If a book is hard to keep upright for any period of time, due solely to its extreme weight, then it naturally follows that it is of interest to me. I love huge books. I’ve read quite a few. Infinite Jest. Gravity’s Rainbow. 2666. The Recognitions. Dhalgren. More, probably. Lots more. Some of the bigger books on my to read lists are War & Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo, basically anything by Pynchon [Against the Day(!)], the three books to the left. Whatever tips the scales, really. Hell, I’m even considering a re-read of Infinite Jest.
Big books serve as paperweights; paperweights for the ego and for life. They give a certain fixity to the everyday, that ordinarily lacks. I enjoy being under the month-long spell of a book . The second half of Infinite Jest ranks as one of my favorite high school memories, just because I was completely given over to the book for those last couple of weeks. We’re talking several hours a day for two weeks straight, in addition to the previous time contributed.
I often refer to myself as a literary masochist, but I don’t think this is entirely it, or at least it oversimplifies. Masochism is certainly a part of my life–if only as a form of purgative–but not so much when I read. When I read something, I want to finish it (I don’t have to, of course) and if the book is even remotely good, I will. So, I think the bond between a reader and a big book extends beyond simple willpower–and for lack of a better word–masochism. Perhaps to put it more romantically, the desire to finish a big book stems from a desire to understand, to be challenged.
The desire to be challenged is certainly not new to me, but it manifests itself strangely. If you’ve had the misfortune of teaching me, then you know how I react to challenges in school–in short, not very well. I’m an autodidact, but I certainly could care less when a professor tries to go over the essay requirements for the hundredth time. A big book doesn’t expect these things, it expects application, it expects to be read, to be worked for; the less you work for it, the lazier you read, the less you understand. Understanding is fundamental to a big book, an opportunity to partially understand the world through the eyes of its author, a relationship between viewer and artist unlike anything else in the art world.