Joe says: I live in San Antonio, and the summer is long and hard. The heat drives us all inside for long stretches of the day to sip iced tea and read long, long books. We remember this, of course, because of our summer reading lists. We were once forced to journey through great literature in the name of education. Some of us actually enjoyed the work. I did. I remember reading The Great Gatsby one summer, and Gone With the Wind. I remember what it felt like when I was young to lift some heavy book up, and see how much weight it was to read. Gatsby’s story was not long. Gone With the Wind, however, was a weight in the palm. It took effort to hold it up for the duration of the reading. Sweaty, young hands strengthened clutching its bindings. Summer is the season of the long novels, the weight and heft and depth of a story that extends longer and longer, like the days growing longer and longer.
Memorial Day is unofficially the first day of summer, and it is the season of the long novels. Other people call them “Beach Reads” and look for something relaxing. There’s nothing relaxing about a book that doesn’t leave a mark on you. Books are supposed to mess you up, a little, and rearrange your insides. Books that don’t even try to do that aren’t even beach reads. They’re just eating sand. Let’s get some weight in our hands, then, with some recommendations for books.
Eric says: While Maine certainly has a different vibe when it comes to weather in the summer–in the summer, we want to just be outside. I love sitting on my porch in the mornings with a cup of coffee and listening to bird songs as the sun climbs. Everything is green and lush after a long gray winter, and the sun puts smiles on everyone’s faces. People like to cram lots of activities into the short season, but no one forgets that the goal is to slow slow down and enjoy the heat. Books help people do that. It’s even better if the book is substantial enough to talk about or pass along to a friend when it’s time to visit, and in the summer there’s no shortage of long lost friends and relatives to visit with. Maine is called vacationland for a reason.
Joe says: Long books will keep you up too late at night, and you still won’t be done with them. You’ll fall asleep with the book in your head, still playing out. We spend a third of our lives asleep. Art feeds our dreams. Books seep into our dreams. Long books have a lot of time and opportunity to rewire us, a little.
So, let’s talk about being rewired:
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami presents a vision of a wainscott world hiding just inside Japan, and then again inside that version of Japan. It’s a long book with deadly assassins, and surreal mysteries, and aspiring authors and literary prizes. It’s very long. It’s got a lot of dialogue and discussions about people and places that other novelists would elide across, but Murakami stays in the scene, in the moment, and lets his people talk and talk until we feel like we’re another person at the table, listening in on all their secret and occult and dangerous things.
Susanna Clark’s classic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel is a deep and long reminder of how lucky we are that the myths and whimsies of magic and fairyland aren’t, in fact, real. On its face, a novel of gentleman magicians in Victorian-era England, it is a story that touches upon many of the great sins of the era, including especially the treatment of women as objects and the racism rampant in the era. It is a long book that reminds us of how important it is for long books to be enjoyable, page by page, for it asks us to keep turning them.
Eric says: Because it’s Memorial day, I’m all about historical fiction, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite military novel, Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer. It follows a lifelong military career through WWII and Korea, detailing what duty and sacrifice mean, all while laying out a careful and astute observation of how America bumbled into the state we are in now, where public opinions are manipulated and engineered by mass media. It’s a favorite of military cadets and considered a classic for a reason.
Another behemoth that readers will never forget is The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow. Long before Sicario or Winslow’s Savages hit the silver screen, Winslow penned this epic that follows four characters weaving their way through the world of drug cartels. Intricately researched and full of plausible interpretations of historical events, it shows how different organizations, from the DEA to the Vatican, played a role in shaping America’s war on drugs. This book will makes readers reconsider political opinions about Central and South America and begs them to have a better grasp of this clandestine history. The title fits Winslow’s writing style; almost transgressive, it bites and doesn’t let go. The scars will run deep but you won’t regret reading it.
Joe says: Those sound awesome. One of the most frightening books of nightmare fuel I ever read was a straight history, called The Voyage of The Diligent by Robert W. Harms, following a single ship on a journey across the Atlantic slave trade, and all the ways this horrifying evil act impacted Europe, Africa, and the Americas. It isn’t quite as long as other books.
The greatest war novel I know, and a powerhouse novel with a grand and epic sweep and scope, as well as an undeserved reputation for difficulty, is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It follows families from all walks of life in Russia from the idylls of peace through the invasion of Napoleon, who was ultimately defeated by the landscape, itself, not the people. Every size and scale of armed conflict from a pistol duel between two men, to massive troop movements of armies positioning against each other is present in the book. People often complain about the difficulty of Russian naming conventions in the text, which I find ridiculous among readers of SF/F, who could expound upon the many names of the many lands and peoples of Westeros, as if that was a casual and easy thing. It’s a door stopper novel for dark winter nights, and long summer days.
Another book that contains multitudes is Jerusalem by Alan Moore. I think the Three Eyed Raven is the easiest way to explain it. Imagine if Bran was using his greensight to explore the history of a few square miles of ground, through all time and space and histories, and even into the afterlife where the ghosts that walk the ground are the people who once lived there. It is a magical, impossible, multi-faceted jewel that presents a history and appreciation and condemnation of the forces of men and women upon a patch of ground that is clearly a place deeply loved by the author. It’s one of the longest novels ever written, and it is also a pure delight, of insight into the human condition, and into a rich cosmology that seems like it might become someone’s holy book in some time or place.
Its a reading list for the summer, if you like. Dig into something deep, and remember how it felt to read all those great books for the first time, how it changed you and made you who you are inside your dreams. Read long books. Live long inside these same dreams.