7 strategies for tackling big books


By popular demand I give you my list of strategies for tackling big books(i.e. two people said they were interested). It should be noted that once you go down the big book path your perception changes. I’ve made the cut-off mark att around 700 pages but some would say that anything over 500 is a tome. Like really, 500 pages is big? That’s like half of Bleak house(<– obviously a remark made by a madwoman. But if loving Dickens is wrong I don’t want to be right). It should also be noted that having a rather terrier like personality make it easier to handle a greater number of pages.

1. Make sure it’s a good book to begin with. This is rather self-explanatory. If it’s a good book, then it will draw you in and time will fly as you move from one page to the next. I’ve read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell many times and it never feels like +800 pages. It feels like a minute and a half when I’m immersed in that world. It always ends too soon.

2. Be inspired. There is nothing like a recommendation from a trusted source or a loving introduction to ease the way. I got into reading The story of the stone (five installments à 800 pages) because the man who translated it wrote a column in the paper that was pretty much a love letter, and in every volume there was an introduction that described his process and all the care and devotion that had gone into it. If I at any point swayed in my determination then I thought of that, to respect the work and the love that had gone into it. The same with A little life, when feeling the strain of the story I thought of friends who had recommended it and their praise. In hindsight they were absolutely right. Later, when I heard Hanya Yanigahara speak, she told about her editor wanting to trim it down cirka 300 unspecified pages. It would not have been the same book, and lucky for us she stuck to her guns.

3. Be snowed in/stranded on an island. Not the most applicable advice but I will say that many a big book has been tackled when at the cottage during bad weather( i.e. most of the time). Did I during June of this year finish A place of greater safety by Hilary Mantel(about 800 pages) whilst there? I did indeed. A rainy week will do wonders for my reading. The light version is bringing it on a long haul flight( what are you gonna do instead? Watch the bad movie in-flight movie? Sleep?) or getting the book from the library. That will give you a soft deadline when the first four weeks are up and then a hard deadline when you can no longer extend the loan. Returning a book late is not an option, it would mean disappointing librarians and I cannot bear that( they probably don’t care, I just have a mental image of the librarian we had at school where I grew up. Never mad, just disappointed). I have failed however and returned a book or two half-read.

4. Draw up a strict reading schedule, make sure to have a little treat at every point. Take the books number of pages, divided that by the number of days you want to read it in and bada bing, you have your allowed daily page count. Possibly adjust to fit with chapters. Make sure to devote time to the pages and it’s vital that you have coffee and a few pieces of salty licorice every time (or tea and a brownie; whatever your vices are). Shortly the reading will be something to look forward to. And ticking off the allotted pages is the kind of positive feedback the brain needs ( don’t quote me on that, it’s not scientifically proven I think. But it could be and it is in line with my “good girls do everything they said they would do mentality”. Oh, the satisfaction of checking things of the list). Humming Rihanna’s “Work” in between reading sessions is a good idea. If you attempt this strategy with War and Peace by Tolstoy I will point out, as I always do when reading this novel is the topic, you are allowed to skim when Pierre has his long rants. Tolstoy is just using him as a mouthpiece for his own opinions and it isn’t all that relevant to the plot.

5. Get a reading buddy. Nothing like moral support to get the job done. You can have a karaoke session singing “It takes two” by Marvin Gaye before you start and possibly during the process. Having someone to discuss the agonies of reading that big.old.thing with, and then at a later point discussing who did what with who behind the shed and sending that ” On p.689. Oh no he didn’t!!! So so pissed” message in the middle of the night to. Because beware; the joys and sorrow of a big book is that can draw you into it’s world, and when there you loose yourself, and get too bloody invested. You are a grown woman, and still you cry when fictional characters die? FFS Suss, get a hold of yourself. (full disclosure and preempting the criticism; a big book isn’t needed to move me necessarily. Shakespeare gives me all the feels). I still have the ambition to read Tristram Shandy and Tale of Genji; if anyone is interested in joining me in that, let me know.

6. Be unfaithful. Having your big book at home, caressing it’s spine in the evening and giving it all your devotion might be easier if you have something light in your bag, just a little bit of something to give comfort when you are out and about. I promise I won’t tell. Great undercover lovers include Bashō, Nancy Mitford and How to be a heroine by Samantha Ellis.

7. Think of the rewards. There is no doubt that to many tackling the Russian classics and works of Dickens, means you are part of the elite reader force. You earn a badge of honour, it’s like climbing Mount Everest. I don’t necessarily think in those terms as the reading is enough for me but undoubtedly the fact that I did make it through In search of Lost time by Proust(not a big book but a suite but logic still applies) and have read my fair share of tomes comes in handy in certain conversations. And once you have tackled a few big books it isn’t so intimidating any more which is a good thing in it self. Fear and apprehension shouldn’t rule what you read and not, love and curiosity should.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Probably. I can get Dickensian in my ramblings about books.

Now go forth my minions and tackle Wolf Hall, A little life or anything by a dead Russian. You can do it, I know you can.




  1. Wolf Hall does not look like a big book to me, because I’m reading it on Kindle, but it is very… slow somehow. Partly because of the manner of storytelling and partly because I read it before sleep (and fall asleep quickly). Maybe I should strand myself somewhere… What are your comments or recommendations on Wolf Hall?

    1. It is slow, Mantel writes in a reflective undulating way( a really mean that; it’s like waves) but I love that about her. What I’ve read by her has all been in this very detailed yet reflective manner with some very acerbic dialogue in between. I read Wolf hall at the cottage I think but I was completely immersed in it, Bring up the bodies I read surrounded by distraction and did not care. Not reading it before you go to bed might be an idea for getting somewhere, but also realizing that it’s a story that starts slow, as it did in history, with these small things that later reaches fever pitch.

  2. This has been one fun post to read, Suss. Thank you. I have been applying all of the mentioned points except 3, 4 and 5. But boy, am I viciously tempted to become a shut-in, if not possible to be snowed in (which will only happen when pigs fly!) or stranded on an island. I like to be lenient with my reading as following a daily page count might derail my focus from enjoying the story(ies) to reading for page count’s sake if you know what I mean. And a reading buddy, not so lucky in that case.

    1. One can choose a word count as high or low as one wants, and if it gets to a point that the story is enjoyable one might skip that part. That’s happened to me on more then one occasion. Having a schedule might be a good way of starting though. And will let you know about the books, Tristram and Tale is more for autumn I think.

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