5 Daunting Doorstoppers You've Just Gotta Have!
I know any lover of books will understand when I say that there are masterpieces you buy to read and masterpieces you buy to shelve. You intend to read that Don Quixote or War and Peace or Ulysses some day -- you believe that its presence on your bookshelf alone makes you a little smarter -- but somehow you never get around to cracking the covers.
That's understandable enough. And forgivable. But how is it that the contemporary equivalents of these massive, literary novels sell so well that they climb onto bestseller lists? That people you can't imagine having the time to read a challenging work, much less a bohemoth of 898 pages, are suddenly chatting about it freely over dinnertables?
Here are five books I suspect have more owners than readers. That's not a crime! Not even a bad thing! Let's call it the fat-book-you've-gotta-have phenomenon.
1.The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing. The slimmest of the lot, numbering a mere 668 pages, it's the story of a Anna Wulf, a communist writer living in postwar London and struggling with writer's block. Written in 1962, it quickly became a feminist manifesto, the kind of book you clutched to your chest in protest marches. But it seemed more talked about than truly read, although I'd argue it's the 2007 Nobel laureate's best work.
2. The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. I was an editor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in the 1980s when this book was published, and even we (the happy publishers!) were astounded by the book's success. It was not an easy novel. In fact, it was downright erudite. The author was a linguistics professor in Rome! And it weighed in at more than 700 pages. Yet the book was flying off bookstore shelves, making us rich, defying gravity.
3. Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. Speaking of gravity, there's this: an 800-page epic as sprawling as it is significant to the contemporary American canon. It won the National Book Award when it was published in 1973. But it's a daunting work about a daunting subject -- the impact of technology on the human animal. Have all its admirers read it all the way through? I hope so, but suspect not.
4. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. A great, wondrous carnival of a novel. But at 1,104 pages, a certain calculus goes into play: In the same space of time it would take me to finish it, a cagey reader thinks, I could consume four or five other volumes! You could beg, hector and cajole, but it would take an enormous act of will and devotion to make that person sit down and give it the attention it deserves.
5. 2666, by Roberto Bolaño. Okay. I'll admit that, despite its 898 pages, I'm going to read every word of this big, fat book. I've read everything Bolaño has published. And though this last, posthumous novel has only recently been released, let me go out on a limb and predict that it will garner superb reviews, win prizes and sell many thousands of copies. That's good! All very good. By all accounts, it's a dazzlingly original novel. But I wonder how many of its ardent fans will actually read it. (Yes, Virginia, there are fans who don't read the book they persuasively claim to love.)
Surely you have other examples.
-- Marie Arana
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