The Guardian recently selected Richardson's Clarissa as No. 4 on its list of the Top 100 great Novels of all time. Are such lists a snap-shot of current reading habits. Perhaps the choice of this 984,870 word text from 1748 is pure nostalgia.
In my view, however, it sometimes makes sense to spend the entire week on Clarissa, or Middlemarch, or Tom Jones, or Bleak House, or War and Peace ; at other times several sonnets command the same investment of spirit, intellect and emotion. Clearly the great epics also repay re-reading, or at least selective re-sampling, of favourite passages and turning points.
With regard to Clarissa, the reading process is an ordeal, a pleasure, and a discipline (rather like Foucault on sex). Reading an abridged version is perhaps like the difference between a one night stand and a longterm relationship...
It's a different question how well these longer novels function academically in an over-crowded superfast highway curriculum. Increasingly, core courses select shorter fictions. Perhaps in the future we'll be studying a ceaseless flow of the most enigmatic and witty tweets. (And many long works are currently being tweeted daily.)
I've recently read Ngugi wa Thiongo'o's epic satire Wizard of the Crow, but I seldom come across any postcolonial scholars who claim to have read this fantastic book. And many people have unread copies of A Suitable Boy on their shelves.
In addition to finding time for the 1,000 page book what about a sustained run through of the complete works of Zola, or Balzac, or Walter Scott? Just for the sheer pleasure of it?
Does anyone nowadays have the space for such a project?
On the other hand, the average person will "spend" 25 years sleeping, 12 years watching TV, 6 years online ... etc.
At present I'm one third of my way through a second reading of Tolstoy. I vaguely recall that there's some prolix theory of history coming up, but I know for certain that I was too you when I accomplished my first reading as an adolescent.
And what happens when Tolstoy meets Thiong'o ? Now there's the beginning of a new book or an academic thesis.
Another Top Ten Long reads is also published by The Guardian .... here.
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences