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Book 24

  1. Portis, Charles — True Grit (215 pages)
  2. Simpson, Joe — Touching the Void (210 pages)
  3. Bardin, John Franklin — The Last of Philip Banter (207 pages)
  4. Millar, Martin — The Good Fairies of New York (278 pages)
  5. Millar, Mark — Kick-Ass (190 pages)
  6. Sachar, Louis — Holes (225 pages)
  7. Baxter, Stephen — Moonseed (523 pages)
  8. Buchan, John — The Thirty-Nine Steps (152 pages)
  9. Bukowski, Charles — Post Office (167 pages)
  10. Palahniuk, Chuck — Fight Club (211 pages)
  11. Bemelmans, Ludwig — Madeline's Rescue (50 pages)
  12. Rennison, Nick — Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide, Eighth Edition (508 pages)
  13. Rucka, Greg & Steve Lieber — Whiteout (120 pages)
  14. Rucka, Greg & Steve Lieber — Whiteout: Melt (106 pages)
  15. Orwell, George — Homage to Catalonia (267 pages)
  16. Moore, Brian — Catholics (87 pages)
  17. Chatwin, Bruce — The Songlines (296 pages)
  18. Funke, Cornelia — Inkheart (555 pages)
  19. Eddison, E.R. — The Worm Ouroboros (521 pages)
  20. Milligan, Spike — Puckoon (152 pages)
  21. Jones, Diana Wynne — Power of Three (293 pages)
  22. Juster, Norton — The Phantom Tollbooth (264 pages)
  23. Jeffreys, Daniel — America's Back Porch (286 pages)
  24. Robinson, Marilynne — Housekeeping (217 pages)

Page count: 6100.

I'd say this is the longest I've ever taken to finish such a short book, but that's probably not true.

I began reading Housekeeping in mid-February. I finished in the first week of August. I had lent it to the Mad Fisher last year, and she took about a year to finish it as well. But when she returned it to me, I decided to read it quickly so we could discuss it. But then our separation happened.

Housekeeping was the wrong thing to be reading while suffering through heartbreak. I should have been reading something lighthearted and plot-centric, maybe some H. Rider Haggard* or George MacDonald Fraser. Instead I tried to slog through Robinson's beautiful prose, prose that demands to be read slowly and carefully, prose that perfectly captures emotional and psychological subtleties and often seems tinged with a sense of wistfulness or nostalgia. I struggled through this beautiful prose for a couple of months, every page stirring a memory or emotion related to my situation with the Mad Fisher.

I finally had to take a break, for my own emotional sanity, what was left of it — roughly 80 pages from the end, I put it down for a few days, which turned into a few weeks, which turned into a few months. But I did want to finish it, because I did still want to discuss it with the Mad Fisher, and because I love Marilynne Robinson's writing and this is her only novel I hadn't read. So, I picked up where I'd left off, surprised at just how much I had retained, and finished in a few days. And just over a week later the Mad Fisher and I got back together.

Housekeeping was published in 1980 to much acclaim (Pulitzer nomination, PEN/Hemingway win, Guardian's list of 100 best novels of all time, TIME's list of 100 best novels from 1923 to 2005, etc.), but despite all the plaudits Robinson didn't publish her second novel for another 24 years. Housekeeping is good, but it didn't blow me away the way Gilead and perhaps not even as Home did, but perhaps I'm wrong in the comparison with Home, her third and as of now final novel. I thought perhaps my experience of reading the novel under emotional duress might have affected my assessment, but the Mad Fisher felt the same way. She thought it was an excellent novel and well written, but felt it fell short of being great. I had built it up for her on the basis of Gilead and Home, which she hasn't read, and it didn't live up to those lofty expectations.

I can't deny that the novel is still with me, though. It does have a haunting, hypnotic quality which lingers in the imagination. I think I will have to revisit it, perhaps in a decade or so, to see how reading it at one go when not heartbroken affects my experience of it.

There is a film version of Housekeeping, but I have not been able to acquire it, so I cannot comment on how it compares. I can't imagine it would do Robinson's prose justice, though.

*Speaking of H. Rider Haggard: I was in St. Leonard's-on-Sea when I finished Housekeeping and started reading my next book. Every day I passed a building with a blue plaque proclaiming that Henry Rider Haggard lived here. If I'd have known that, I would have brought one of the three Haggard novels I own with me, as I love location-based reading like this. Instead, because I was on the coast, I chose something with a nautical theme.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
am0
Sep. 5th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
Size
I've been watching (from the sidelines only) a discussion of how to judge the size of a book. This is particularly hard for Kindle users with their virtual libraries: they even lose page numbers. Word count is about the only measure left, or the rather arbitrary classification into short story, novella, novel, etc.

I remember an essay Arn Shein wrote about a story he wrote. He was proud of his story and submitted it to a number of publishers, all of whom rejected it as being too long. So he rewrote the story with half as many words. The publishers still complained that it was too long. Arn got mad. It was a good story, in his opinion, and he didn't believe he could shorten it any without ruining it. But he worked at condensing each sentence to its minimum and removing anything even remotely extraneous. The publishers loved it. Arn finally had to admit it had been too long initially.

Is there a useful metric for size? You can pack a lot into a few words if you are very smart and very lucky and work hard at it. You can also write stories with multiple threads that require many words.

So, in hindsight, was Housekeeping a short book?
spwebdesign
Sep. 5th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Size
Well, yes, at just over 200 words, it is short no matter how much Robinson can say in a short space. The length of time it took me to read Housekeeping had little to do with its length and a lot to do with my emotional and psychic state.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 6th, 2011 03:59 am (UTC)
Re: Size
Please tell me you meant "200 pages" when you said "200 words".
spwebdesign
Sep. 6th, 2011 08:55 am (UTC)
Re: Size
Oops!
haakonreb
Nov. 2nd, 2011 11:59 pm (UTC)
Plain and simple! I like your work!

spwebdesign
Nov. 3rd, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
Thank you! :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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