Why So Long, Mr. Tolstoy?

Some of my followers on Twitter may have noticed lately that I’ve finally taken it upon myself to read War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I have a feeling that this is going to take me a month and a half, maybe two, but I’ve buckled down and resigned myself. Contrary to popular belief, (and according to the all-knowing Wikipedia) this book only ranks #17 among the longest novels…but it’s still pretty long.

I have to say, so far, it’s a nice read. I’m halfway through Part 1 of Volume 1, and so far there is almost no plot to speak of, the characters have done almost nothing but have parties (Seriously, maybe three out of four scenes are a party), and every now and then people spin off into conversations about politics, which I get a little lost at (I’m not exactly the political type, I’m still a little in the dark about what’s happening on Wall Street these days!). But, besides all that, the characters are great.

Why the huge book, Mr. Tolstoy? There are actually a few reasons to write an enormous gorilla of a work, if you have the stamina and attention span.

  • There is more room to develop story. This is one of the more obvious of reasons. Readers of YA and MG will know what I’m talking about: Those stories that are so good, but so short, and so underdeveloped you’d really rather the book was a huge epic, so you could spend more time in their world. It really is a shame, for instance, that Jeanne DuPrau didn’t spend more words on the City of Ember. It would’ve been great if she’d written, say, six books instead of four, or at least spent more time in each of the books. What really happened in the Wars and Epidemics…Did Lina have more memories of her parents…How was the City of Ember built, and who built it…Were there more cities like it? Instead of vague references to events, a larger book can give you more time to reflect on past happenings and current goings-on.
  • Favorite Character from War & Peace, Pierre Bezuhov (My Rendition)

    There is more time to develop character. In a longer work, you can dedicate whole pages to the description of a character, or his/her thought processes. In a shorter story, the characters may play out a week, a month, maybe a year of their lives. In a longer series or book, you could watch a character live his/her whole life out. You can see how their values change, you can see the events that shape who they become, you can see who they meet, who they fall in love with, who they marry, who their children are, where they die. Which leads me to my next point:

  • People don’t like to say good-bye. Well, maybe you do if you don’t like the person, and if that’s the case, they can put down the book after the first ten pages/first volume. But those who do fall in love with your characters can spend whole books with them…hours, days, weeks, months. Maybe even years, if you keep writing sequels.
  • It’s fun. If someone gave you a choice, would you go on vacation for a day or a week? Well, same idea with novels. Reading a novel is like going on vacation…It’s a form of escape from reality. With a short book, you can explore the world for only a limited time…With a long book, you can stay in that world for longer. Obviously.

After that all, it’s really up to your stamina and creativity.

What was the longest book you’ve ever read? Was it enjoyable, or was it a time-suck? 🙂

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9 thoughts on “Why So Long, Mr. Tolstoy?

  1. I can’t actually remember. I’m a fan of multi-volume series, so you could say that they’re long books split into parts. 😉 If it’s not long enough, I feel a little jilted, if it’s too long I can get tired, but if it’s really really good I don’t notice the length at all, and no matter what I don’t want it to end.

  2. Two lengthy books that come to mind are Dickens’ “Great Expectations” and “This is All: The Pillow Book of Cornelia Kenn” by Adrian Chambers. The former was a chore (to date, the only Dickens work I’ve read and liked is “A Christmas Carol”, and that may mostly be merely because I have a Christmas-loving bias). I enjoyed the latter enough to purchase my own copy for the luxury of limitless rereads (to date, the number of rereads = 1, but the book knows I’ll get back around to it eventually). While the action and philosophy in “The Pillow Book ” occasionally made me uncomfortable (teenagers sure can get up to some stuff, can’t they?), it made me think; it captured my interest; it left me pining for more at the end — whereas I couldn’t put what I considered to be the *very* dull “Great Expectations” behind me quickly enough.

    Books you love will always seem too short; and there’s no such thing as “too short” for a book you wish you weren’t reading.

    • “Books you love will always seem too short; and there’s no such thing as “too short” for a book you wish you weren’t reading.” Ha haha! 🙂

      I think I might like to read Great Expectations some day, I’m not sure. You certainly don’t make me want to read it more though. 😉

      Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Long books? Hmm. Most of the ones I read are long. Wheel of Time, for instance. I’m slowly working through “A Song of Ice and Fire”. And so on. Lot’s of Fantasy, and some sci-fi. Lots of multi-volume series.

    I will say, as a contrary opinion, I enjoyed Great Expectations when I read it. I guess I connected with the outcast-nature of the main character, Pip.

    • I think it takes a trained mind to enjoy things as heady as Dickens or Dostoevsky, just like we train our taste buds to enjoy certain food. For instance, I would’ve cringed if somebody suggested reading Tolstoy about a year ago. It’s all a matter of taste and conditioning I guess.

  4. Wow…some of those books are over a million words long? Now that’s just ridiculous.

    One of the longer books I read was probably Frank Moorhouse’s Grand Days, only 674. I bought Susanna Clarke’s Dr. Strange & Mr. Norrell a while back (nearly 800 pages long), but I keep getting distracted by all these books my favorite authors have been releasing lately and still have to finish it, haha. (So far so good, though. It gets more gripping as you go along.)

    I’m a book hopper, unfortunately.

    • Book hopping is okay as long as you always hop back. 😉

      Only 674 pages? Don’t we all wish we could write a book that epic someday. So…was it any good? Or just wasted time? 😀

  5. I actually liked it and really loved the protagonist (found her thoughts processes to be fascinating), though it had some…risqué elements I wasn’t expecting, haha. It’s a bit longer, too, than what I said, but it’s all glossaries, appendices, and other background information.

    As you say, the length lets you explore things like character more in depth, and Grand Days did this very well. The protagonist’s transformation from innocent newbie out to change the world to not-so-innocent-‘international woman’ was complete and believable, probably in part because it was not rushed.

    (I was interested in the League of Nations at the time and specifically chose this novel because it had a young, idealistic character who was a new officer at the League’s headquarters in 1920s Geneva; I have a comparable type of character in my WIP. It turns out it shares some other intrinsic similarities with Grand Days, too, so it proved to be an especially useful read/study.)

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