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On Marathon Reading

2011 April 5

I started reading Roberto Bolano’s 2666 nearly two weeks ago. I pulled it off of Joe’s bookshelf on a whim, really. I was with him when he bought it at a used book shop in Salem last year, and like so many books one buys at used book shops, it was put on the shelf with every intention of reading it some other time.

I know nearly nothing about Bolano or his work. All I know is that he’s a Chilean writer who died in 2003, never seeing the ultimate publication (and success) of 2666. I have heard good things, but can’t say I had more than a fleeting curiosity about the writer or his work until I got the latest issue of The Paris Review in which one of his never before published novels is being serialized in three parts before its official release in book form next year. I liked the first part of The Third Reich and decided to take a risk and start 2666, before even Joe had read it.

The book is an epic 900 pages, broken into five different parts. The parts are each told about different characters, and the parts are further broken down into sections that range in length from a sentence to several pages. This structure makes the book surprisingly easy to read, and I was breezing right along, enjoying the challenge of tackling such a complex and hefty book.

That is until I reached Part 4, the penultimate part of the book, “The Part about the Crimes.” In the paperback version, this part stretches from page 351 to page 635. It’s the longest part of the book, and details the slaying of hundreds of women in Santa Teresa, a down-trodden industrial wasteland in western Mexico. I’m trying to hard to keep up with my dedicated reading of the book, but my interest and motivation have definitely trailed off during this difficult part. I can only read about so many mutilated dead women before I’m ready to put the book down and turn the television on or go for a walk.

As of now, I’m on page 450–the halfway point. I think reading a book of this size, any book, is like a reader’s marathon. We start off with zeal and energy, thinking that we’ll make it to the finish line in no time. But soon, the pages are going by slower and slower, and each chapter is becoming more difficult to get through. Sleeker, more slim, volumes sit on your desk or bookshelf; new titles sit brazen in store windows, seductive.

I’ve fallen before, many times, abandoning long books with the logic that there are so many other books to read, and I’ll go back to that one, some day when I have more time. I’m determined to finish this one though, even if I have to lug it on plane to California with me in two weeks.

What’s the longest books you’ve read? Was it a challenge to get through them?

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. Mal permalink
    April 5, 2011

    I had a similar experience with The Savage Detectives. Although it isn’t as long as 2666, it is incredibly dense. I only made it through 2/3 of the novel before I gave up.

    I used to be obsessed with finishing every book that I started, but it was actually The Savage Detectives that started to break that obsession. I now have very little trouble saying, “I am not enjoying this, and I don’t really care how it ends,” and putting the book back on the shelf. It’s actually quite liberating.

  2. DiGang permalink
    April 5, 2011

    It took me two tries to read Moby Dick, and that was easy compared to Gravity’s Rainbow, which probably took 3 months to read. But still, this is why we read epics: because it’s badass to be done with one, look at it on the shelf, and say to yourself, “Yeah, I made it through that, and I did it on my own and not for class!”

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