Investing in a Book

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EM Forster called these books well-plotted novels, which particularly demand attention and memory. They  require serious investment. Not everyone enjoys that sort of thing, and that’s okay–I know I can barely remember real people’s faces and names, much less fictional people’s.

I’m reading AS Byatt’s “The Children’s Book” now, and it demands a huge amount of investment. This is a writer at the top of her craft, and in just the first hundred pages she introduces an enourmous cast of Victorian anarchists and socialists, men and women who seem like an innumerable crowd but are all distinguished from one another.

This is the kind of book that demands you wait for the payoffs. You have to be patient and remember. For instance, two marionette plays have been put on so far. I have no idea why. None of them seem to have any direct relationship to the story–they just happen to be there.  I trust the writer, so I trust that the reason for the short stories will become clear–in about three hundred more pages.

It’s a difficult thing, trusting a writer that much. I can’t do it with all writers–once you’ve been burned a few times, you can get skittish. There are books that ask for thousands of pages of investment, and then completely fail to pay off. A lot of novels fail to conclude as well as they begin, but after the reader puts in hundreds of pages, hours and hours, as well as intellectual and emotional investment, it’s perfectly acceptable for them to demand a good ending.

That’s part of the social contract between a reader and a writer: the reader will put in the time to get to know the world the writer has created, and the writer will do his/her best to give everything a good payoff and conclusion. In a good long read, questions are there to be answered, characters are there to be remembered for they will play a pivotal role in events, and everything will become clear in time.  In a way, every long book is a mystery: why is it so long?

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One thought on “Investing in a Book

  1. I just finished reading Possession and thought many of these same things. It was a book that started slow, but really rewarded attention to detail and careful reading. I don’t always have the patience for that, but it’s nice when a book makes you want to invest yourself in the story.

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