Taking My Time: The Count of Monte Cristo

Do you remember that time about 10 years ago that I asked you to choose a book for me to finish reading by the end of the year?

You probably don’t because it was AGES ago.

Well, I asked you to pick a book that had been languishing on my shelves unread for eons and you chose The Count of Monte Cristo. I started reading it near the end of October and…finished it the night before my birthday.

It took me nearly 5 months to read.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a classic for a reason and I’m always surprised by how accessible the language of Dumas’ work is. It was published in 1844 but it reads like it could have been written now. Obviously there are certain situation and technologies that are very much of the time, but I find the writing very digestible and when I was reading, I found that I was getting through pages rather quickly.

The story itself is one of vengeance and exciting and interesting, it takes a number of surprising turns. I liked Edmond Dantes and understood his quest. The language was beautiful, it had lighter moments that made me laugh. There was honestly nothing about this book that I can use to explain why it took me so long to read.

Except of course this is one long ass book. I’ve written before about not being intimidated by large books but this time, I did not live up to my own expectations. The size of the book left me itching to finish it and looking at other books piled up around my apartment longingly.

And eventually I gave in to that. The idea of only reading The Count of Monte Cristo for as long as it took me to read it (my copy weighed in at 1462 pages, realistically it would have taken at least a month) was one that I couldn’t reconcile myself to. Which meant that the poor Count became my bedtime read, relegated to second place, his story parcelled out in chapter pairs before I drifted off to sleep.

But I finished it and it was great. If I were to read it again (which I hope to one day) I will devote myself to it like the Count devotes himself to his quest.


Fangirling Over Eleanor Catton

I think I’m in love with a new author and I haven’t even read any of her work.

By now you must have heard that this year’s Man Booker Prize went to New Zealand author Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries.

At first I was struck by the fact that she’s the same age as me. Then there was that moment of “She’s my age and she’s written an award winning book and I’m just happy to get through my work day.” A kind of pity party really.

Then I started reading snippets about her and she sounded pretty interesting. Then I read this interview (if you have a few minutes, you should read it too, it is excellent) and I fell in love.

She’s effing brilliant. She’s intelligent and eloquent (probably not surprising for a writer) and human – I so identified with the sleeping in last night’s make up! That’s such a 20-something thing to do really. So she’s this brilliant, normal, well-spoken individual and she’s written this book that sounds really good.

I’ve seen the book around. It has a beautiful cover and that will always make me stop and take notice. People are talking about the length of the book as a detractor – 832 pages. But book length has never deterred me (except when I think about trying to read War and Peace for the second time but all the way through this time). The narrative structure of this one intrigues me – 12 sections split according to the signs of the zodiac and each chapter is half the length of the previous one – but I’m often wary of things that don’t follow the norm.

Because despite being 28 chronologically, I’m really 80.

I think I will jump into this one and make a go of it, if only because I’m so impressed with Catton as a human being. I love that she called out old men for being judgmental of her work and her age, and the media for asking female writers what they feel instead of what they think.

I’m not sure that I have ever actively sought out a Man Booker prize winning book before. But then, there’s a first time for everything.

Here’s hoping my fangirling pays off.


Big Books

I’m making my way through another big book. This time it’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Which actually looks worse than it is. It’s a massive, very heavy hardcover absolutely crammed full of information. But while the page numbers run well past 900, once you factor in all the notes and the bibliography, it’s only 700 pages of actual reading.

The same could not be said for Les Miserables, because my copy did not have any notes. I read all 1202 of those pages.

Because I have a goal of the amount of books that I read every year, I tend to shy away from tackling really big books. The thinking is that taking time on those books will hurt my chances of achieving my goal. (One year I was one book short of my goal and I was super sad about it.) I clearly also have terrible memories of taking 3 weeks to get through Daniel Deronda.

But I digress.

I’ve been working at 2 very intimidating looking books in a fairly short amount of time and, as we’re all aware, people like to comment on reading material. Especially if they also fancy themselves readers (I’m afraid that I have a rather lofty impression of what actually constitutes a reader). Aside from the “whoa that’s a big book” comments, what I’m hearing most often is that they would never read a book that big.

And I’m left wondering why that is?

Don’t you ever finish with a book and wish that there was more to it? Big books have more!

Don’t you ever feel like maybe the book was wrapped up too quickly, like they ran out of space? Big books do not do that. They wrap up perfectly in their own sweet time.

You could argue that big books are heavier and you don’t want to lug them around. I’d be inclined to agree with you today – Far From the Tree is a heavy mofo. But with ereaders as popular as they are, there’s no reason for you not to attempt to read War and Peace (there shouldn’t be any pages missing anyway) or Anna Karenina or Middlemarch.

Are long books always classics? No – there are plenty of recent books that are long too. I just can’t think of any… biographies can be long! The Queen Mother’s biography was massive. But then, she did live until she was 102 so that was a lot of life to cover. I know that you can get a 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill as well. But that’s broken up into sections.

What’s my point here?

Don’t be afraid of long books! Sometimes they are the very best ones.