I re-tried what I thought was a winning process when I moved up to the intermediate school and on my first trip to the school library, I once again looked for the biggest book available. I am still not entirely sure why a school library that only served fourth and fifth graders had a copy of A Tale of Two Cities, but I had it checked out for most of my fourth grade year. I don’t look back on that year of reading with much fondness because my battle with Charles Dickens overshadowed the books that I did enjoy. I didn’t want to lug such a heavy book back and forth between school and home so I left it in my desk for quiet reading time. However, in-class reading time only happened in fifteen minute increments a few times a week and A Tale of Two Cities required a little bit more of a time commitment. I never got into the story, but I was too stubborn to return the book unread to the library so I struggled through it until summer break when I gleefully abandoned it. Unfortunately, instead of learning that I shouldn’t judge a book based on its size, I came away from that year doubting my strength as a reader and I have avoided Dickens ever since.
This myth of bigger books being for better readers followed me into high school. In a class on European history, we were required to read a book from a list of relevant titles. However, it wasn’t as simple as just choosing what sparked my interest. The bigger the book, the more points you would earn from the assignment and that in turn improved your overall grade for the course, so I chose the high point value Crime and Punishment. I think it is safe to say that diving into Russian literature based on page count instead of content is not a great way to foster a great love of the genre. But, everyone around me seemed to be saying that the only way I could “improve” as a reader involved choosing increasingly large books, so I did. The problem, of course, is that eventually the pool of available books gets pretty small.
I picked up a small book completely by accident last year. A review for Your Fathers, Where Are They? and The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers intrigued me so I preordered it from my local bookstore. When it arrived, I was startled to discover that it only contained a mere 210 pages of large font. Yet somehow in that short span a world was created, characters evolved, and the ending satisfied. My brain did not atrophy and no one pinned a sign on me saying that I was a subpar reader. I read a short book and survived.
I still get flustered when someone catches me reading a thin book, but now in the midst of justifying my choice, I will recommend it. I will tell you that a story doesn’t always need to fill up 400 pages to be told well, even as I hurry to say that this is a palate cleanser after finishing a tome so heavy that it gave me wrist pain. I might also mention that thin books are great for the over-crowded shelves in my studio apartment and are convenient to carry around in purses and pockets. One day though, I will answer without all the baggage and just describe how the words and characters speak to me (or not) and avoid all mention of the width of the spine.