“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough for me.”
A common complaint I’ve heard is that some books are just “too long and drawn out,” or that they “move too slowly.” The modern mind is conditioned to not like things like long books. Long books take a lot of time to read, and some folks don’t want to take a long time to do anything. Many just want to get straight to the action and see what happens next in the story. I hope someone who feels that way will read this.
First of all, it’s not enough to just state the problem and then come off like someone above it all: that doesn’t help anyone read better, and it only creates elitist book-snobs on the other side. The fact is I can relate well to people who don’t like long books, because I was once one of them.
When I first got into reading a Dickens novel was way too daunting. So I was fortunate to find short stories in the beginning. When you find a great short story, there’s really nothing else like it (I highly recommend anything by Washington Irving). You get a complete story, and ones like Irving’s will take you out of your own time and plant you firmly in another. But the thing they lack is time with the characters and the setting. And I guess I read several before I started to long to know characters and places better. And for me this was the perfect build up into the world of long novels. But even then I had to train myself to stick with it. I often found much of them boring and tiresome, and still just wanted it all to get to the point. But like anything else in life, if one sticks with it, things change.
Good things that are worthy of our time take time. If you ever hear a good concert violinist, you can be sure there were countless hours of playing scales over and over again that went on for years before the musician became proficient. At first holding the instrument would’ve been awkward. The bow made a scratching, screeching sound as it was dragged across the strings. But then one day, after much practice, a nice, smooth tone emerged that was hiding somewhere inside the violin. The wood came alive it seemed. Things the student didn’t think possible started happening. And a musician was born.
It’s really no different with reading. When I look through my reading logs I see many novels that are a blur. I can’t remember details and some entire plots are lost. But it was all part of my education: it was all time well spent on the page: learning how to learn; learning how to use my imagination; learning how to get to know characters and why it matters. And then one day, like the violinist would have felt with the violin, I felt like I knew was I was doing with a book in my hand. It wasn’t just some way to kill time but it was like traveling and getting outside myself.
Some people will tell you that anything that takes time to learn to like probably isn’t any good to begin with. I disagree. Give a child a drink of the finest wine and he’ll spit it out. Offer him a piece of cheap candy and a steak prepared by the best chef and he’ll choose the candy. It’s not snobbery to suggest that some things really are better than other things. At some point, if we are honest, we really do know there is a difference. And the better things are higher because they call us to come up higher, to go beyond where we currently are. That is how we grow.
This is what it’s been like for me reading long books.
Go ahead and grab that big novel that’s been calling to you from the shelf. Don’t feel guilty about taking the rest of the year reading it. Go slow. Take a week to read once chapter if you have to. If you do you’ll get to know the characters and the places like you were actually there. And those people and places will go with you long after the book is over. That’s the truly beautiful part.