Winter is the best time to tackle some of the bricks on a bookshelf. I always hold long books in a bookstore, smiling to myself as I take out my wallet because I'm convinced that buying one is aspirational - that I'll get around to reading it 'one day'.
The length of a book shouldn't matter. There's a certain pride we feel when we say 'ooh I finished a thousand-page book last week', nodding seriously along with ourselves as though we're great scholars and should be accepted into an institution any day now. But for me personally, this doesn't align with my reasons for reading. I love learning, diving in to a new world, experiencing other lives and strengthening empathy. Can reading long books help me to do that?
Some can, yeah, so I've had a think. I am a strong believer in the concept of a DNF (that you shouldn't feel obligated to finish a book that you're not enjoying, learning from or vibing with), so why the heck would I dictate that long books are 'Good Things'?
I absolutely wouldn't - long or academic books are the same as regular-sized books in that if they make you feel something, or if they show you something new or leave you with an impression, then they've done their job. If a book is working for me, each page should feel important, valuable and memorable. If I'm counting pages, then maybe it's not for me.
On that note, I thought I would curl up with a blanket and a cuppa to share some long books that got me good, and some that I think could get me good one day. Because these ones are about heart and story, and not about the little number in the corner.
Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain
This one is the autobiography and manifesto of a World War I army nurse and Oxford student. Don't pick this up unless you're fully prepared: it's devastating and raw, but also provides a beautiful glimpse of humanity's ability to withstand traumatic loss in the face of huge hardship.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
I haven't read this yet, but the description speaks for itself: fairies, magic, scholarship and adventure in historical England? Yes please.
My Dad read it a while back and excitedly described scenes that were set in Waterloo with Napoleon... It sounds hilariously witty and I'm absolutely here for it.
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
This isn't just on the list because it's LONG or because I love the musical - it is also one of the most incredible books I've ever read. It is a hugely political commentary on inequality, justice and morality, and it's also just beautifully written. Hugo was patriotic and empathetic, and he truly had faith in people. Rumour has it that he was actually there in the street when the student uprising took place; he had to shelter behind a pillar as it happened.
The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon
I don't know much about this one other than that it's EPIC. A good fantasy romp with Queens and ancient enemies... yeah, I'll be reading this one soon.
Breaker Morant, by Peter Fitzsimons
This book sounds like an adventure, a tragedy and a moral conundrum all rolled into one historical brick. I've loved everything I've read from Peter Fitzsimons because he seems genuinely passionate about Australian stories. I recently began to read Eureka, an account of the Stockade in Ballarat, Victoria, and he treads as carefully as he is able through experiences that are in no way his own. Though this is not at all my place to say, I hope that authors of historical nonfiction (especially nonfiction that is written creatively) can uncover more diverse experiences in the future. Tragically, there is a lot missing from our historical understanding of Australia and I would love to see this represented in more popular books.
What are some of the biggest books on your shelf? Do you think that the length of a book impacts your enjoyment of it?
As always, thanks a bunch for reading with me.