The Case for the Really Long Read

Save your brain: read a ginormous book. |

Usually, my game plan for my reading life is simply this: To read more good books. 

Chuck the dull ones. Soak up the good ones. Learn from all of them.

Usually this means that I am trying to cram books into my life: more books, better books, and reading them faster.

But once a year, I slow the pace of my reading plan. Once a year, I block off a month. 

And plunge into a single, long book.

I started this habit several years ago, after reading the article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" In it, Nicholas Carr investigates how our Internet habits are affecting the way we think, read, and process information.

He quotes Bruce Friedman (who sounds plenty smart himself), who says: "I can't read War and Peace anymore. ... I've lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it."

Okay. That terrified me. (Although, if you didn't make it past my fourth paragraph, I guess you'll never know that.)

Most of the books I read are between 250 and 400 pages. And since I try to keep books moving through my hands, I never took the time to dive into one that was, say, 900 pages or so.

But that article made me think. There are so many fantastic yet huge books out there. And I wasn't reading them. 

Would I lose the ability to read long books?

(Just thinking that makes me start hyperventilating. Like my brain is disappearing. Ack! Ack!)

I made a decision to start.

I began with the massive (and beautifully translated) Les Miserables. I blocked off a month. I made a little chart of how many pages to read on which days. (Because I cannot resist a little chart.)

And I dove in.

Yes, I did get a little restless. Yes, I was reading a hefty chunk each day.

But I also fell in love with Victor Hugo. I loved how the world of his book wrapped itself around me. I loved how deeply I could fall into the story, how well I could know the characters--so many characters!

After that month, I made a list. I rounded up the names of other long books. The ones that usually got bumped from my reading list, because they were just too dang long.

I've spent a month each year ticking one more title off the list. The Three Musketeers and Moby-DickThe Pickwick Papers and Anna Karenina

Every novel contains a bit of the world inside it.

These long novels have much bigger worlds.

And on the rainy days, the days when you want to crawl into a reading cave and just disappear for a while, consider curling up with a super long book. Let it swallow you up for a while.

Let it pull you toward a deeper writing practice. A deeper love of books. And a bigger appetite for language.

What's your favorite heavy-weight title? What's your most recent long read?