Big Ass Book!

Good lord!  This book is over 1500 pages long. I want to read it, which is why I borrowed it from the library. But I’m not going to finish it in 2 weeks, or 4, or even 6. This is a PROJECT, this book. Why, you ask, would I want to read such a thing?

Well, I’ll tell you. A while back I ran across The Guardian’s list of the 100 Best Novels in the English Language, or some such thing. Being a sucker for lists, I checked it out and found that I had read shamefully few of these alleged ‘great’ books.

Further googling uncovered a similar list from a decade earlier. Most of the books on each list were also on the other, and mostly in the same order, but when I got them all put together on a spreadsheet (data!), I discovered that I now had a list of the 149 best novels of all time.

So I decided to read the ones I’d missed. In chronological order. Yippee, a mission…let’s GO!

First up: Don Quixote, Cervantes, 1605. That is a remarkably long time ago, and this was a remarkably enjoyable book. I’m guessing that if I could read Spanish, and I tried to read it in the original, I might hate it almost as much as I did the next couple of moth-eaten old wrecks, but luckily for me, I’m illiterate in all but my native tongue, so I was able to like the hell out of this story.

#2: written in 1678 by John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress is the story of a man’s search for salvation. Or something.

Oh fuck me running, I TRIED, I really did. The language was tough, but I knew to expect that, and I’m not afraid to stretch myself, so I thought I could do it. Wrong. It wasn’t just the language…the story was so…. fraught… with such heavy-handed Christian symbolism, it made my teeth ache. Am I closed-minded? Am I shallow? Maybe so…but I. Just. Couldn’t.

#3 (don’t panic, I’m not doing all 150 right now): Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe (1719). This was slightly better, but this time the language  DID get to me. I couldn’t focus on it, couldn’t parse my way through it; I gave up. It was also partly that I just wasn’t interested in the story. Skip.

#4: Gulliver’s Travels. FINALLY! Apparently, by 1726, the language had evolved enough that I could enjoy it (oh, yeah, those 7 years made all the difference ;-)). That Jonathan Swift can spin a riveting yarn, I tell you what. Little people, big people, and all of them with social and political foibles just like us!

Which brings us to the screeching halt that is #5, Clarissa. (Samuel Richardson, 1747-8) Written in the form of letters, some between our heroine Clarissa and her BFF Anna, others between other people (haven’t got past 3rd page yet, please forgive vagueness), it is a classic, a masterpiece, a triumph.  That may be so, but it’s also freaking HUGE. I think I saw somewhere, the LONGEST novel ever.

It encompasses 537 letters written over the period 10 January through 18 December… which gave me my idea for a PROJECT! I’m going to read it in real-time, next year.

So I’ve ordered it from The Book Depository, and I’m going to start it on 10 January and read the letters on (or close to) their dates! (Who’s with me? Anyone want to do an online, year-long, book club for a 260-year-old book?  Read all week, then maybe something like a Facebook page where we talk about it every weekend? No? Ok, just thought I’d ask.)

In the meantime, I’m still planning to slog through the rest of the list, and I’ll be sure to keep you all posted. (Oh YAY, is what I hear you all not quite saying aloud.) Next up: Tom Jones. Oh wait, I read that one years ago. SKIP.  Next up: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence Sterne, 1759; currently on hold at the Next Town Over Public Library.

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4 thoughts on “Big Ass Book!

  1. Pingback: 250-Year-Old Novel Tied To Danish Sperm Science! | DataTater

  2. susurrus

    Good luck – I like many of the classics and have read Clarissa. I can’t really remember much about it, which is perhaps not the best sign, either for my memory or the book!

    Some of the 100 best books lists have been updated to include a wider range of authors and you might well find the 100 best books stretching to 200 or more if you carry on making a list. I have to confess some of the books listed surprise me.

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  3. datatater Post author

    Pilgrim’s Progress as a ‘favourite’ – wow…to each his own, I guess. 🙂 I’m just too shallow; not fond of stories with a moral – I prefer a rollicking good time. As for the Sun Tzu – I haven’t ready it, but in my head I equate it with Machiavelli’s The Prince, which I do remember liking when I read it in school – so perhaps I will put that one on my list. Thanks for your comments.

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  4. hirundine608

    I feel i must comment. I am not a Christian, yet one of my favourite books is Pilgrim’s Progress. My Mom read Don Quixote many years ago and she enjoyed it. I tried but I had more success with Bunyan and did enjoy all that symbolism. Especially later, once I started thinking about it. One needs to set that stuff apart. To truly see what he’s driving at. Bunyan was a Quaker, I think?

    Daniel Defoe was devoured when I was fifteen. There is another similar one called Coral Island. Those books always have a type of prefacing, in each chapter. To clue the reader what to expect? Or, how to power read for an exam? Can’t make up my mind?

    Gulliver’s Travels from about the same time, fifty years ago. I preferred Dafoe to Swift. But then I’m English, so perhaps it is the American way that does not exactly follow? Even Louis Stevenson has an old fashioned way to his writing.

    Never heard of Clarissa, or the author. nor Stearne. Tom Jones? Read and could have passed by. You might try Milton and Paradise Lost? Another of those books with a moral. For a really good read, try Sun Tzu and “The art of war”? It’s really about life, not war but the comparisons are there. Cheers Jamie

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