What book took you the longest to finish?

2666

I don’t usually remember the exact date that I begin reading specific books. But I know exactly when I read the first page of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. The bookmark that I use in my copy of 2666 is the Christmas card that my brother wrote to me when he gave me the book. On the top of the card, he wrote the date “25 Dec 2009.” (My brother is the kind of man who writes dates in his Christmas cards. To help you complete his psychological profile, the image on the front of the card is René Magritte’s Le trahison des images. My brother is a great man.) I have been reading 2666 ever since. For two years in a row, “Reading 2666” was my pop culture resolution: See here and here. In all likelihood, “Reading 2666” will be my resolution for 2012, because I am still a couple hundred pages away from being finished.

I have not maintained any kind of consistent pace. 2666 is split into five books, and I read volume one, “The Part About the Critics,” very quickly — it took me a couple weeks to read its 160 pages. I read volume two, “The Part About Amalfitano,” extremely slowly — it took me three months to read its 67 pages. I paused for several months before volume three, “The Part About Fate.” I am currently engaged in a long Valley Forge-esque struggle with the infamous volume four, “The Part About the Crimes,” which recites dozens (hundreds?) of horrific murders in excruciating detail.

Now, the fact that it’s taken me so long to read the book would perhaps indicate that I don’t like it very much. After all, on my frequent breaks from 2666, I’ve read other long works of fiction at a considerably faster pace. I read George R. R. Martin’s 1040-page A Dance With Dragons in a little over a week of breathless all-night reading. It took me maybe five solid months to read Robert Caro’s 1167-page Master of the Senate. The complete Hunger Games trilogy adds up to more than 1000 pages, and I read those three books in under a fortnight.

But I do enjoy 2666. There are whole pages of it that I want to memorize. Heck, 2666 makes me want to learn Spanish, just so I can read Bolaño’s original language. The problem is that — either because of the complexities of the plot, the weightiness of the themes, the apocalyptic mood, or just the sheer size of the thing — it’s difficult for me to read the book for a long time without wanting to escape to something else.

This isn’t the first time that a single book has taken me a long, long time to read. Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day took me 18 months to read, though I think I just stuck with that book to see if it would all mean something. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t!) But long reading experiences aren’t just confined to long or difficult books. I’ve been slowly rationing the brilliant boxing pieces in A.J. Liebling’s collection The Sweet Science for about three years now, mostly because I think I’ll feel a little depressed when I run out of Liebling’s boxing writing.

Fellow readers, are there any books that have taken you a long time to finish? Difficult books that you nevertheless felt a duty to read all the way through? Or very long books you enjoyed, but which you occasionally had to take a break from? What’s the longest it’s ever taken you to finish a book? And has anyone else been stuck on 2666 for as long as I have?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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