Friday, March 20, 2009

Heavy Tomes

For the past two weeks, I've been reading Normal Mailer's book, The Executioner's Song. I finished it last night at 9:47 pm and did a little happy dance. Why? Because the thing is 1,050 freakin pages long. Getting through it all felt like a real accomplishment.

After finishing it, I realized that there are very few huge books I have tackled in my life. Now, I'm a big reader; I usually go through two or so books a week, especially since I spend so much time reading during my commute (I'm a public transportation kind of girl). Despite this, I don't usually gravitate towards the really long books.

I tend to stay away from biography and other non-fiction books. (except for true crime). I read for pleasure, and I find fiction to be more fun. And it seems like those big books are either non-fiction or Russian lit, and sorry, Tolstoy, you are not for me.

Having said that, I can point to 5 books that could definitely be considered tomes that finishing resulted in a definite sense of accomplishment. There's a feeling of having climbed the mountain and a sense of a job well done in getting all the way through these kind of books. So here's a list of my 5 greatest literary challenges (in terms of length, not content...James Joyce, I'm looking at you):

1) Gone With the Wind: I'm not sure what gave me the bug to read this book when I was in sixth grade. I just remember having a deep desire to read it...maybe that was around when the "sequel" was being released? In any event, I tackled my Mom's old copy with a vengeance and felt mighty proud of myself for having finished it as an 11 year old. Then I watched the movie and was depressed.

2) Helter Skelter: I developed a love for true crime during high school; maybe it was the titillating details of the mixture of murder and sex, but anyway, I stumbled across Helter Skelter probably about the time I fell in love with The Beatles as a sophomore in high school. Coincidence? I think not. I ripped through Vincent Bugliosi's account of the Charles Manson murders in about a week and was hooked on true crime ever since. It still remains one of my favorite books.

3) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel: This book came out about 4 years ago I think, when I was in law school and working at the Barnes and Nobles. I saved up my pennies and bought it determined to read it over Christmas vacation. And I did. But I failed to consider how it would take ALL of Christmas vacation. Dear lord, this book felt long. I remember liking the beginning, but somewhere around the middle becoming less enamored. In the end, it came down to nothing more than a contest of wills to see who would win: me or the book. I pulled it out in the end, and sometimes, on a rainy afternoon if you listen really carefully, you can still hear the book weeping from its shelf because of the ass-kicking I delivered. Take THAT, book!

4) Sacred Games: I pay attention to book reviews I read in papers, and often immediately jump on to my library's system and place a hold when I come across something that looks good. Vikram Chandra novel of murder and deceit in modern day Mumbai was one of these I discovered by reading the newspaper. I dutifully hauled the almost 1,000 page hardback copy around for 3 weeks (the people on the Metro must have thought I was crazy), but really enjoyed reading it. I think it would have been better if it had been slightly shorter, but it's one of those books that you can really dig into. I couldn't breeze through it since it was chock full of references to Indian culture and Hindi phrases that demanded I take my time, but upon finishing it, I felt like I had been shown a glimpse of a world previously hidden. And there aren't many books that can really make that claim.

5) The Executioner's Song: As noted, I just finished reading this one last night, and it's another one of my true-crime opuses (why is it non-fiction books are so big?). After reading the book The Stranger Beside Me about Ted Bundy and surfing around Wiki, I found references to Mailer's book about the killer Gary Gilmore. I'm not sure he's technically a serial killer, but the book was fascinating and I liked how it was almost more about the people who surrounded Gilmore than it was about the killer himself. The book demonstrates how one person's actions can have catastrophic effects on everyone else they come into contact with.

So there you have it. My top 5 "big" reads that for one reason or another I have always remembered and considered feathers in my cap.

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