mystery novel The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. Probably because it’s long and not especially sci-fi (there is a little), this doesn’t get as much attention as some of Atwood’s other work, but it is her best novel, and I really don’t think it’s especially close. The narrative is skillfully and brilliantly constructed using, at times, a story within a story within a story within a story. A construction like that shouldn’t be possible, and yet it isn’t even distracting, it just happens, seamlessly. Set in Canada all throughout the 20th century, but mostly in the neighborhood of WWII and with a pretty compelling mystery at its core, it manages to be both great literature and – I think – quite a bit of fun.

Fantasy that is also the most interesting telling imaginable of Arthurian legendThe Once and Future King by T.H. White. Lots of people know The Sword and the Stone thanks to Disney, but that’s just the first part of four and the other three are much more adult, but manage to maintain the same humor and willingness to mock the legend a bit while also making sure you still care about the characters.