The ten longest novels ever written?

I finished A Suitable Boy! Yes folks, I read 1474 pages in 5 weeks. I love summer.

Which brings me to this (unscientific, but seemingly reputable) list of the ten longest novels ever written, compiled by an Amazon customer. How many of them have you read? In addition to A Suitable Boy , which is number seven on this list, I’ve only read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which is number ten on this list. Could it be a coincidence that I also read this enormous tome on a summer holiday? I think not! My sister, it should be said, also happens to be tackling another big one on this list right now – Les Miserables – and the only time I ever tried (and failed) to get into War and Peace , it was also summertime.

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into David Foster Wallace’s crazy world of insidious entertainment, drug addiction, obsessive tennis and Quebecois terrorists who speak inexplicably bad French, here’s a good starter guide to reading Infinite Jest. In my case, my reading of Infinite Jest was greatly encouraged by the fact that I started it while I was in Europe on holiday with my (now) husband, and I read most of it during two weeks in Budapest, while my husband was at a summer course. Once you’ve seen many of the sites in Budapest, which are lovely, it is a sad fact that you can get a little lonely, surrounded by people who speak Hungarian, also known as “the least accessible language in the world for foreigners who don’t happen to be Finns.” Budapest does, however, contain a number of parks with excellent swimming pools, many of which are equipped with ice cream stands, beer gardens, and best of all, places that sell the excellent savoury doughnuts called Lángos. I don’t think it’s essential to eat fried dough covered in cheese and cream in order have the energy to wade through Infinite Jest , but it certainly helped!

And so, in memory of another big book read in summer, a few photos of Margaret Island in Budapest, where I read many, many pages:

Margaret Island, Budapest, ruins

Margaret Island, Budapest, food stand

Margaret Island, Budapest

Booker prize 2012 long list (with wine gums)

Still in VacationLand, still reading. I’m about halfway through A Suitable Boy. There’s nothing more relaxing that lying down on your bed on a summer afternoon, reading a large book with hundreds of pages to go, and eating a large bag of Maynard’s Wine Gums (not widely available in the US – pity).

I continue to LOVE A Suitable Boy – I’m learning so much about India that I never knew before (including the fact that monkeys seem to gambol freely around public parks), yet the characters inhabit a place that seems entirely familiar. It is a very funny book too.

I happened to see on the Guardian website today that the
Booker Prize Longlist has been released. I’ll be interested, when I return to Madison, to see how much media play and shelf space (in both bookstores and libraries) is given to Booker Prize Nominees. The prize receives a fair amount of attention in Canada because only authors who are citizens of the U.K., the Commonwealth, and the Republic of Ireland, are eligible. I’ve noticed before, and discussed it with my American librarian colleagues, that the fiction markets in the U.S. and Canada are remarkably distinct; my husband, for example, had never even heard of David Foster Wallace and his big fat crazy novel, Infinite Jest, until he moved to the States to attend graduate school. and my husband’s a tennis-playing logician. On the other hand, I had a great time pulling several well-known (in Canada) Canadian novels to lend to a Madison English-teacher friend for her summer reading this year, including Fall on Your Knees and Lives of Girls and Women.

This year’s Booker longlist, unlike in some previous years, contains many almost unknown titles; the exception is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall. Mantel’s book is also the only nominee that I have read – I devoured it in a beachside marathon of Renaissance machinations and gore during the first three days of our holiday. I’ll definitely post a longer review soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll agree with the London bookies, cited in the Guardian article, who are calling it: I think Bring Up the Bodies will win the Booker.

More open doors

After my visits to Campbell House and the Canada Life building, I headed to Osgoode Hall.

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There was a great self-guided tour of the courtrooms, Great Library, and the formal rooms used by the Law Society of Upper Canada, and I really appreciated the open, friendly atmosphere as people were welcomed into a public space with no apparent concern for security threats. Lawyers and librarians were on hand to explain how the building is used today, and kids and adults were welcome to sit in the seats for judges and QCs and have their picture taken wearing robes.

In the Great Library:

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and in one of the courtrooms:

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It all felt a little Street Legal and I kept expecting Chuck and Olivia to come around the corner, legal robes flapping in the wind.

Torontonians

In the spirit of my current read, The Complete Tightwad Gazette (more to come on that later, I promise), I headed out for some free fun this past weekend on a visit to Toronto. It was Doors Open weekend!

(I am not sure if I need to explain this, since I am almost certain that everyone who reads this blog knows me, and is therefore likely to know about the greatness that is Doors Open)

The first stop was Campbell House, at Queen and University. I had never been inside, despite the fact that I am a huge Canadian history nerd, and this is one of the oldest houses in Toronto. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos. By far the most interesting part was the basement kitchen, and the explanation of how to cook a roast dinner and bake pies in the big fireplace. There was also a demo of how to make 19th century lemonade, which made me thirsty, since it was about 30 degrees out!

Next, the Canada Life building just next door.

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This building has been part of Doors Open Toronto for almost as long as the event has been running, and I would totally recommend a visit here next year. Visitors can ride the elevator to the top floor observation deck, which is very opulently decorated besides having a great view of downtown.

After we emerged from the elevators at ground level, and I recovered from the vertigo-inducing video of a repairman replacing a lightbulb on the building’s weather beacon/planned airship tether, I remembered a bookish connection.

If I remember correctly, a key scene in The Torontonians, by Phyllis Brett Young, takes place in the Canada Life building. The protagonist, a frustrated suburban housewife, has gone downtown to visit a neighbour about a mysterious cheque (wouldn’t want to give more than that away about the plot!). He stands in his office, looking out at the city spread before him, musing on his past in the slums of the The Ward, and looking towards the future at the lands being cleared for the new city hall.

I can’t find the book right now in my messy apartment, but if I could, I’d include a quote to convince you to read it! It’s gripping in a soapy kind of way, and I loved to read the descriptions of Toronto of the early 60s, when the Yonge Street subway (and resultant decrease in traffic) was still novel, and Leaside was considered the ‘burbs.