• Carolyn Steele Agosta

Big FAT Books

I’ve always been attracted to big fat books – or as I call them, door-stoppers. My first was Gone with the Wind. Read it when I was thirteen or fourteen, had my own hardbound copy by the time I was seventeen. 1,037 pages. I’ve probably read it a dozen times, had to replace my first copy when it wore out.


In college, I worked at the bookstore (of course!) and was attracted to James Michener’s The Source. It was the fattest of the fiction paperbacks – 1,200+ pages. Fascinating novel about the beginnings and histories of religions. Described like that, it sounds BORING, but it’s not. Trust me on this.


Because here’s the thing – with a big fat book, you get to stay with the story for a long time. You get to follow the characters for a while. What good is it to be really enjoying a story and the characters, and then the darn thing is finished after a measly 247 pages? It’s over and you hardly feel like it’s begun!


Now, James Michener is good for many big fat books – over forty of them, and not one is a skinny boy. JRR Tolkien is no slouch, either, although he didn’t write 40 books. He did, however, create a whole world – language, alphabet, poems, lore, complete histories that didn’t even make it into Lord of the Rings – but he knew the details, and that’s what it took to create those worlds. Another ‘R.R.’ – George R.R. Martin – created the Game of Thrones series (aka A Song of Fire and Ice) with even bigger fatter books.


R.F. Delderfield wrote the Swann trilogy (shown in the photo) – three books about the Swann family, through multiple generations, about 2400 pages altogether, and they’re not the only door-stoppers he wrote. It astounds me the ability of some authors to have this magnificent outpouring of words. I’m currently rereading this series (just finished the first book), and I’ve probably read the whole series at least three times already.


One of the best door-stoppers I’ve ever read is And Ladies of the Club. Written by Helen Hooven Santmeyer, it runs 1,344 pages, and follows the members of a women’s literary club from the period just after the Civil War up until FDR’s presidency. I’ve read it several times. It’s a wonderful book. And let me advise you – get it in print, not on Kindle. Some books deserve that experience of you feeling their weight.


War and Peace runs 1,392 pages, The Stand by Stephen King runs 1,153 pages, Shogun by James Clavell runs 1,152. David Copperfield by Dickens runs a slim 882 pages. I recently read The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas for my book club. 1,276 pages. Now that’s dedication! And my son-in-law suggested I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. 1,168 pages. But man, what a slog!!! At one point, a character does a speech on the radio. The speech ran for sixty pages, with barely any paragraphs! Much too much, even for me! But having begun it, I finished it. Whew!


There are, of course, the Harry Potter books which got fatter as they went along, until the last one ran 652 pages. If you read the whole collection – but wait! I’m drifting into book series territory…


The Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon all qualify as door-stoppers, even individually, and I’ve read the first five. I’ve read ALL the books listed above, and it doesn’t really even scratch the surface of door-stoppers I’ve known and loved.


If you’re looking for big fat books, check out Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Ken Follett, James Clavell, Arthur Hailey, Edmund Rutherford, John Irving, James Michener, Irving Wallace, Samuel Richardson’s ‘Clarissa’, Sir Walter Scott, Herman Wuok, Rosamund Pilcher, Leon Uris, Tom Clancy, Irwin Shaw, Henry Fielding, John Galsworthy – and oh, so many more. I’m probably forgetting some really important ones, but I’ve read books by all the above (in some cases, I’ve read ALL their books) and can recommend them as great writers. Marcel Proust is famous for his really big fat books, but I’ve never read them, so…read at your own risk.


Speaking of book series territory – As I wrote this, I was reminded of many authors whose work I enjoy who write books just shy of being door-stoppers, but which, because they’re part of a series, mount up to a whole lotta readin’ goin’ on. Maybe in another blog post. ‘Adult book series’ – or Down the Rabbit Hole…


One more thing – with many of these books, I’ve mentioned that I’ve read them more than once. A friend once asked me – why, when there are so many more books out there waiting to be read, why would I read a book a second time? Well, buddy, let me tell you – because I loved them. And if you love something, would you visit it just once? Do you listen to a great song just once? Do you visit a dear friend just once? Would you go to London and think – okay, been there done that – and never go again? Are you CRAZY?


These books create a world that I love to visit. And each time, I see more than I did the first time, and I appreciate the writer even more. As a writer, I learn from the rereading, but even so, rereading a favorite book is something I did long before I began writing. I can quote great swathes of Shirley Jackson’s Raising Demons and Life Among the Savages by heart. I love them that much.


What are some of your favorite door-stopper books? (and how many times have you read them?) Do you, like me, choose your books by the pound? Do your paperbacks split apart at the seams because of their sheer weight? And – tell the truth – just how many times have you read Gone with the Wind? Enquiring minds want to know.

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