Introducing the March Big Fat Book Readalong

At last, February is over. Of course, March isn’t looking that much better, weather-wise, but it has to be, right? Right? Spring officially starts in March. I keep telling myself that, while I prepare for snow and ice pellets starting tonight (up to 9 inches! Lucky us.).


Where was I? Oh yes, a readalong. Keishon and I were talking last month about wanting to read various books, and she decided to go for broke and bought Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker prize winner, The Luminaries. It weighs in at a hefty 848 pages, according to Amazon.

thebetrothedI was envious. I’ve been wanting to read a Big Fat Book, and I have several on my “To Read in 2014” list. I decided I would join her, and I chose I Promessi Sposi, translated as The Betrothed in English, by Alessandro Manzoni. It was recommended to me last fall by an academic acquaintance because it’s a novel that features some really well depicted scenes of violent collective action. I am finishing a book on riots and writing a couple of papers as well, and he thought I might find it interesting. It’s apparently required reading in Italian schools, and some schoolchildren wind up reading it numerous times. The Goodreads reviews are hilarious. The first review, by Lorenzo, begins with the following sentence:

This novel is hated by many generations of Italians.

How could I resist?

At 648 pages, IPS isn’t as long as The Luminaries, but it’s 19thC Italian prose, so I think I should get extra credit. I actually own the Harvard Classics version but the translation is not great, so after reading samples from a couple of other translations and looking at critical discussions of them, I chose the translation by Archibald Colquhoun.  And guess what? That version is only available in print in an Everyman’s Library edition, and of course EL editions are hardbacks. So that should be interesting. I used to buy and read these editions in India; beautifully produced hardbacks of 19thC novels seemed appropriate there, especially for overland journeys. But I haven’t read a hardback book in months, and I will have to pack it into my carry-on-only luggage during two trips I’m taking over the next three weeks. I imagine swearing will be involved.

I’ll be posting my progress weekly and Keishon will chime in as well. She’ll probably finish way before I do despite her 200-page handicap, because she makes excellent use of her time, but that will give me incentive not to fade away.

If you feel like joining us, add your selection in the comments! It doesn’t have to be Big, or Fat, but it does have to be a Book (readalong, remember?). No cheating with the TV-miniseries of Lonesome Dove (which is awesome, but Not A Book).

50 thoughts on “Introducing the March Big Fat Book Readalong

  1. I may regret this because March is looking crazy for me, but I’m in with Wolf Hall. Have bought a copy for the kindle so I don’t have to lug around the paper copy that I’ve owned for, um, five years?

    • Oooh, I forgot to put that on my 2014 list. I have the ebook version as well. The print versions (both) are extremely intimidating. I know people say it’s very readable but it’s hard to believe!

      And yay, welcome!

      • I did start reading it back when I bought it. On a flight, I think. I liked it a lot but never picked it up again for some reason. And then it becomes long enough that you know you’re going to have to start at p1 again. And then I went through my ‘can only read romance for mental health reasons’ stage. But I think I’m ready to go back to it!

      • Oh, Wolf Hall was so, so good-so good in fact that Bring Up The Bodies is the only book I’ve pruchased in hardcover without reading a library copy first.

    • Reporting in; started reading yesterday. Had clever plan of using Kindle progress bar to work out daily goals. At 3% each day, I would be finished at the end of the month. At 1am this morning, and at 15% on the progress bar, I regretfully put the Kindle aside and turned the light off. Suspect I may be finished with mine by the end of the week…

  2. It’s been awhile since I read a big, fat, book. Usually, I don’t have the time but I am making the effort this month. I’d bought THE LUMINARIES by Catton when it was announced as the winner and it’s a crime novel to boot so I am looking forward to it.

    So, good luck to us all in our individual endeavors.

    • Oh, I forgot that you bought it last fall! Still, you decided last month so I’m sticking with that. ;) I didn’t realize it was a crime novel. TheHusband wants to read it too but probably later in the year.

      • Oh it made the rounds in the mystery community as being a “crime novel” which only means there are elements of crime fiction in the story but nowhere is it emphasized by the publisher. No more speculating. I will let you know.

        • Of course not, because God forbid people should thing it’s a “genre” novel, right? That can’t win a Booker. ;)

  3. I just started listening to MIDDLEMARCH, so I guess I’m in a fat book mood. I’m really interested in the Catton book, but the fat one already in my TBR is Donna Tartt’s GOLDFINCH, so I’m going to read that one. It’s about to be Lent, and somehow this feels like a Lenten project to me: not penetential, but sort of disciplinary. ;)

    • I have The Goldfinch in the TBR as well.
      I love that way of putting it: disciplinary rather than penitential. That’s exactly it for me. I want to do it but I need a gentle push, and I think I’ll feel better at the end.

  4. I’m going to ask the question we always get during Summer Reading: are audiobooks allowed? I have a print book in mind, but feel like I should ask. (Incidentally, the answer from the public librarian is yes though your requirements may differ).

    We’ll see how success I am at the JJ Abrams book Ship of Theseus.It’s a librarian’s nightmare, so even though I was given it as a gift, I’ve been afraid to read it.

    • Absolutely audiobooks are allowed, and thanks for reminding me of that option. The Italian friend who recommended the Manzoni to me is blind, so I’m not sure whether he had text-to-speech or read a Braille version, now that I think about it. Hmmm, I’ll have to ask him.

  5. I can’t believe I’m even contemplating this; like I need to fail at one more thing. I have several Big Fat Books in the TBR (including Wolf Hall and The Goldfinch, none of which appeals right now. But my library request for Carpentaria just came in — it’s more than 500 pages, so I’m going to say it counts. It won the Miles Franklin Award for Australian literary excellence in 2007, and it’s a novel by an indigenous Australian woman about indigenous Australians. Many of the reader reviews at Goodreads and Amazon say that it is hard to get into, so a readalong may be just what I need to get me to stick with it long enough to (hopefully) enjoy it. That will be a huge break in my reading pattern, which currently consists of sampling a lot and finishing only a few books by trusted authors.

    • I think anything over 500 pages that isn’t super-easy reading counts! Maybe anything over 500 pages period. That sounds really interesting, too. We will encourage each other along.

  6. Oh, this is going to be such a tough choice. I do have the Goldfinch, because I read The Secret History earlier this year and loved it. But here is our Luminaries story: Spouse bought it from Amazon based on reviews without looking at page count. This heavy package arrived and we all thought, “what the hell did we buy?”. Stephen took one look at that unboxed bad boy and handed it to me: “I’m never going to finish this. Will you read it? Here.” And it’s been on my nightstand for about a month (all alone, because nothing else will fit).

    • I can totally imagine doing that! Apparently there are more and more Big Fat Books in mainstream and literary fiction these days (or at least I remember reading an article to that effect). It’s funny, I rarely notice references to length when I’m reading reviews. I say if you read the book, you extract a quid pro quo (beyond your obvious righteousness & superiority at having done so).

  7. Oh, this will be interesting: do keep us informed on your progress!

    ”I Promessi Sposi” is still required in Italian schools. At school I went through it twice, and the first time I just didn’t catch why should this be a classic. It was compulsory and that’s why lots of pupils hated it. The second time in high school was better, I could understand lots of things I missed the first time.

    There are: – great descriptions, where you feel like in a movie; – internal dialogues, before this was widely used in literature; – subtle psychological and sociological observations, or better not exactly observations, they emerge from the words or the descriptions; – the book was absolutely significant to establish an Italian common literary language, but I suppose this aspect get… lost in translation.

    BTW it is set on Lake Como, where I come from, or where George Clooney has got his villa ;-).

    • I am really looking forward to this book! I read up on it a couple of months ago and I’m not sure how I missed it when I was hoovering up 19thC novels. But it’s never too late.

      I was fortunate enough to be invited to a conference at Bellagio. And you’re from there? How did you ever leave? Never mind, don’t answer, I have a house in the SF Bay Area and don’t live there most of the year. ;)

      • LOL! I’ve got a flat on lake Como less used than your SF Bay flat. Anyway I went away for love, it lasted only 20 years though ;-). But I’m happy in Switzerland.

  8. Ack, and I just finished The Goldfinch on Friday! Should have waited a couple of weeks (it’s fantastic, BTW, and quite the page-turner). But if the definition is 500+ pages, I’ve just started The Circle, by Dave Eggers, which is just over…

    I’ll be very interested to heat what those of you reading The Luminaries think. I read over half of it last year when I was reading the Man Booker shortlist, but found it so hard to care what happened that I gave up on it.

    • I must say it moves at a good clip and I like it so far. I did some checking on the reviews for The Luminaries and see much of the consensus is much like yours and that the whole 800 pages ends with nothing rewarding for the time spent reading it. I’ll see how it goes and report back here.

      • I think this is one of the most fun bits, that we report to each other on our reading experiences of the various books as we go along.

    • Oh, The Circle definitely counts! I have that on my list but having spent my adolescence in Silicon Valley (and worked in it years ago) I know it’s going to be a love/hate for me.

      • Reporting in: The Circle doesn’t really feel like a ‘big book’. It’s too quick to read. I had a couple of long stretches on the train earlier this week, and I’m now at over 80%. It’s great, though. Hilarious, and there are things about it that feel painfully true.

        • Oh, that’s good to hear. I’ve been hesitant to pick it up because it hits so close to home for me but I really want to read it.

  9. You have good timing – I just started Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and according to my Nook, it’s over 600 pages. I bought ages ago, when it was a daily deal (one of many non-fiction sale books I picked up before I read Jane’s post on book hording). I’m not far into it (he’s like 10 right now) but I’m enjoying it so far. It seems like it will be a good commuting book.

    I have another big book on my tbr – a print book, that will have to wait for my summer break. A dear friend gave me The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert for my birthday (in November). It’s 500 pages, hardcover, and it’s massive. I know nothing about it, except that my friend loved it and we have overlapping tastes. We’re going to California in June for a family reunion, so I’m planning/hoping to read it then. I think the last big hardcover book I read was the seventh Harry Potter book (which wasn’t exactly hard to read – but it was a challenge to lug around – I finished it on a 5 hour train trip). I’m so spoiled by my phone and ereader.

    • Oh yay, welcome! Good to have nonfiction, especially biographies, which are frequently very long indeed. I have a biography of Bob Fosse I want to get to. On to the TBR it goes.

  10. If you don’t mind, I’d love to join in. I also have The Luminaries sitting on nightstand and on the ipod is Helprin’s Winter’s Tale (which I read when it first came and now can only remember vague bits and pieces of). With this as a motivation maybe I’ll manage to finish one — it all depends whether I spend more time sitting and reading or walking and listening.

    • Yay! Welcome! I am the behindest of us all. But I have great hopes for Thursday, when I get an early start to our spring break.

    • Oh no, when you put it like that, I’m already behind. I’m at about 10%, and I’m slowing down because I’m getting to the part in his story where I know Bad Things are going to happen, so I’m a little reluctant to read on.

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  12. Well, after much — too much — dithering and deliberation, I just grabbed Lionheart and took it along today when I knew I’d have to sit and wait for my daughter at the dance studio for an hour. So I’m in. Returning to one of my favorite authors of medieval historical fiction, Sharon Kay Penman. I haven’t read anything by her in over a decade because I loved her Wales books so deeply and had trouble making the transition to her more recent mysteries. And I too have almost stopped reading really long weighty books. I’m only an hour or so into it, but I loved the opening sequence, which has her hallmark blend of epic grandeur and human emotion/fragility. I felt that Wolf Hall would have been the more “disciplined” choice, and I’m still mulling over my own value judgments in this regard — I still think of Mantel as more “literary” and thus perhaps I should be using this opportunity to tackle something “weightier”….? Is Wolf Hall more significant because it’s won litfic awards, and according to what measures of significance…? At any rate, food for thought, and a possible future post, but for now I’m happy to be reading what I’m reading.

    As an aside, I am now more curious to check out The Circle, too, since I also spent my adolescence (age 9 to age 18) growing up in Silicon Valley and have not lived there since. I have very mixed feelings about it whenever I return for visits – definitely love/hate about the whole ethos/ambience…

    • I love the Wales trilogy too. I have some of her other historicals but I’ve balked, not sure why. The mysteries were OK but not as engrossing for me.

      I lived on the mid-Peninsula through junior high and high school & worked in the “old” Silicon Valley in the summers before and during some of college. I still spend part of the year here and have a total love/hate. If it weren’t for close friends and access to Stanford, I don’t know if we’d keep the house.

      • Yes, that’s exactly it – the Silicon Valley of my childhood/adolescence was such a different place and the Peninsula a wonderful place to grow up, and when my folks moved there in the ’70s young families could actually afford to live there, even with the burgeoning tech industry, etc. My memories are of a funky university town and when I visit now, it feels unreal. But I do still have Bay Area nostalgia and have been meaning to ask you since I first discovered VM — is your header pic the Dumbarton? I love it!

        • I love it too. No, it’s the San Mateo bridge; the Dumbarton’s rise isn’t quite as pronounced. I can see the Dumbarton (for real, not in the “I can see Russia in my house in Wasilla sense”) but it doesn’t stand out as well because of the angle.

          We basically look straight across to Mt. Diablo. I have photos with the bridge and the mountain in view, I should rotate one of those in occasionally. But I love the colors in this one. And the fog.

          • Lovely! I hope you have a wonderful stay – it is so very beautiful there. Especially the fog. Happy reading!

  13. I’ll put up a new post on Sunday so that we can all chime in about our experiences so far, but I just wanted to say that I *finally* got a couple of hours to read the Manzoni, and it is terrific! It is so very, very 19thC. You can definitely see the Sir Walter Scott influence. Omniscient narrator, huge cast of characters already, each with an intriguing story, and ordinary people caught in the power games of the elite. But it’s funny and poignant and insightful. I’m so glad I finally starting reading it!

  14. I’ve made it to 27%! it’s kind of helpful to have “permission” to read it slowly, because it’s so intense!

    We got into a great conversation on the way home from the gym. Son is so wonderfully contemptuous of isms. :-) He asks, “Where do stereotypes come from?” Excellent question, wish I had an answer!

    • That’s how I’m feeling too. I know I have the whole month, so I can spread out the pages. If I want to read more, fine, but my book has so much going on that I don’t want to rush through it and miss things.

      Hmmm. Stereotypes. Well, humans always sort and classify, because it helps us make sense of things. Stereotypes are part of that classification system, but they tend to be pejorative rather than just descriptive.

      Your son is a smart, insightful guy.

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  16. I started Carpentaria. It is definitely a challenge — she uses language in a very unfamiliar way, and I have to concentrate and puzzle out what’s going on. The book is 14 chapters, and so far I’ve read 3 — so I should be able to finish in March. If I get some longer, not late-night, reading time, I’ll experiment with reading more than one chapter. I’m wondering if I’d do better keeping on once I’m in the rhythm of her writing, or if it would just be exhausting.

    I am enjoying the book; it’s definitely not the straightforward plot I get in genre fiction, but that’s a big part of its charm. The worst part for me is that it is a BIG FAT BOOK, literally, as in hardbound. I’ve realized that the light in my bedroom is all wrong for reading now, I definitely need that eye doctor appointment that I made, and I will never take the highlighting function on my Kindle for granted every again.

    • The hardback-in-bed thing is definitely a no go for me. I guess I’ve been reading digitally for so long that my bedside lights are no longer based on readability.

      I’ve got general goals for weekly reading amounts but I figure if I fall behind or spring forward it’s fine, as long as it suits the material.

  17. Don’t laugh, but I’m going to try to join in after I finish my current read. All this talk of The Goldfinch and Wolf Hall is seriously tempting, and I have both these books in my TBR pile.

    • I wouldn’t laugh! If it weren’t for your initial Twitter comment I might not have thought about what makes long books special to me. And we are having a great time so far. We’d love for you to join us!

      • Thanks! I’m hoping it will help me let go of some of my anxieties around reading long books.

    • Oh, I’d be excited if someone read and wrote about Wolf Hall. Plus it has the added bonus, well I think it’s an added bonus, of having a direct sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, available to read. I read them back to back last year and found them immersive and engrossing. That said, I’ve got The Goldfinch on my shelf too… Last year was a very good year for me and long books. I felt like I moved away from my tendency to read short. I mean obviously I can enjoy short too, but I like to be able to mix it up when it comes to length of book. Even if, as a slow reader, finding time can be a challenge.

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