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.
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? 🙂