Books for the Snowpocalypse
Updated: Nov 19
What’s the longest book you’ve ever read? A book series doesn’t count. I’m talking about one book, with every word on every page crammed between two covers in one continuous, mind-numbing narrative. The kind of book you’d be glad to have on a desert island because you wouldn’t finish it for months. And by the time you did, you’d have forgotten the beginning, so you could just start all over again.
Textbooks don’t count. Yes, during your freshman year of college you may have read large chunks of Halliday and Resnick’s Fundamentals of Physics, but be honest, did you start at page one, finish at page 1136, and read every word in between? I didn’t think so.
Everyone has heard of War and Peace, but have you read it? I have. Years ago, I took on the challenge of wading through Tolstoy’s famous tome just because it seemed like I should. It took me three months. Contributing factors to my snail’s pace included not only the word count (600,000!) but the page-wide, impossible to pronounce (for me) names of the Russian characters. Princess Anna Mikhaylovna Drubetskaya...Anna Pavlovna Scherer...Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky. Come on! Where is Hank and Susan, Fred and Mary, Rocky and Bullwinkle? A hundred pages in, I started assigning a letter to each character, so instead of “Princess Anna Mikhaylovna Drubetskaya slurped her borscht,” I could read it as “C slurped her borscht.” Once I reached Z, though, I was in trouble.
I have also read Les Misérables. Victor Hugo’s novel about…well, everything...comes in at a paltry 420,000 words. I began reading it shortly after arriving in Paris on a European vacation. It lasted throughout Germany, Italy, and France. I finally finished weeks later after I had been back in Texas for quite some time. What I remember most about the book is the backstory on a minor character, Bishop Myriel, the guy who, when Jean Valjean is caught with stolen silver, not only tells the police he gave it to him, but chastises Valjean for forgetting the silver candlesticks. I can’t remember anything of the backstory itself. What I recall is that it ran on for dozens of pages. All for a character who essentially leaves the story after getting Valjean off the hook.
Me, the kids, and Inspector Javert in Paris, 2002
The most recent lengthy book conquest of mine is Stephen Harrigan’s excellent history of Texas, Big Wonderful Thing. I was unable to find a word count on the book, but the hardcover contains 944 pages. Not quite two years ago, during the “snowpocalypse” that brought ice, snow, and single-digit temperatures to Texas, a state woefully unprepared for such wintry weather, my wife and I found ourselves trapped at a house in rural Blanco County. When a power line went down nearby, what had been rolling blackouts became a continuous power outage lasting three days. With an outside temperature of 7 degrees we stayed inside where it was warmer but, after three days without heat, not by much. Bundled up thicker than Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story, I crawled under the covers in bed with a flashlight and started reading Harrigan’s book. By the time power was restored, I had finished. Now that was an immersive reading experience!
These days, doorstop works like War and Peace and Les Misérables would likely be released as a book series. Not only does that increase the chance of people reading it, but it also increases the earnings of the publisher (and, let’s hope, the author). Can you imagine the Harry Potter series being published as a single volume? You’d need a crane (or magic wand) to lift it. That being the case, the next time a snowpocalypse is headed your way, get yourself a copy of one of the books mentioned above. That and a good flashlight.