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Problems With Long Books

Updated on April 5, 2012

How do I make the most of my reading time?

I have trouble resisting used book sales, the clearance rack at Barnes & Noble, or my personal favorite: book giveaways. I have a particular weakness for big books. It is difficult, after all, to resist a low cost-per-page rate. These big books, however, pose a couple of problems: they take up a bunch of the increasingly precious space on my bookshelves, and, more importantly, they tend to mess with my self-esteem.

As each big ass book is added to the collection, I become more painfully aware of how much I have not read. They will just sit there for months or years on end, collecting dust as they mock my lack of time and knowledge. Of course, I can try and justify myself in resistance to their mockery. Taking on a big book, after all, is a major time commitment. Plus, if it eventually becomes clear that a book does not deserve the time, I have lost many precious hours that could have been spent on other literature. This is why I often gravitate toward magazines or collections of historical essays. I can get quick doses of information on a wide variety of topics, and as a teacher of history survey classes, that is probably the most productive thing that I can do. For in my line of work, we are expected to know the basics about everything, and we do not have enough class time to go into a great deal of detail about any single topic. Who can remember all of those details anyway? And how will exposure to all of that detail make me a more effective teacher?

I also find the authors of big books intimidating. How the hell did people find the time and amass the knowledge necessary to compose these giant things? The people that I find particularly impressive are all of those authors who managed to write these massive works before the era of word processors. How could a single individual write and revise Moby Dick, War and Peace, or The Brothers Karamazov with just pen and paper? They either got some serious writer’s cramp composing multiple drafts, or they did a lot of erasing, crossing out, or scribbling revisions in the margins. Plus, they did all of this work knowing that the pages could be easily lost. It would be a bit frustrating, after all, if Melville’s home caught on fire, Tolstoy’s dog ate his draft, or Dostoevsky spilled some wine all over his manuscript. I wonder how many fantastic pieces of literature were lost or destroyed throughout history from simple carelessness or just bad luck.

Of course, it’s also possible that Tolstoy cranked out War and Peace and published the first draft because it was too much of a pain in the ass to go back and do a lot of revising. In addition to saving time and trouble, the publisher would have the added benefit of charging more for the book due to its thickness. Then, decades into the future, an overly ambitious book buyer like myself might be unable to resist picking it up if it was offered at a discount rate. How could I resist buying War and Peace for only five bucks? It’s such a low cost-per-page rate, and it would look impressive sitting on my shelf.

Check out my new (not so long) book:

I recently published my first book. It is a collection of history essays, and I am confident that many people will find it more informative than many longer, more " informative" books. See the link below for more details.


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