Big Books

There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a book to read. Maybe a friend with similar reading tastes recommends a book. Maybe a cover looks interesting. Maybe you’ve read the author before. But, size? What role does the size of the book play in book selection? And, does size really matter—at least in the age of the Kindle where one never actually holds the book, never feels its heft, can view page count as a percentage of progress?

If you’ve read Ken Follett, there’s a good chance you’ve thought at least a little bit about size. Ken Follett books are noteworthy not only because they are good books, but because they create a shared dialogue among readers. “You should read Pillars of the Earth.” “I’ve heard it’s good, but isn’t that book HUGE?” “Yes, but it doesn’t feel like a big book. Once you starting reading it, you can’t put it down.”

I had this conversation with so many people, of course, I had to read the book. It turns out Pillars of the Earth is a good book, and it IS hard to put down. No, it doesn’t seem as long as it is. Yet, it was cumbersome carrying it around for the three weeks it took me to read it. It was almost impossible to read it in bed. Forget about taking it to the doctor’s office. Throwing it in your purse to read while waiting for your kids to finish whatever activity it is you’ve enrolled them in—forget it.

Fast forward to Fall of Giants. I just don’t know if I want to start a book that’s 985 pages. Then the dialogue starts happening. “You should read Fall of Giants.” “It’s too big, I can’t read a book that long.” “It doesn’t feel that long once you start reading it.”

Week two, page 342. World War I has just begun. Yes, it is interesting—as usual, Follett does what Follett does. He makes otherwise-boring topics engaging. He creates characters that readers care about—even when readers don’t typically care about the topic. He makes big books read like they’re small. But even Ken Follett can’t make this book feel light. Not in bed, not in the doctor’s office, not on the hammock, not at the pool.

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