Recently, as I opened my copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for the first time in weeks, I realized with dismay that I still had 900 pages left to read in the book. While I enjoy the characters and story in the novel, I’m not surprised that it had taken a backseat to other, shorter books since I started it back in April: a large book is an enemy to my motivation.
Of course, I’m not entirely against long books. I love the fact that you can follow a set of characters in a story that spans 800 or more pages. The mere size of a book can help to make the story feel epic, and it’s difficult not to sympathize with characters whom you have suffered with for that long. Indeed, one of my favourite books, The Lord of the Rings, has a length comparable to Atlas Shrugged, and by the time I finished that one, I felt like I had walked to Mordor with Frodo. The length also allows the author an opportunity to explore his or her creation fully, showing many sides to complex characters or developing the fictional setting.
My problem does not lie with the quality of the book, because from what I’ve read, Atlas Shrugged is an interesting work that I do want to read. My hesitation comes from the length itself, the fact that if I do the math, I could fit 3 standard novels into the book’s page count. Furthermore, Atlas Shrugged isn’t similar to the American versions of Harry Potter, where the books appear long, but have large text. My paperback version of Atlas has tiny text, so small that certain people on Amazon have complained that they cannot even read the book.
So, the situation is mostly mental: the novel isn’t any different from other books, just longer, but the thought of how long it is slows me down. I absolutely love the feeling I have when I finish reading a book, the sense of accomplishment about reading the novel to its completion and the excitement about moving on to the next book. With Atlas Shrugged, I’m not even close to that feeling, because one reading session barely leaves a dent in the 1069 pages of the story. I’ve literally spent more time this past week trying to convince myself to open the book than actually reading it.
I’m sure I will finish Atlas Shrugged eventually, because I do enjoy the story, but my progress might be slow for a while. Perhaps, when I’m done with it, my sense of accomplishment will be three times greater than a standard book.
What do you think of long books? Do you share my anxiety about reading them, or am I too preoccupied with page numbers? What helps you when trying to finish a long book? What is your ideal length of book?