I’m super behind on my reading of The Believer Magazine, only just finishing the January 2011 edition. But on page 74 of the issue Nick Hornby, in his monthly column Stuff I’ve Been Reading speaks the truth.
The advantages and benefits of writing a monthly column about reading for the Believerare innumerable, if predictable: fame, women (it’s amazing what people will do to get early information about the “Books Bought” list), international influence, and so on.
But perhaps the biggest perk of all, one that has only emerged slowly, over the years, is this: you can’t read long books. Well, I can’t, anyway. I probably read between two and three hundred pages, I’m guessing, during the average working week, and I have the impression – please correct me if I’m wrong – that if you saw only one book in the “Book Read” list at the top [of the column] it would be very hard to persuade you to plough through what would, in effect, be a two-thousand-word book review.
And as a consequence, there are all sorts of intimidating-looking eight-hundred-pagers that I feel completely justified in overlooking. I am ignoring them for your benefit, effectively, although it would be disingenuous to claim that I spend my month resenting you. On the contrary, there have been times when, watching friends or fellow passengers struggling through some au courant literary monster, I have wanted to kiss you.
… And in any case, long, slow books can have a disastrous, demoralizing effect on your cultural life if you have young children and your reading time is short. You make only tiny inroads into the chunky white wastes every night before falling asleep, and before long you become convinced that it’s not really worth reading again until your children are in reform school.
OK, maybe I’ve gone overboard with that quote, the important bit is the last paragraph, but, you know, context and Hornby’s columns in The Believer are a highlight (1).
The thing is, at this point in my life I’m lucky if I read more then 40 pages of a novel a day. Normally, it’s a good chunk less then that and there are nights – God forgive me – where I don’t read anything at all. As for his comments about the ‘chunky white wastes’, I can’t tell you how many times Consider Phlebas fell from my fingertips as I began drifting off to sleep (2).
Hornby’s also right about those massive novels that feel like too much work. He’s talking about literary classics, I’m talking about 90% of the fantasy genre. I never had a problem with the bookstop when I was in my 20s – shit, I’m the only person on the planet who likes Stephen King’s Insomnia – but now with a Joshi Ethan Mond in my life and a second, all going well, on the way, any free time I once had – especially on the weekend – has vanished. And here I am, a curmudgeonly old bastard who wishes the publishing industry would tell genre authors that a 250 page fantasy novel is perfectly OK.
Anywho, there’s no moral or mission statement in this post. I mean, it’s not long I’m actually going to stop reading long books. Unlike Hornby I don’t write a column (3). But I know that the days where I’d read 70 or 80 books a year are gone – at least for the next 20 years. If I can read more then 25 I’ll be happy.
(1) But Jack Pendarvis’ column is the bit I hang out for. Fuck he’s funny.
(2) It’s a fuckload more expensive when you’re reading on the iPad and it slips from your fingers.
(3) And I’d like to read 2312, even if James Nicoll loathes it.